I have been engaged in many discussions about the New/Old ATS announcement, on Tribe and on Facebook and in mails with friends, and even had a chat with Carolena today. I haven’t said too much about my thoughts on this publicly, as I have wanted to let them percolate a little while. I didn’t want anyone to feel shut down or otherwise distracted from feeling what they felt, or add to their mental burdens as they try and figure out quite *what* they feel. And of course, I wanted to figure out what I felt, and try to speak from my heart and mind in tandem, rather than purely from one or the other alone. Sorry it’s so long, but it’s been a week of deep discussion with a lot of awesome women, and a lot of meditation on what this all means to me personally. Let me start with a leetle story…
My last troupe, inFusion Tribal, performed in collaborations at several high-profile events with another ATS-based troupe from Bend, OR, Gypsy Fire directed by Quinn Fradet (hi Quinn!). Both of our groups were not strictly ATS troupes, though we were each well versed in ATS terminology (Quinn started many years ago in FC classes in SF, and she and I have completed not only General Skills, but two levels of Teacher Training, and teach ATS-based repertoire in our classes and in our troupes), but we each had robust languages of our own, as well as some minor variations on the ATS vocabulary we had made to suit our tastes. Since we lived so far apart, we directors would discuss music and staging through e-mail, but we only had one rehearsal all-together, 2-3 hours in length, the day before or the day of the performance itself, to prepare a half an hour set using both our troupes separately and together.
At these rehearsals, we would hammer out what vocab was universal, which was off-limits, and in many cases would share variations or new moves with each other and decide whether or not to add these “signature” concepts to the mix. For instance, I had a duet with Lexi, one of the members of the Gypsy Fire, and we had a planning discussion during our single rehearsal as a group. She showed me a couple of her favorite moves she often likes to pull out. This included some common vocab, but also some moves that were their own creation. At this time I had the opportunity to veto any I didn’t think I could follow without more practice, but in all cases they were moves which were created thoughtfully in the ATS style and structure, and thus was easy to adapt to as a follower if you were aware it might come up. And I did the same for her in return. When we got up there, we improvised completely, not knowing who was going to take the lead when or how, and we even had a little “battle” in a few places where we were switching leads back and forth every few measures as we mischievously played leader tug-o-war, and it was awesome! It looked seamless and playful, and we had a lot of fun. The audience could sense that tribal magic, that connection and communication, but had no idea we were from two different “dialects” of tribal.
This is essentially what I see this “Old School/New Style” ATS announcement fostering. Allowing (and encouraging!) people like Quinn and I as directors and teachers, and our troupes as well, to follow our creative bliss, while still staying true to ATS aesthetics and philosophies. This empowers everyone to create moves and ideas which are reflections of our troupe’s individual creative visions, but still be part of a larger ATS “family” with whom we can collaborate and support. We don’t want to be mini-Fat Chances, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love the format and use it as our foundation. When creating new moves and ideas, we use an ATS “filter”, to ensure that the move follows basic guidelines in presentation and execution that allows it to “flow” within the format. And it sounds like Carolena is quite savvy to Quinn’s and my demographic–as creative, thoughtful, respectful ATS-based-yet-not-ATS-strict who seek to stay true to the core in our work–by developing the “Anatomy of a Step” video, breaking down the elusive components of a successful ATS presentation when creating new concepts. It’s brilliant, really, and I can’t wait to add it to my library to strengthen my efforts to be inspired and guided by the art form she has honed over decades.
I see this announcement as really just an acknowledgment of, and frankly a welcome validation of, what has already been happening in the tribal world. We focus so much on those tribal branches of the tree who innovate so relentlessly that they barely even do bellydance anymore, that we forget about the dancers and troupes who have respectfully maintained standards of ATS while innovating thoughtfully and enthusiastically (the Middle Child of Tribal, if you will). And, to be honest, all the while feeling somewhat relegated to “outsider” status when it comes to that which they feel so passionate about and advocate for in their classrooms and beyond: an understanding of and preserving of ATS format, aesthetics, and philosophies. Whether you aspire to be a Sister Studio or plan to forge your own path, this goal is something we agree on. Just because these dancers didn’t choose to stay strict-ATS in their artistic expression doesn’t mean they weren’t working just as hard to preserve and protect ATS as an ideal of bellydance ‘standards and practices’, if you will.
Those who choose to closely follow in FatChance’s footsteps will still have that joy and freedom to do so. The body of work endorsed by FatChance, through their workshops and videos, will continue to be a yard stick for technique and presentation. Sister Studios will continue to be part of that standard by which ATS will be measured. Acknowledging and empowering this not-at-all-new branch of the ATS tree isn’t taking anything away from anyone. I know that it feels like that to many, but I hope that they will see that you have been surrounded by these dancers all along–you have supported them, admired them, connected with them, shared with them, inspired them and been inspired in return. They’re strong and respectful dancers who are valuable contributors to the ATS community already. Carolena is now putting her arm around those dancers and saying, “Welcome to the family, we’re glad you’re here.” And I think that is a benefit to everyone, don’t you? I hope so…
Thanks to everyone who has been actively participating in the process of evolution that Carolena has challenged us with. And thanks to Carolena for continuing to push her boundaries, and by proxy our boundaries, so that we never become stagnant or complacent in our art. I think it may feel uncertain on the face of it for some time as the community finds its balance with this shift in “definition”; and I completely understand that change is difficult no matter what form it takes. But I feel it’s a very exciting time to be part of the ATS community, and I look forward to seeing what we all create together.
And for evidence of one of our collaborations: