Tribal Happenings & Deb Rubin Interview


Since I left you all last I am pleased to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed a summer at last in Australia. I feel ready and rested for the busy year ahead of dance projects and travel and am looking forward to sharing these experiences with you all. I really believe that time and space from dancing gives one a time to “go to ground”, and allows the body time to process and assimilate all those dance workshops and classes we have taken over the year. Likewise, time to rest inspires the brain into new and creative ideas for the future. So that’s my dance tip for this issue lovely readers, work hard, play hard and rest well!

As it is for many of you my year has started off with a bang with classes, new students, rehearsals for up coming shows, workshops with the AMAZING Deb Rubin and the Newcastle Bellydance Evolution festival and that’s just here in Oz!

As mentioned I started the year by hosting Deb Rubin. Although Deb and I have been chatting via email for some time and have met in the U.S.A I had never taken any of her intensives or classes. Boy was I in for a treat! I can honestly say that hers were one of the best workshops I have ever been to! I truly believe that her workshops would be most beneficial not just for the tribal or fusion enthusiast but for all belly dancers and dancers alike. For starters, she has an abundance of knowledge in yoga and body mechanics. She had plenty of tips for many of the dancers in regard to various body injuries as well as how to get the most out of their body and dance. She is an incredible dancer as well as a thorough and giving teacher with an attention to detail, body mechanics, technique, musicality and stage presence. Top it off with her approachable teaching style and well paced workshop material her workshops were nothing short of brilliant! Needless to say I have asked Deb to return to Australia for an intensive in early 2014. Spaces are already going so if you would like to learn from Deb please contact me for more details.

Deb and I and other members of Ghawazi Caravan had a lovely time throughout the week showing Deb around the Blue Mountains and then we were off to the Newcastle Belly dance Evolution festival which is now in its 3rd year gets better and better every year. Natalie Bradford, the director of the festival and her team did a great job. There was such a variety of different workshops on offer from teachers all over the country including fanveils, gothic, tribal combinations….. As well as a first for my workshop bellydance funk fusion. including Deb Rubin as the special international guest.

The Saturday evening concert was extremely well run with a great team and an incredibly diverse and talented group of dancers which made for a very interesting show.

The funk fusion workshop I taught at the Newcastle Bellydance Evolution Festival was a learning experience for me in that I didn’t want to use the word funk as just another word for “groovy” or “cool” combos. I wanted to talk about funk itself, what makes funk, funk, where the beat is and what instrumentation you are likely to find where and when in the bar. I then related it back to Middle Eastern rhythms and where you can find the groove in Middle Eastern music and how you can create your own belly dance combinations to middle eastern music and give it a ” funked” up feel. It was a fun workshop for sure. I pushed myself out of my box and learnt something in doing so. I love that! I hope to teach that workshop again sometime but refine it even further.

A few weeks later, April and I were off to teach Drills and Individual Appraisal levels 1 & 2 in Whittianga, New Zealand, hosted by the lovely Tracy Miller and Margy Morris. It was a lovely bunch of women ready to work and sweat hard for 6 hrs a day for 3 days and we didn’t lose even one by the wayside! I’m still extremely passionate about this course as we can really sink our teeth into every little movement and nuance of ATS Bellydance and then each participant gets a 8 to 10 pages long written report on things to work on including tips and exercises that may help to achieve their goals. Participants coming to the course come ready for the work and the pointers, with a knowledge of ATS already but are looking for the little details that can make all the difference. I personally love that stuff. The finer details.

As I’m typing, I’m in Seattle at the Cues and Tattoos festival. It’s about half way through the festival at the moment and so far I’m having a blast but I’m going to reserve that story for the next article so I can tell you all the goss at the one time. So until then, I’ll sign off. Don’t forget to email me with what’s been happening in the way of Tribal in your neck of the woods. Our readers would love to hear about it, I’m sure. Tribal in all it’s many forms is becoming so big so quickly in Australia that there is simply no way I can keep tabs on it all so please write in. We want to hear more!

My Interview with the lovely Deb Rubin.

How and why did you start dancing?

I actually have a long background in dance. Dance and movement have always been my “thing”. As a kid, I studied jazz, ballet, modern, and musical theatre. I went to a performing arts summer camp for 7 years where we put on musicals. I always seemed to gravitate towards the dancing rolls. I was in a jazz dance company in high school, and also my senior year in college. I was also a gymnast my entire childhood. I started competing when i was 9yrs old, until I was 18yrs old. Dance, and graceful movement is obviously a huge part of that, especially with balance beam and floor exercise, my two favourite events. I was also a springboard diver, and competed all 4 years of college too. So… movement and body-oriented creative expression has always been a big part of my life.

I was introduced to yoga as a teenager, through my gymnastics coach. She used yoga and relaxation/meditation exercises with us to help us prepare for competitions and centre ourselves. Yoga became a major part of my life after college, when I moved out to San Francisco. I kind of delved into head first and went very deep into Yogic studies and practices, in both San Francisco and also in Thailand. As an adult, I have committed my life to studying and exploring Yoga, Integrative Health, and many different movement and somatic modalities in the context of those trainings. Both my massage therapy programs and well as my graduate school programs were very somatic based, and we studied movement and the mind-body connection through specific movement modalities. So expressive movement in many forms (outside of Tribal Fusion Bellydance) has been a part of my life for a long time.

You travel all over the world. What do you love about teaching?

I love everything about teaching. I love getting to meet awesome dancers in different countries and sharing our common love for this dance form. I love sharing my passion and the elements that I love about this art form with other people. I love the ‘lightbulbs’ that go off for students when they learn a new combo, or refine technique, or push past a limitation to learn something new. I love breaking down the intricacies of technique and biomechanics and helping dancers find new movement pathways in their bodies, or stretch themselves beyond what they thought possible. I love playing with new ideas and workshopping new concepts with a large group of dancers, I love fusing Yoga with Tribal Bellydance, and perhaps introducing bellydancers to Yoga in new ways, or deepening their connection to Yoga as a foundation from which to build the bellydance movements and artistry from. I love the group energy of a workshop. There’s an entertainment quality that happens where we are all connected by the Yoga, the rhythm, the music, and the dance moves. Usually we are all in a good mood after.

Tell us about the Body Therapeutics?

Yes! Dance Therapeutics is the umbrella title of a body of work that I have developed specifically for the Bellydance world. In addition to being a dancer, I am also a holistic health counsellor, yoga teacher, and massage therapist. I have worked in the field of Mind/body medicine for over 15 years. I have pulled from my experience and trainings in those fields to develop material specific for Bellydancers, all about saving the belly dance body, so that we can dance safely for a long time. Things like: proper alignment and biomechanics of movement, anatomy for belly dancers, healthy back bending, lower body therapeutics, upper body therapeutics for neck, shoulders and spine.

As dancers, our body is our temple. It is our creative medium, and it is the only one we’ve got! I like to use the analogy of a painter: As a painter, at the end of the day, you clean your brushes and put them away, so that when you want to pick them up again the next day and paint on your canvas, they are ready to go. They are not cracked and dry and caked with old paint. Imagine trying to paint your masterpiece with dry brushes clumped with paint that you have not taken care of! That would never happen. For us dancers, our body is our canvas. So why not learn how to take care of your body properly, and access the deeper musculature, the inner spirals, find more length in the spine, more fluidity in your core strength, more flexibility in your sides, etc., so that you have maximum potential for your optimal dancing, let alone optimal health.

It is my belief that the more you build your somatic awareness, and really tune in to the inner workings of your dance body, the better your artistry will be, as well as the better your technique obviously with be. The longer your lines will be, the more fluid your transition, the stronger your core, etc. Dance Therapeutics started as a way to rehab injuries, deal with common overuse injuries in Bellydancers etc. The more I develop it, however, the more inspired I get, because it is becoming the basis for my technique and ways I teach students to get a deeper movement quality, more control in their dancing and help take it from average to “WOW factor” in their movements. I am currently developing a DVD series of some of the material, as well as a 3-day Dance Therapeutics Intensive for teachers and dancers. And, I write a Dance Therapeutics column each issue, in FUSE magazine, which is a really beautifully created Tribal and Tribal Fusion Bellydance magazine that I recommend. Each issue I write on a different topic. Some include daily practice sequences, complete with photo demonstrations. ( for subscription)

How did I get into Tribal, specifically?

I lived in the Bay Area for almost 15 years. That is where I started belly dancing. That is where I first got exposed to this thing called “Tribal”, the art form and the community around it. I feel really lucky to have been living right in the heart of it, during a really exciting and pivotal time for the evolution of tribal. That was just luck, or circumstance. I had danced for years as a kid, and wanted to get back into dance as an adult. In SF, we had wonderful access to so many different dance styles, so I dabbled. I have studied some Salsa, West African, Hip Hop, Contact Improv, Jazz, Contemporary, ballet, Tango, etc.

Then I saw Jill Parker and two other dancers in Ultragypsy at a club in SF. It was ‘back in the day’, and they had long dreadlocks and big pantaloons and were doing all this slow and slinky serpentine-esque movements, and I was mesmerised. It hit me so deeply in my core and I thought: I want to learn that! I started taking weekly classes from Jill. I remember the classes being huge, and it was women of all shapes and sizes, and live musicians, and the music just spoke to me so deeply. I loved it. And I kept coming back.

This was in the early 2000’s i think. Maybe 2002? Then, Jill asked me to be in her student troupe, Djun Djun, so i got ‘thrown in’ to the whole performance aspect of belly dance very early on. We had weekly gigs at Amira Restaurant, in the Mission, and had like 2 weeks to make our own costume and get sets together. Big Learning curve! After about a year, Djun Djun merged with UltraGypsy. And I was in UltraGypsy for about 4-5 years I think. That whole experience really moulded me hugely as a dancer, gave me great foundation, and introduced me to tribal and offered me the opportunity to learn from ‘the Momma of Tribal Fusion’ both in the studio as well as performance-wise. I am very thankful for Jill. She was my first teacher on this path, and opened opportunities for me to learn and grow as both a student and as a professional performer. She saw potential in me before I even knew what the hell I was doing, or how to even do a 3/4 shimmy or a Taxim!

Also during that time, were the early days of the Indigo: watching Rachel Brice dance every week at Amira restaurant, watching the Indigo perform at SF events. There was also Katerina Burda and her troupe, where Elizabeth Strong, Mira Betz, and Zoe Jakes all got their start. There are so many amazing artists in the Bay Area that you can’t help but soak in the inspiration. And living in SF kind of put it all in context for me. It made sense. It was just part of our culture; part of our expression; part of the music and dance and art scene there.

I also used to take yoga classes from Rachel Brice. I think it was early BDSS years (or maybe before BDSS?), but Rachel has been a huge inspiration to me along this path, since the beginning, and one of my greatest influences and teachers. I realise now how much just being in community with, being in classes with, some of the dancers who then went on to tour around the world sharing this art form, and also studying with the leading voices in the art form right from the beginning, and having access to so many amazingly talented and inspirational teachers in my home town, has been instrumental on my journey – just seeing what was possible, and seeing others pushing the edges of creativity and taking risks in their dancing, leaving to tour and then return to teach us. The Bay Area also provided me access to incredible musicians to learn from and jam and gig with, and a lot of performance opportunity. The caliber of artistry is so high there.

 Looking back on that time now, it feels really special. It felt like a really supportive time. Dancers supporting each other. Cross-collaborations with musicians and other dancers, etc. Definitely my growth as a dancer technique-wise and progressing in this dance form is influenced by my years in the Bay Area. I feel lucky I have had access to a wide array of amazingly talented dancers and teachers to learn from and be inspired by. I remember when Jill first brought Heather Stants up to do a workshop for UltraGypsy. Same with Amy Sigil. So; being a part of the scene, both the Tribal Fusion Bellydance community, as well as the larger West-Coast counterculture/art/music community (i.e festivals, Burning Man, etc.) has really moulded my artistic outlook, my craft, and my embodiment of Tribal.

Who did you learn from initially?

Initially I learned from Jill. She was my first teacher.

I also learned from Rachel. She is the other of my main teachers, so I studied with her every chance I got, over many many years. And I was honoured to assist her at Tribal Massive 2008. I also studied with Suhaila, and Mardi Love. Man o man, Mardi Love! I soaked up her workshops like they were going out of style! I love her artistry and her attitude. And Zoe Jakes. I would take Zoe’s workshops and classes any chance I could as well. I really resonate with her style and her musicality, especially with electronic music. And I am inspired by seeing her grow exponentially as a dancer and performer over the many years I have known her. Carolena Nericcio is also a huge inspiration and teacher of mine. After I left UltraGypsy in 2007, then I went back to the roots and studied ATS. The FatChance studio in SF is such a nurturing place to be and learn! I love hanging out there, and still take classes there. As a student, in the Bay Area, I feel lucky to have incredible dance teachers along the way. Any given week I could take classes with Jill, Suhaila, FCBD, Cera Byer, Mira, workshops with Mardi, Rachel, Zoe, and more recently classes with Kami Liddle too. So I am influenced by all of them.

Plus… the wide array of dance classes and workshops outside of the belly dance world to ‘cross-train’. I have studied Modern, Salsa, Ballroom, Contact Improv, West African, Tango, and most recently gotten back into Ballet and studying Dunham technique. At this point, I consider myself a mutt of styles, and hopefully my own voice is starting to emerge too. Exposure to many different artistic voices is something that I aimed to focus on with SF Mecca Immersion (the retreat into the heart and soul of San Francisco Tribal that I created and produce. I wanted to create a supportive, fun, learning container for dancers in other parts of the world a chance to come to San Francisco, offer world-class training with some of the pioneers in the genre, and also give voice to other SF talent in dance, music, design, art, performance that maybe they hadn’t heard of yet, but who are on the cutting edge of what is hot and happening the Bay Area,and helping to shape the scene world-wide.

What & who have been your inspirations?

Well, within Tribal, the above listed ladies, for the reasons listed above. I feel inspired seeing many of my teachers and friends keep progressing along the path, and keep honing their own craft and pushing their own artistic limits to create and innovate, and help push along our art form. In a way, it shows me what it is possible, encourages me to begin to take artistic risks too, and has kind of paved the way for me over the years.

I’m also very inspired by Donna Mejia, modern dancer/choreographer. Anandha Ray, and yoga teacher Shiva Rea. The incredible embodied wisdom of those women and the grace by which they teach, share, and live their life is inspiring to me. Artistically and aesthetically, I’m really inspired by Erte and Mucha, Ziegfeld, vintage stylisations, old art and movie posters of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Also old Hindu gods and goddesses, Yogic traditions, sculptures of Indian Dakinis, etc. And I am really inspired by my students. I get so many new ideas from energy that students bring to class, and their enthusiasm, and new stylisations they might make up based on a something that I give them.

What do you think makes a good dancer & performer.

What makes a good dancer? Strong technique, dedication/devotion to the craft and a daily practice, refined sense of musicality, a natural ease of movement and transition on stage, mastery in several genres of dance that can then be pulled in to belly dance, exuding an authentic joy of the dance, beautiful lines, graceful movements and transitions, and just the focus and desire to train, learn, work hard, push self past limitations and try new things.

On top of all that, I think what makes a good performer is hard to quantify with words. It includes all the qualities I listed, but there is something more–a transcendent quality almost, ability to connect to the audience, be a vessel for the music, allowing the music to flow through them, rather than putting dance moves to music. Having the ability to lose themselves in the character and transport the audience to other realms, draw emotion out of the audience or make the audience feel something, or feel moved in some way by the performance.

What is Tribal Fusion to you?

That is a great question, and hard for me to define. Tribal Fusion to me, is an evolving art form. It has strong roots based in Carolena Nericcio’s ATS and Jamila Salimpour’s Bal Anat, and Middle Eastern dance. I like to think of it as a fusion of the ancient desert gypsy spirit with contemporary influences like modern, break beats, electronic music, circus arts, Vaudevillian sideshows, or whatever style moves you to fuse in. As the art form evolves, I do like to see, however, that it still has some roots, or references at least, to ATS and/or Jamila’s format. I like to see that dancers have studied the lineages and the roots before going off into crazy tangential directions with it and calling it ‘Tribal Fusion’.

But that is just my personal preference. 🙂 Tribal Fusion to me is also: An avenue for creative expression, my dance, a source for community, global tribe, creative collaboration, an embodied ancient archetype of feminine power, a vehicle for empowerment and health, a tribe of kindred spirits and dance kin around the world. All that is included too.

Where do you think Tribal Fusion is going?

Gosh. In so many different directions! It is very exciting to witness the ‘boom’ of Tribal all over the world. I feel lucky to get that experience to travel to different places in the world and see it first hand. Having been immersed in San Francisco Tribal for so many years, when I travel now, I learn so much about how the rest of the world views Tribal, where and who the learning sources have been for them, and how it is being developed in other places. It’s so inspiring. I have seen Ukrainian folk dancers, for example, fuse their traditional dances with some ATS, and it looks beautiful. Illan Rivere, from France, fuses with contemporary and is magical on stage with what he creates. He is doing some really cool stuff. And his training is strongly in contemporary. I’ve seen New Zealand dancers create a fusion piece honouring the Maori tradition. I just spoke with a dancer in Costa Rica who was telling me how excited she was to see more Latin flavour come through with tribal dancers in South America, and how she sees them all developing a new style in that way, that is true to their cultural roots. So, there is big expansion for what is considered “Tribal” now, and more local cultural influences being added.

I see Tribal Fusion growing in more countries. Australia is a great example of that. Tribal is on fire! I have taught in Australia three times: 2010, 2011, and 2013, and it’s exciting for me to see it grow even just in that time. Tribal is also spreading to new countries. This year, I will be teaching in Helsinki, Finland for the first time. I also got invited to teach at the first ever Tribal Fusion Bellydance event in Romania. That blows my mind. Imagine representing, or bringing, a Westernised, modern version of a dance form back to a part of the world where gypsy music and dance is in the very thread of history and life there. It’s surreal. So, there is an exciting opportunity there to immerse in the old world, and Eastern European lineages of music and dance, and also share our more modernised flavour of it. Maybe some cool collaborations will emerge!

In addition to the geographical growth of Tribal around the world. The venues where Tribal Fusion is now being showcased are also expanding. It’s being presented on bigger stages, for theatre audiences, and also at more music festivals for audiences of thousands. There are more opportunities now to bring it to the mainstream audiences, to cross-collaborate with musicians and DJ/Producers, and/or also create powerful theatrical pieces that tell more of a story and have emotional content and depth. And I see more artists doing all of those things in really beautiful ways. I guess we will see where it goes!

You travel all over the world. Are there differences in interpretation in different parts of the world.

Most definitely. As mentioned above, some dancers fuse Tribal with their local cultural influences. That’s always cool to see. Most dancers in other countries learn via youtube or DVDs, so that influences the download of material, or what “is” tribal, in their perspective. I got schooled recently by several Russian Tribal dancers about how in that part of the world, there are very clear distinctions between what is considered “Tribal Fusion”, “Bellydance,” and “ATS”. That blew my mind. For me, I think of them as containing the same roots, so although there are stylistic and aesthetic differences, obviously, I think it is important that “Tribal Fusion” dancers still show hip work and bellydance foundation technique and artistry, and even reference, perhaps, some ATS. What I think of as foundational dance vocabulary in Tribal Fusion, (because it was part of my foundation and early studies) is now considered “old school’ in some parts of the world. It makes me feel old! Ha! But seriously, it’s a great point of reference for me, as a teacher. It’s cool to learn from them the different lenses through which they see the art form in different parts of the world. It helps me develop new workshop material, and get more clear on how I can be of service to those dance communities, what material I want to include in my short time with them, and what transmissions I want to share of my understanding, history, and experiences in Tribal. And, I love that in some parts of the world, perhaps “old school” would really be ‘new school” because it hasn’t been done before or seen yet by audiences.

Plans for the future?

To move to Australia and live full time with my new dance partner: Barney the house rabbit. (Just kidding!!)

So many plans for the future!  There are a lot of exciting things on my plate right now. This is a really exciting time for me in terms of the expansion of my creativity and new projects in the works. I have a new performance project: Project Merkaba, that I am touring in the US and also in Europe. It is a way for me to create larger pieces for stage, and work with original DJ’s/music producers, digital artists, and lighting artists, to create a full sensory stage experience. I started it last June for an electronic music festival in the US called Sonic Bloom. We had so much fun, that I decided to take it on the road, and bring it to Europe as well as other places in the US (and who knows: maybe Australia too!) It’s an opportunity for me to work with dancers in other countries, and include students of mine who live in different places. With Project Merkaba, we are creating kind of a global dance troupe of sorts. So, I am creating some new dances for that.

I also have some new teaching collaborations that I am excited about. I am deepening my own Yoga studies and codifying a new language for how to teach and integrate Yoga into Tribal Fusion Bellydance in a much more profound way, rooting it in the ancient texts and using Yogic practices to really access the body in ways that aren’t being taught normally in the bellydance world. Within that, I have a new project and evolving teaching collaboration with PranaFlow yoga teacher, Shiva Rae, rooting from her deep embodied wisdom of Yoga, and building the tribal fusion bellydance out of the Yoga. With our workshops, we are intending to bridge the worlds of Yoga and Bellydance. Shiva has been one of my main Yoga teachers, so this is a big honour for me to collaborate with her in this way.

I’m also excited about a new teaching and performance collaboration with the lovely Devi Mamak of Australia, exploring (and honouring) the roots of ATS in Tribal Fusion, and ways to build tribal fusion combos and stylisations from the ATS roots and vocabulary with integrity to the form, cohesion, and yet also with original unique stylisations. (Stay tuned for more info about this in Australia!)

I am working on making the Dance Therapeutics DVDs, and also getting more on-line classes going, putting more training material out there for dancers to have access to at home. That is on the top of my “to do” list. And, I am very excited for the first ever “Deb Rubin Intensive” in Australia in 2014! This will be an awesome opportunity for dancers to really immerse in extended days training in technique, artistry, and therapeutics, to hone all aspects of the dancer’s toolkit and take your dance to the next level. Intensives allow me to really drop in with dancers and give more one-on-one attention, adjustments, and feedback, and allows us all to get into more advanced material, and drop in to a deeper level. That’s where it’s at!

In the immediate future, I’m just continuing to teach classes and workshops, create new dances, continue my own dance and yoga studies, and prep for upcoming events as they unfold. 2013 is pretty booked already, and I will find myself in Costa Rica, Hawaii, Germany, Russia, Scotland, France, Finland,Romania, Alaska, Canada, and all over the USA as well as Australia. I also have a few upcoming articles to write for FUSE Magazine. And, of course, most importantly, my future plans include learning as much Ozzie slang as possible before I return to Australia in 2014. I have three pages of research material to study from my recent trip to memorise! Any advice on that?!