Tribal Corner & Tribal in Japan by Devi and Satomi

Originally published in Bellydance Oasis Magazine
Issue 55

Since my last article I have been busy being a host, travelling, and being a part of the very first Adelaide Belly dance Festival. It’s been a huge few months and as I type I’m at the airport on my way to teach in Canada and Texas for the first time. But first let me tell you about my trip to Japan which in hindsight has been years in the making.

In 2009, I was contacted by a woman in Japan, Satomi, who had wanted to start belly dancing for many years and happened to stumble across me on YouTube. She decided she wanted to come to Australia to learn with me. Many years later I found out that it was actually her husband that wrote that email as she felt too shy to contact me and felt that the language barrier would just be too great. I’m glad that he did as she has been a loyal and dedicated student. There is an old Chinese saying that goes something like “It is hard to find a good teacher and even harder to find a good student”.

Satomi is most certainly dedicated. With no English what so ever she followed me to Taiwan, where we first met. At this location I was coteaching GS with Carolena. Later that year she came to Australia to learn with me for over a month coming for almost daily privates and to sit for TT with Carolena. She spoke no English and I spoke no Japanese but somehow we managed. I’m pretty good and getting my point across with simple words and gestures. Coming from a migrant family I grew up having to modify my English for my mother and grandmother and I’ve always felt confident getting my point across with non English speaking students.

Back to the story, every year or every second year Satomi would come for a month. Slowly her English improved. She studied both ATS® and English diligently and it paid off. Eventually she opened up her own studio in her home town. It made sense to her to finally invite me to come to Japan to meet the “grand kids” and I was indeed shown the upmost respect by all her students as the teacher of their teacher.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Japan, with Satomi, her family and students. She has become and exceptional dancer and teacher. She is a hard task master but all delivered with a huge amount of patience and kindness. This shows as her students obviously love her. What I found fascinating was the amount of students she had in the area she lives in. She lives in Nakastsugawa city, Gifu prefecture, which is a very small area not unlike certain areas of northern N.S.W. It is very quiet and rural with a low population yet somehow she manages to have around 50 students with many coming to class 2 nights a week. Not only that she managed to get ALL her students to come to the workshops. They may not have done all of it but they all did some of it at least. This meant that she did not even advertise anywhere but to her students. She simply didn’t need to and apart from that there was probably no venues big enough to hold more dancers!

It made me think about about our own belly dance community within Australia. Gone are the days where teachers would have 30 to 40 students in class and as a workshop sponsor to have that many in a workshop would be wonderful and extremely rare. I’ve talked to many teachers and sponsors from around Australia and they are all experiencing the same thing. I’m not sure why that is but would love to hear from you readers as to what you think it might be. Is it the economy? Not the “in” thing? Too many events on? Or are we simply spoilt for too much choice?

I suppose in Australia’s defence, Middle Eastern dance has been around for a little longer. However I think the Japanese culture has a stronger work ethic and a deeper respect for their teachers, in general. I think if a teacher in Japan said to their student that they must attend a workshop or class the student would do it, no questions asked. Our culture is much more independent than that as a rule.

On top of the 3 days of workshops there was also a Stella show. The ATS® dancers in Japan (well at least the ones I saw which were all Satomi’s students) were great performers with attention to detail and technique. Many of them had only been dancing for a couple of years so I was quite impressed with the level they were at. Can’t wait to see where they are at in the next year or so.

I left Japan happy in my heart with loads of goodies from the students and several kilos heavier from all the amazing food!

Upon my return, it was full steam ahead for Carolena and Megha to arrive in Katoomba. This was by far one of the hardest events I have ever organised. I haven’t had Carolena and Megha in my neck of the woods for some time. This time around they taught General Skills (GS) for ATS® as well as Teacher Training (TT) and the Business of ATS®. These are basically 3 separate events and I had a good response from dancers all over Australia, N.Z, Kula Lumpur, Japan and the U.K.

So many things to keep track of and days before, I was having nightmares of getting to the venue and there was no toilet paper for the participants! Now that wold have been awful! One of the most stressful things for me as a sponsor this time was that our dollar dropped so dramatically and so quickly before the event. Needless to say, it meant it was not financially viable for me and very stressful but that’s what we sponsors do. We take risks. We do it because we love dance and want to learn from our favourite and most respected teachers and we want to give our students and fellow dancers within the community the same opportunity. I personally had a lovely time reconnecting with Carolena and Megha, watching them teach and getting to spend some quality time with them was wonderful. It never ceases to amaze me. I have sat for GS maybe 4 times, cotaught it with Carolena 3 times and I STILL get something out of it every time. Just goes to show that you never stop being a student.

After a few weeks rest I was off to the very first Adelaide Belly Dance Festival organised by the fearless Kylea Hartley. In my opinion she did a stellar job. For me as an out of towner, the location was fabulous as it was a little out of town and by the beach with accommodation very near by, quaint shops and cafes and the whole festival was in one great location with large and comfortable mirrored rooms and a great stage for performance. I loved that Kylea had organised the meet and great to also moonlight as an art exhibition where Peta from Silk Bazar show cased her gorgeous dyed silk creations, Donna Chess with her amazing water-colours, Gabi Sahlberg with her oils and pastels, Alayna de Graaf presenting digital art, Lucas Robins doing sculpture and my partner in crime April Erzetich (aka Aprili) show cased her amazing, hand beaten metal pieces and jewellery.

The workshops were wonderful and diverse with many great dancers from Adelaide and around Australia. The concert was fantastic, with a wide variety of styles and dancers from around the country. Made me realise once again that we really do have a lot of talent in this country. As well as a solo piece Acushla from Adelaide and I performed a floaty, emotive piece that we put together via Skype (not an easy task) and April and I performed a fun a lively Rajasthani duet which was a first for me. And what festival would be complete without a Bazaar day? Performances and shopping all day so we could then once again return home empty in our pockets but full in our hearts. Although this was Adelaide’s very first festival it is truly one to check out next time.

Last weekend in Lismore, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the lovely Kristine Adams of FCBD® who has spent the last 4 and a half years travelling the world and teaching what she knows best , ATS®. Our sponsors were the lovely Danielle Sansom and Sasha Fox from the Bare Foot Gypsies. They have in recent times opened up the most amazing studio that any belly dancer or any dance teacher for that matter would die for! Huge lovely space, mirrored, wooden flooring, stage, sound, lighting, many little smaller room for conferences, storage, costuming, shopping, dressing rooms or office space. The space is so large that it comfortably doubles up as a performance space that could easily fit around 100 or so people. Yep… I was just a little envious! If you ever get out to Lismore way then you should look them up. Not only is it a wondrous studio but Sasha and Danielle, your teachers and hosts have a wealth of knowledge and attention to detail and are great gals to boot!

The weekend started off with both Kristine and I teaching a variety of workshops. The Friday day night was a casual dinner and performance by some of Sasha’s teenage students and an amazing Flamenco show by local troupe…. And then dancing the night away with Latin band……. who were equally entertaining.

More workshops on Saturday and then the gala show on Saturday night. I had a great time performing ATS® improv with Kristine. We had never danced together before but she is a wealth of knowledge, a great dancer with amazing musicality and a lot of fun! One of the highlights for me was to perform piano for the first time in about 30 years. This time it was to one of my own compositions with Kristine dancing solo. I was as nervous as hell as performing dance and piano for me are two very different beasts, but I did it and it was an honour to have Kristine dance to one of my original compositions. On that note I have recently completed my first book of piano compositions so if any of you dancers out there also like to play the piano and are looking for new material to play, give me a yell!

Coming up in the new year I will be teaching my Drills and Appraisal workshops in Sydney. This will be on 29th,30th and 31st of January 2016. Contact Kelly for more info. Acushla and I will be presenting our very first intensive together BELLYLAB 101 in Adelaide on 12th, 13th and 14th Feb 2016. This will be the first of its kind with a wholistic approach for the the dancer looking to find their own voice and style,technique tips and conditioning exercises, how to get the X factor, how to create and choreography, musicality and more! Contact for more info.

For now I will leave you with Satomi’s article on the history of Tribal belly dance in Japan.

Tribal Belly Dance in Japan by Satomi Kuramochi

The first belly dance studio in Japan opened during the 1980s. In the 90’s a large number of Japanese instructors and dancers returned after learning their craft overseas. From 2000 there was a sharp increase in the number of belly dance studios, but they were mostly located in the large cities.

Tribal was only a distant dream for most Japanese dancers. It is not clear who was the first to introduce it, but fusion started to became mainstream in Japan, and with it, there emerged a growing number of dancers looking to gain a deeper appreciation for the art. Those dancers received a great boost when Rachel Brice visited Japan in 2005. During that visit Rachel said that “if you want to learn my style, then you need to start by learning ATS®,” which in turn led to the growing presence of ATS® in Japan.

ATS® in Japan wouldn’t have grown to what it is now without Kae Montgomery who was originally from Japan but had moved to San Francisco to study ATS® and eventually become a member of FCBD®.

Kae has an intimate knowledge of ATS® and she has worked hard to make it known in Japan, and to expand its reach. I was personally lucky enough to have been taught by Kae.

I was someone who loved dancing, having attended flamenco and hula classes around 2002. I had never really studied dance before. After beginning to learn these two styles, I decided I also wanted to learn belly dancing, but unfortunately there were no studios where I live in the country, or even in the regional cities.

The only studios were in the major metropolitan cities like Tokyo and Osaka. When I discovered Devi and Ghawazi Caravan on Youtube, my desire to learn only intensified. While searching within Japan, I happened to find out about Kae. However her workshops were 3 hours away by car. For a time I continued learning on my own. But then, after agonising for many days, I decided that the only thing to do was to go and meet with her, and I went to watch one of her performances and to talk with her before she returned to the US. Afterwards, I attended Kae’s workshops once every six months, while continuing to study on my own.

With each passing day, my desire to go and meet Devi increased, but again, I agonised over the language barrier. That may never have changed if it hadn’t been for my quietly supportive husband who secretly sent an email to Devi – pretending to be me!

After participating in the General Skills Workshop in Taiwan in 2009, I traveled to Australia to undertake training from Devi and participate in the Teacher Training Programme in Katoomba. On the recommendation of Devi I started the SDL Tribal Belly Dance Studio the following year. Afterwards, I continued learning from Devi, traveling to San Francisco and again to Australia. This year I hosted Devi’s workshop in my home town. Most of the participants in the workshop had been taught by me using Devi’s style of teaching.

The goal of SDL is to help revitalise our local community as most of our activities are done locally. Our performances range from small local events right through to major rock festivals. This year I fulfilled my long held dream of forming the SDL Caravan Troupe.

 I always count my blessings when I think of all the support I’ve received from Devi and my friends in Australia.

SDL Tribal Belly Dance

Satomi Kuramochi