Tribal Soirees with Deb Napier 2007

Published in Bellydance Oasis magazine Issue 29. July to September 2007

For this issue of Tribal Corner I thought it would be good to catch up with Debra Napier, Artistic Director of Urban Qabila [formly Urban Turban] and have a chat to her about the Tribal Student Soirees which she coordinates throughout N.S.W.

What is a Tribal Student Soiree?

Student Soirees are a relaxed gathering of tribal students, troupes and musicians. They provide the opportunity for performance artists to share their music and dancing skills whilst gaining performance experience in a supportive, down-to-earth setting. They also give us the chance to catch up with those we know in the community, develop friendships with those we don’t know, practice improvisation and share choreography ideas and new moves.

Why is it called a “Soiree”? The word describes the event perfectly as by definition it’s an evening performance or party, usually with music and often held at someone’s place. The fact that these are held ‘privately’ emphasised to me the friendly, informal, ‘get together’ type nature I wanted to encourage.

How many have there been so far & where have they been held?  So far 5 have been held – Sydney, Lawson, Wollongong, Canberra & Gosford with the next to be held in Sydney in early August. How often are they held?  At between 3 & 6 monthly intervals Why have them in various locations?  Originally the idea was to hold them in Sydney on a quarterly basis but hosting them in different locations has given a greater number of people the chance to take part, whether as a performer or audience member.

What have the students gained from performing/attending the student Soirees?  One of the things I love most about Soirees is seeing students progress. At the first Soiree I recall many being quite nervous and even terrified of the experience but the most recent Soiree featured some of these same students performing strong and beautiful solos whilst others had the confidence to take the lead during the tribal jam.  It gives me such a buzz seeing people develop the confidence to stand strong and proud in themselves.

What is the criteria for performing at a Student Soiree? We encourage tribal students to have been taking classes on a regular basis for at least 6 months.  We also welcome the performance of professional tribal troupes as this gives students the chance to see what they can work towards.

What do you hope for the future of the Student Soiree?  I hope that the tribal community will continue to grow and become a more inclusive and creatively energetic environment.  It would also be fantastic if other Australian states ran them simultaneously with the Sydney Soirees and there has been interest in this already.  The more people who learn the language of tribal improvisation, the more people us tribal obsessive’s can share our passion and truly geek out with.

What have you been up to?

Late last year, the Director of UrbanTurban at the time Hilary Cinis, left to pursue solo interests.  The troupe decided this was a good opportunity to look at who we were and where we were headed.  As a result we changed our name to Urban Qabila, or Urban ‘Tribe’ in Arabic, I was fortunate to be voted Director and we were joined by new member Nyree Dietrich.  Our focus continues to be developing our technique and working on our fire skills of which our latest addition is the fire hoop.  Barb aka ‘Sparklegirl’ performs a funky fire hoop routine and as our fire specialist is constantly pushing our twirling skills.  It’s an exciting time.

Some thoughts on the Soiree by participants:

“I LOVE the soirees. I love the informal get-togethers of all the tribal dancers and the chance to see what other troupes are doing. It’s a chance to say hello to lots of people you know and meet a few new ones. And of course the opportunity of dressing up, performing and buying from the trading table!” Roslynda Anasstassi from Ghaziya

“The gatherings are always full of like-minded Goddesses (and God’s!) ready and willing to share their creative spirit. The excitement starts for me when we embark on a chorography with the goal of the next Soiree. Who will dance? What wonderful costuming shall we see? What new moves have the other troupes come up with? How will the music be interpreted? What trinkets can I buy to add to my costume, a memento of the day? Which old and new faces will I encounter? All questions answered in this womb of creation…colours, tassels, feathers and kuchi pieces all a whirl in a sea of moving bodies. My favourite time of the day is when the show is over, the nerves and tummy flutters are gone, the drummers warm up their skins, and alchemy happens. Dancers new and veteran gather together as one big tribe, and even though we have different accents, we all move to the common language of tribal belly dance.” Dayl Workman from Urban Quabila

“How much jewellery, and how many hairpieces, accessories, fake flowers, bindiis and layers can a girl wear, and still be able to dance without tipping over?   At the regular Tribal Dance soirees, hosted by the various Tribal Style Belly Dance groups that are forming around Australia, you have the chance to find out.

Students fuss and chatter off stage amid the jingle of jewellery.  They adjust heavily adorned coin bras, and pin the final flowers or jewellery onto headgear or into hair.  Facial tattoos add the finishing touch to the creation of exotic, mysterious faces that hint of lands far away in time and distance.   Eventually the groups take the stage; mesmerising, slow, lithe and sinuous, then suddenly bursting into life amid a swirling flurry of wide skirts, tassels and flying colours.

The music is haunting and as varied as the dancers themselves.  Drums beat out ancient rhythms, ouds trill their melodies, and in the next moment, they are contrasted by modern pieces played on synthesisers and accompanied by eerie vocals.   It is time to catch up with old friends, a chance to make new ones, to learn new moves, share ideas and compare costumes.

During a break, the music goes on, and groups of dancers form, sometimes total strangers, drawn together by the beat, and speaking a common language of movement and rhythm.  They dance together, synchronised, delighting in the unity the dance creates.   From the total beginner, to the experienced dancer, all are welcome here, to watch, to participate, to drink in the atmosphere of dreams and visions.” Ruth Kunde from Tribal spirit

“I have always found the form of tribal bellydance engaging but didn’t expect that I’d ever do it myself.  As a man I am not keen on gender divides so I thought ‘what the hell, why not’.  I found the earlier Soirees interesting but the performance aspect was scary and nerve wracking.  I’ve since come to feel that they are a friendly, collective and enjoyable experience.” Chris Moore from Tribal Spirit

“The atmosphere at a tribal soiree is vibrant. Each dancer with unique costuming, full skirts, colourful pantaloons and an array of accessories. It is a gathering of people united by a love of tribal dance. With the rhythms of the music, drums & zills, everyone is welcomed and encouraged to participate. We come in all ages shapes and sizes, all skill levels and different walks of life. Everyone has the opportunity to perform and join together to improv just for the joy of dancing.”  – Sue Murphy

Tribal Goss from around the country and N.Z!

Well it’s shapping up to a be a busy  first half of the year in the world of tribal belly dance in Australia & N.Z.

For me personally I had the pleasure of travelling to QLD with fellow troupe member Rachelle.Jill from Down Under Tribal belly Dance was our gracious host. Unfortunatly for me i was terribly ill but soldired on regardless. Thank goodness for Rach & thanks to Jill and all the girls who were so understanding.

In March Amera and I headed to W.A  to conduct workshops for Belyssa. This to me was such a huge honour. Tribal belly dance is a fused,contemporary style. I love that about Tribal but i also feel the importance of honouring where the “roots” have come from. To be able to spend the weekend with Belyssa and Amera both with so much experiance, Knowledge & passion for the dance was truley an inspiration. They even had me performing a Khaleegy number!

Then myslef and 4 other Ghawazi Caravan members were off to teach and perform at MEDANZ [Middle Eastern dance Association, New Zealand] festival. We had a ball. The New Zealand girls from Kiwi Iwi &and The Lost Tribe really looked after us. It was lovely to see them perform at the festival along with all the other local acts. The Lost Tribe have fused Tribal with some traditional Turkish inspired moves and have even used Turkish rhythms rather than your straight 4/4 commonly used amoungst tribal enthusiasts. Kiwi Iwi were differnt again fusing Tribal fuison and Maori dance in particular using traditional style Maori poi. All very exciting & innovative stuff!

Then it was back home to prepare for the arrival of Solace and Rachel Lazurus from Blue Damsel. For those of you that don’t know Solace are an AMAZING band from the U.S.A and Rachel Lazurus is Troupe director of Blue Damsel and also a member of Solace. They performed and taught in the Blue Mountains, N.S.W as well as in Melbourne. Check out the next Oasis mag for more about them and their aussie tour.

Not long after that we had the Sydney Middle Eastern dance Festival which was very different this year in that all our favourite venues had changed..not that it dampened the fun! Unfortunatly for Tribal enthusiasts there was very little tribal performances.[i think we took over just a little last year!] but what was there we soaked up.Melusina from Underbelly and myself both had workshops on offer which both had large attendance which really shows how much Tribal is growing in this country.

Later on in the year I am once again sponsering Carolena & Megha from the U.S.A. This year they will be offering the General Skills certificate, which has already booked out! Don’t dismay! Carolena has already agreed to come again next year and hold the course again.

..And here is what some of you Tribal gals are up to:


Hilary Cinis, founding member and the director of Sydney Tribal Bellydance troupe, UrbanTurban decided to pursue fusion and experimental performance work as a soloist.  UrbanTurban is now no longer, however the majority of the group decided to continue on and now perform under a new name, Urban Qabila.Since going solo she has had the pleasure of working with some great Sydney dancers including an improvised duet with Devi at the Bellydancers Ball and a corporate function with the Hathor Dance Troupe at Luna Park.

Students studying with Jaqueline Pepperkamp- Seaton in Wooloongong, N.S.W has grown so they now have 3 Tribal troupes, Tribal Jewels, Gypsy Jewels & another Jewels student troupe.Chandra  Lamont formely from Urban Turban has moved to the Wollongong area & is now with Jaquie & Tribal Jewels


“Our tribe is constantly growing and changing, with 12-15 women .we have 2 other tribes in north queensland Tribal Pulse[Atherton] and Tribal Zest[Cairns] who share our passion for the dance. there are also some women dancing up in cooktown the ‘Tipsy Gipsies’ I havent met them yet, but they sound like great fun!!”

Nina from Gypsy Rain in Innisfail, QLD

“Tribal Blossoms is feeling the festival fever with a passion, spreading the word of Tribal Bellydance to community events across Brisbane…our dance journey has been shared  by the lovely Kim from Urban Qabila, which has been a great experience to see how this dance unites us across borders (no State of Origin jokes here) – so its an interesting blend of ATS, GC & some fusion right now….she’s reminded us to focus again on our zilling technique so we’ve gotten even louder! “

Dee Thompson from Tribal Blossoms


“It’s been great consolidating and putting into practice everything I learnt last year at all the fantastic workshops. In particular I have been experimenting a lot with Tribal Fusion and Romani Gypsy to create our own unique style. “

Kylea Hartly from Tribe vibe, Adelaide. S.A


”  The growing interest in Tribal and fusion styles here in Melbourne is reflected in the ever escalating class numbers. I’m always amazed at the natural talent that some students have for these styles and it is very satisfying as a teacher to watch them develop into skilled performers. The recent visits by international tribal teachers to Melbourne (Brice, Paulette, Lazurus/Soto) have helped to inspire more tribal recruits and keep the ball rolling. It is great to hear from these teachers that they (upon visiting Oz) consider Australia to be worthy of being a tribal Mecca in its own right with many skilled dancers and teachers starting to make their mark in this style.

Belly dancers in regional areas of Victoria are also embracing Tribal and I find myself teaching and performing workshops in regional areas more and more often.

 Melusina from Underbelly in Melbourne

Please don’t forget to email me what you have all been up to as I would love to here about it as i am sure so would all our readers.