Tribal happenings and an interview with Elizabeth Fish
Originally published in Bellydance Oasis
Issue 61 2017
Tribal happenings and an interview with Elizabeth “Superbeth” Fish by Devi Mamak
Hello dear readers. I’m sitting here writing to you again waiting for my connecting flight to Frankfurt at Abu Dhabi airport with me dear friend and fellow dancer April Erzetich. We are off to the Black Forrest festival. We are very excited as it will be a first for both of us.
It must seem to you readers that I’m always travelling but in truth I’m away only a few times per year and when I’m not I’m a busy mum at home, trying to tend to 3 acres of land, cooking and cleaning. Piano practise etc etc. The best time for me to type is when I’m in transit somewhere. It’s a hard juggle as many of you know oh to well. It would be near impossible for us belly dance mums to do what we do if it weren’t for supportive partners and family members. It’s a little easier as kids get older but not always. My son is 21 now and is obviously self sufficient. My daughter is now 14 and suffers from epilepsy. It’s hard to leave her as it is a constant worry. Although she may be fine for months at a time I never know when it will flair up again so it’s always in the back of my mind. I’m lucky that my partner of 31 years and her dad is an acupuncturist is always there to help her and can pull her out of a seizure within seconds. Although it’s hard to not be with her whilst I’m away I’m relaxed to know that she’s always with her dad and luckily nothing big has ever happened on one of my trips or I’d be pacing the floor like a caged tiger! With that in mind I’d like to give thanks to all who love and support us for making the transition from mother to dancer that little bit easier. I’m mentioning this now as I know so many of you belly dance mums find it hard and it’s always nice to know you are not alone. Jrisi Jusakos recently started a belly dance page. ” belly dance mammas”. It’s a great little forum for dancers to share their experiences. Check it out.
Earlier this year in July I travelled back to Japan which I love so much. The people, the food, the cities, the country side and the dancers are enthusiastic and eager to learn. My first stop was in Nakastsugawa city, Gifu prefecture to visit my first Japanese student and dear friend Satomi. This was just a friendly visit but in true Japanese style Satomi’s students through me a surprise party so we could all catch up. I was very touched.
Next stop was to Hamamatsu. A small city by Japanese standards by the sea. My lovely host Kasumi took very good care of me and although the class numbers were low the students were lovely and I loved getting to know them a little better. There were dancers that travelled from Osaka and Tokyo for the workshops and show. The show was fun and showcased a variety of different styles. There was a great little piano there and as a last minute decision I performed one of my original compositions and an ATS(r) group from Tokyo performed a slow improvised piece. It was a little raw but hey we only decide to do it 10 minutes before the show started!
Next stop was Tokyo. Once again my host there was Gon Gon. She is a lot of fun and had me doubled up in hysterics on more than one occasion! And no, she speaks no English, and me, no Japanese but somehow we managed. In Tokyo I taught many workshops which were well attended. The show was also likewise fantastic. Well rounded with a showcase of many styles. It was fun doing a few ATS (r) pieces with both Kasumi and Gon and to see many of the students perform much of what I showed them the year before.
Gon and Kasumi are particularly fond of Australia. They both met for the first time when I hosted Carolena and Megha for GS and TT and became fast friends. They were so impressed with Australia that they both attended our Tribal and trance fest in Sydney and are also planning to come for the next one.
When I returned home from Japan I was home for around 10 days before I was off again, this time to China. It has been sometime since I have been to China and I was excited to go back. My hostess once again was the lovely Zhen Zhen. Zhen is a great host. China is crazy enough as it is. For me there is usually some level of stress or being uncomfortable when I travel to China. I just go with the flow and try to enjoy the experience. At the very least there will be an interesting story to tell. As you can imagine having a host that is on the ball is important! Zhen’s city is Chengdu and considered a small city. It’s cleaner than Beijing for sure but still seems big to me. The workshops in Chengdu were well attended with Zhen’s online students of all styles travelling from many cities . Students in China learn fast but seem to clam up when they have to think or be artistic on their own. The ones that are able to have an artistic flair are amazing! As well as performing a couple of solos Zhen and I performed slow ATS (r) to live Gudgin which is a traditional stringed Chinese instrument. This for me was particularly exciting. Once again I also performed one of my original piano pieces and Zhen performed a traditional Chinese fan dance which was just beautiful.
Internet is highly monitored in China. Things like Facebook and YouTube banned although they do have their own Chinese Facebook and some YouTube videos are available. China would have to be the most advanced technological countries that I know of. Everything is paid by phone, many people don’t even leave their homes sometimes for weeks at a time as there is no need to. Credit cards are now rare due to the phone culture. Most classes are also on line in the dance world. As you can imagine many Chinese people have found ways around the internet restrictions and taught me whilst I was there. This lasted around 3 days for me before the Chinese government are onto it and my whole internet is blocked for everything except checking emails ( but can’t respond) and Skype!
Because of the lack of information on the internet about middle eastern dance and all of its off shoots Zhen held many workshop lectures throughout the week as well as having some dialogue throughout the show about different styles, the history, where they came from etc in an attempt to educate the dancers and audience members in china. Zhen also regularly sponsors dancers and teachers from oriental, to tribal and tango from all over the world. She is dedicated to the art of dance, to good technique and teaching styles as well as understanding the roots and where things come from. Next year zhen will be organising the first tribal festival in China with myself and April Rose as the special guests. This should be lots of fun.
Once home I concentrated on the final touches for the debut of my new intensive STAGECRAFT. I have been working on this for almost 2 years now and is the culmination of my years of experience in this industry and my own personal insights into what makes a good performance. In my opinion it is so many things and it took me a long time to put it into topics and categories. I wanted it to be from my perspective and not simply a rehash of things I had learnt from my teachers or at workshops. I had to really look at myself. Why I dance and what do I bring to it that is unique to me. I came away with the conclusion that I am not the best dancer by any means but I do have very good musicality. I am a musician before I am a dancer after all. So this is how the seed for STAGECRAFT was born.
We delved into unusual times signatures and how a dancer can utilise them without changing the combos she already knows and loves in 4. If you know how each given time signature is grouped it makes things easier. I also talk about the importance of silence and how to move through silence and what to listen and feel for. We also looked at step by step ways to create your own style and combinations and to add different inspired dance styles into your dance by looking at your lines and body angle to create a different look whilst still using the foundation of what you might already be using. The exciting part for me was watching dancers from different back grounds create combinations that were in actual fact mini choreographies that were so good that it was better than I imagined. In fact I think I may steal a few and use them myself! All in all I was extremely happy with how the first one went. There is room for improvement . In fact I have now extended it to 4 days as there were things I needed to add as well as getting some important feedback from the students to add a few more important topics.
My vision for STAGECRAFT is to give students of any genre of belly dance a way to create for themselves as well as thinking outside of the box. I don’t mind if my students want to do my combinations or choreographies like me or not. I’m honoured if they do but I want dancers to be themselves. I think the biggest gift I could give is to try and encourage their creativity. I am so thrilled at the response I have had with STAGECRAFT.
The next one is set for Brisbane on 2nd to 4th March 2018. If you are interested either contact me at [email protected] or Sian at [email protected]
And now……. drum roll…. I give you SUPERBETH!
Why did you start belly dancing? It might sound funny, but it was simply to make friends. I had just moved to Milwaukee and didn’t know anyone. I ran across an advertisement for a tribal fusion belly dance class and thought I might find some interesting, like-minded people there; and so, I went to class.
Who was your first teacher/s and how did they shape your dance style? Jennifer Nolan was my first and only local teacher on a regular basis. I tried class with one other person one time, but that was it. Jen started as a fusion artist. When she transitioned to ATS(r), so did I. She was my teacher, mentor, and eventual business partner.
Where are you based now and what is the bellydance scene like there? I am still based in Milwaukee, WI. Belly dance in the midwest is an evolving community. We have many different styles taught by several teachers with experiences that range from a few years to decades.
Jennifer Nolan was the original director of Tamarind. When do you take over that roll? How have you changed things within the school, troupe and dance if at all? I took over the troupe in August 2014. Jen officially announced her retirement shortly thereafter. Tamarind Studio didn’t exist until 2015. I wanted to get us all teaching under the same roof. I’ve added 2 new troupe members since Jen’s departure. I continue to expand the Tamarind stylisation (called Tamarind Tribal Transformations) with new moves, formation concepts, and costuming aesthetic.
Tell us a little about the tamarind troupe members and what they bring to the table. I have 11 members of the troupe (not including myself). They are an amazing group of women – college educated, white collar professionals with talents in a multitude of different areas. I find myself wildly fortunate to be able to delegate different troupe responsibilities to people who are far better than myself at cooking, travel organising, social media, vendor coordination, etc…
Most people in Australia know tamarind from the FCBD Vol 9 DVD and your fan work but I hear that you also have a skirt dialect. Tell us about that. I love props! There is something about adding colour and texture to movement that really draws me in. The skirt vocabulary started with Jen and I getting inspired after viewing some beautifully done skirt work. At first, it was just her and I doing duets, but then we codified some moves and started engaging other troupe members. I’ve continued to expand upon it and now do Fan & skirt work simultaneously. It’s such fun!
What are you and tamarind working on at the moment? Lots of things. I have some new moves in the works, group concepts, and continued expansion of the prop vocabulary. I’m also starting to look at Indian Fusion.
You are mainly known for ATS(r) and Tamarind dialect but you have also worked on fusion with Zoe Jakes. Tell us a little about that. Zoe Jakes is an amazing performer, teacher, and trainer. I am Key of Diamonds and Key of Spades certified in her DanceCraft format. Her style is unique and draws from a wellspring of incredibly talented performers. In a few words, it’s magical and I love it.
Which dancers have inspired you in the past and present that may have shaped your own individual style? There are so many…Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman (graceful command of the stage), Devi Mamak (for your delicate movements), Masha Archer (presentation of dance as “moving sculptural composition”), Zoe Jakes (intense body conditioning and amazing inspirational showmanship), Rachel Brice (serpentine and flow stylizations), and Tamalyn Dallal (feminine grace in movements and heavenly arms and hands).
You have travelled to several other countries for teaching. Where have you been and how is the scene different ( if at all) in those countries ? The scene really differs from country to country. In some cases, like Mexico, they are blending and fusing together bits of this style and that style to create their own unique voice. In Russia, they are masters of technique and spend countless hours to develop the subtle nuance of the movement. In all places, it’s a means of establishing community and bonding with others.
How do you see the tribal scene developing in the USA? I see us on the verge of a great change. We are in need of infusing our community with new lifeblood, young people; and how we engage those newer dancers in our community, will invariably change it moving forward.
What are your plans for the future? Continue to grow the community, pass on the Tamarind stylisations to eager students, and have fun doing it.