Tribal Happenings and Tribal in Taiwan
Devi recounts her recent travels to Taiwan & we have a look at the Tribal scene over there
Bellydance Oasis Issue 36.
Well like most of you I have had a busy few months. As I type this article I have been enjoying a few quiet weekends for the first time since February in which I have been catching up with my family and close friends. After all it is our family and friends that support the crazy life style of us bellydancers so it is important to reconnect with them when ever we can!
In early March I received an email from Carolena Nericcio asking if I would consider performing and co- teaching the General Skills Certificate with her in Taiwan at the end of March as Megha was not well and couldn’t attend. Of course I said yes and spent six days in Taiwan with Carolena and Lucie [who dances with Carolena in San Francisco]. Lucie also did a fantastic job as our interpreter and performance buddy.
I arrived late on Thursday, so bright and early on Friday morning Carolena, Lucie and I had a one hour rehearsal for three sets. Initially, when I saw the itinerary of our schedule, I was horrified. One hour rehearsal for a half hour show with two people I have never danced with before, and one of them is Carolena! However, it was soon clear that this was going to work. We had all discussed the music choices and had listened carefully before hand so it was really just a matter of practicing together and feeling it out as a threesome. Of course it was all using improvisational choreography and it all worked beautifully. Ahhh, the beauty of ATS!
The show that night which was presented by our host Sherry Chen, was a huge extravaganza which included two hours of a variety of different bellydance styles. It amazes me how the teachers in Taiwan are expected to be proficient in Oriental styles as well as ATS, Gypsy Caravan and Tribal Fusions styles. There are some that also teach other styles of dance such as ballet and tap. Needless to say those gals are BUSY!
For the next three days after that Carolena and I presented the General Skills certificate. I had, of course, been as prepared as possible but what I wasn’t expecting was the head space that I needed to be in for my role as assistant teacher. I am so used to being THE teacher and am more than happy being a student but the role of assistant teacher is a different role again and falls somewhere between teacher and student. Once I had that role sorted in my own head everything seemed a lot easier. The girls in Taiwan were enthusiastic and so adorable in all black cholis and all tissue skirts in a variety of colours. I lovingly called them ‘The tribal wiggles’!
The general skills went swimmingly well and all participants seemed happy and exhausted as were Carolena, Lucie and I so it was off for a massage. After some celebratory drinks we managed to squeeze in a quick shop at the night markets and LOTS of eating [food in Taiwan is to die for!]. It was a fabulous trip. Hard work but fun as well and will definately go down as one of the highlights of my dancing career.
In March I finally managed to get to Melbourne after my trip was postponed last year due to me being ill. I hooked up with Melusina of Underbelly Studios which was lovely. [Underbelly has since closed its doors, although I believe all teachers will still be teaching in studios elsewhere]. Underbelly had asked me to teach a Tribal/Oriental/Indian choreography which is obviously not my usual ATS workshop. I felt that some participants were still expecting an ATS workshop because it was me teaching, [even though they received the blurb giving the workshop content]. ATS is what I am passionate about and have studied closely for over a decade, but I also have experience in classical Egyptian, Odissi, Flamenco and Ballet. On occasion I am asked to teach one of these workshops and I love presenting them in a choreography type of presentation. For my ATS workshops I like to present them as Carolena has intended…as pure ATS. I really believe that you need to understand the style, inside out before you start to change it and make it your own.
Of course there comes a time with many dancers, when they like to venture out and try something new. It is for this reason I recently started what I call, ‘The Pot Luck Specialty Class’. In this class we explore different combos or choreographies drawing from my other dance experience. For those that come to that class they must already have an ATS background as, for me, it is still the base from which I draw my posture and movement.
O.K. so I’m diverting from the topic, morale of the story…read your workshop flyers!
In Melbourne I also had the privilege of performing at Club Rakkash, hosted by the lovely Pamela. This is something that Pamela organises several times a year and is a great afternoon and evening of shopping and performances by local acts as well as special guests. I was the special guest in March. So exciting! There were many fantastic acts including Patsy from Nomadic Passions and one of her girls who had made the three hour drive from Ararat to perform. I felt very proud as I watched them perform several of Ghawazi Caravan’s ATS moves! If you want to find out about the next Club Rakkash you can contact Pamela. firstname.lastname@example.org.
In April and only days after returning from Taiwan I was off to Newcastle to teach a series of workshops hosted by Susan Gleeson of Black Diamond. Sonya Manzalini was gracious enough to hold the workshops in her studio, which I have to say was one of the loveliest studios I had ever seen. It was big and open with plenty of mirrors, shop downstairs, change room, bathroom, kitchen and shower! For these workshops I mainly focused on new combos and moves that I and Ghawazi Caravan have developed. I had recently taught this workshop in February in The Blue Mountains. Many of the Newcastle girls had come along for that and were so adamant on drilling and perfecting the moves correctly that they wanted an exact repeat in April in Newcastle. There is an old Chinese saying that goes something like this, “A good teacher is hard to find. A good student is even harder to find.” It was nice to see a great bunch of gals dedicating themselves to their own personal best.
A couple of weeks later I was off to Adelaide. This visit was sponsored by Achushla. The gorgeous dancer and director of Sacred Tribal Bellydance. I had a wonderful time with her and her girls who are all obviously extremely dedicated to perfecting their art.
May of course was The Sydney Middle Eastern Dance Festival. This was the 20th anniversary! Can you believe it? At the Saturday night concert Ghawazi Caravan presented two numbers and we were joined by special guest Hilary Cinis for our performance. We had only one rehearsal which once again shows how ATS really works when you dance with people that speak the same ‘dance’ language. Hilary and I also co taught a workshop entitled ‘interactive duets’. We had a lot of fun putting the workshop together then presenting it. We had a lot of great feedback from it as well, which was wonderful. Melusinas workshop entitled Indian Spices was also hugely popular. I also managed to get to the Bazaar day which is always an opportunity to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while. The performances on the Sunday were a mix of Oriental styles, Tribal styles and even a Gothic fusion performance by Dani’s troupe from Newcastle. I was very proud of my little Ghawazi Girls [ages 10 to 13]. They rocked the house! I also enjoyed Roothie’s [from Aurora tribe] pirate Tribal number…very entertaining. I really thought it suited her which is always nice to see.
At the end of May it was the Western Australian Middle Eastern Dance Festival. I was really busy teaching four workshops, performing and giving interviews. I even forgot to eat on the Saturday and that has NEVER happened to me before! My workshops were quite full which was great.
The Saturday night concert was quite a production with international guest Khaled and Artemis Mourat. Both were amazing in their own right. There wasn’t much in the way of Tribal but the Tribal Spirit girls did a really interesting piece with their Balinese finger nails. I also loved watching Ma’isah with her Gothic number and especially her Pseudo skirt project. Ma’isah and I were the interstate guests for the festival and she came up with the idea of teaching a choreography before the festival online then following it up with a workshop at the festival before performing at the festival on the Saturday night. I don’t know how many ladies were on stage but it was a lot and they looked AMAZING in their sepia coloured costumes which Ma’isah had also given on line instructions for. It really looked seamless and so much fun!
Sunday night was named Café Ashra and was a small informal get together with talks by Khaled and Artemis, myself and Ma’isah. I talked about the history of ATS, Tribal and a little about fusion. Ma’isah talked about her own experience with Gothic Fusion. It was an informative night for many people as there are so many beautiful variations not only to Middle Eastern Dance but also within Tribal styles. We even had a couple demos of Gothic and Tribal fusion by the lovely Fee from Canberra and Vicky from W.A. [Two of my favourite dancers so that was a treat for me!].
The weekend after that saw me in Ararat, Victoria hosted by the lovely Patsy from Nomadic Passions. I had a lovely time there with gals that had come from all over for the workshops.
It doesn’t actually stop there. Soon after visiting Patsy we had our big show, Intertwine, but I am going to have to leave it there and tell you all about that one later. What I will say is, it was the most exciting performance I have ever done. I am SO excited about it but for now you are going to have to wait until next issue, but
if you can’t wait please check out our website for all the latest on what we are up to as well as The Intertwine Project.
For now enjoy this article on Tribal belly dance in Taiwan by Lisa Chen…
Tribal Belly dance in Taiwan – A Short History and Current Scenes
By Lisa Chen
When bellydance was first introduced to Taiwan a few years ago, it was a mixture of cabaret bellydance and Middle Eastern dance. These styles remain the most well known to local audiences and the bellydance community, in addition to fusion styles and bollywood.
Bellydance in general became almost immediately popular and rapidly widespread as a new exercise choice and a pressure-relief hobby. Visual presentation, like performance or instructional DVDs is probably the most ideal and accessible way for local audiences and dancers since it doesn’t create a linguistic barrier for learning and understanding.
Among those bellydance performance DVDs first available to us was the Belly dance Superstars. These DVD’s have become one of the most influential in our development of the dance. Dancers such as Ansuya, Suhaila Salimpour, Amar of Bellyqueen, Tamalyn, Jillina, Sonia and Rachel Brice have become so well known that they are invited to give workshops and performance accordingly. Besides cabaret bellydancers or oriental dancers, Rachel Brice [in her dark-tone gothic-flavoured costume and snake-like movements] is quite different and very impressive to the Taiwanese audience. This is probably the first time local audiences and dancers encountered tribal bellydance and it remains the mainstream as well as stereotype impression about what tribal bellydance is like in Taiwan.
At first, not many local dancers and students were interested in learning tribal bellydance because it was not what they thought of as the stereotyped beautiful and seductively sexy bellydancer. During the early stages of bellydance experiences here, choreographies and props in cabaret style or oriental dance styles were the major focus and a few people tried tribal style costuming for a different look. Due to a serious shortage of information and knowledge on MED art and bellydance, many regarded tribal as merely another sub-gender. People were not very serious about the core concepts and accurate presentation about tribal bellydance.
Indeed, tribal bellydance is one of those sub-genders under the large bellydance umbrella. During this period of time, around 2005 to 2006, another DVD, the Art of Bellydancing by Carolena Nericcio, founder of ATS and director of Fat Chance Belly Dance was also brought back to Taiwan. People began to be curious about this ‘new’ style, where dancers are more covered up, play finger cymbals and always dance in a group.
“Tribal bellydance, in a way, is like a gate leading us toward a new world with abundant creation freedom and inspiration. Somehow we need to have more of an understanding about bellydance in general so we can better present it with our own cultural interpretation.” – Lisa Chen
Real Encounter with ATS and Tribal Fest
In 2006, a few Taiwanese dancers and instructors went to San Francisco to attend Tribal Fest and this is one of the first formal encounters of Taiwanese bellydancers with tribal bellydance and its origin, ATS. It was a very wonderful experience to meet with so many tribal dancers, have classes and watch performances at Tribal Fest, which truly provided us a more clear and comprehensive vision of this dance style. Among those who went to Tribal Fest, Sherry Shen and I went to learn with Carolena Nericcio at FCBD Studio and brought back what we learned about ATS to Taiwanese students. Sherry began to teach ATS at her studio and I started to do further research on ATS and tribal bellydance and wrote articles to promote this dance style which we both had a feeling for.
Ariellah and Sabine from Triballation came in 2007. Local dancers and students, for the first time experienced the Rachel Brice-like bellydance and some other tribal bellydance forms.
Also in 2007, the first General Skill Intensive Certification workshop of ATS was held in Taipei. Carolena and Megha Gavin were here for the three day workshops and officially the first generation of ATS dancers were thus granted with their GS knowledge and skills of ATS by Carolena. Afterwards, Sherry held another GS certification workshop in March 2009 in which Devi Mamak of Ghawazi Caravan co-taught with Carolena and performed together for local audience. This was the first time local dancers and audiences had seen the real ATS dance by its founder. In between the two GS workshops, I sponsored Devi Mamak, who I knew of through Carolena’s referral and personally visited her at the Blue Mountains in Australia. In 2007 Devi came and taught workshops for local dancers thus becoming the first Aussie dancer to teach in Taiwan and her teaching and dancing have impressed the local dancers of Taiwan.
Meanwhile, other dancers have also introduced tribal bellydance to the local community with different formats. Kiki Kuan based at Hsinchu and Taichung held the first tribal bellydance certification workshop at Taiwan with Sahira in 2006 and she further invited Kajira Djoumahna to give Black Sheep Bellydance certification workshops here. Kiki also hosted the 2008 Taiwan Tribal Asia Belly Dance at Taichung and Hsinchu, which Kajira, Sahira and John Compton of Habbi’ru as guest instructors.
Fangyun Lu, dancer, musician and costume designer, introduced the Gypsy Caravan format to the local dance community. She and her troupe Fang Yun Dance Theater have regular gigs combining other artistic inspiration elements with tribal bellydance. She sponsored Paulette Rees Denis, director of Gypsy Caravan to give her students a certification workshop in March 2009.
Al Maha Middle Eastern Dance & Drum Ensemble, the only troupe formed by both musicians and dancers in the Taiwan bellydance community, take the group improvisation form of ATS and fuse it with Middle Eastern and Arabic percussion as well as other types of dance forms such as folk dance and modern dance. In 2008, Christine Du of Al Maha, also one of the leading female Arab percussionists here held The Dance, Drum and Music Festival (DDM) and invited famous Arab percussionist Karim Nagi as guest instructor and performer. In the DDM Hafla, Al Maha performed their own version of ATS with a twist of Japanese flavor, flute and Chi drum. Their dance and costume wowed the audience as well as the local dance community.
Jamila Salimpour format has also been introduced into Taiwan. Suhaila Salimpour calls this “traditional tribal style belly dance.” It is famous for the complicated finger cymbal patterns and a few Taiwanese dancers including myself went to San Francisco for the first Jamila Salimpour certification workshop in September 2008. We were curious about the inspiration and origin of ATS and the tribal bellydance today. Jamila Salimpour impressed us with her charming personality, great techniques and informative resources on bellydance and ME dance. Currently, Jane Chung teaches Jamila format in addition to her devotion to promoting Suhaila Salimpour format here. In April 2009, Suhaila came to Taipei for her first overseas level 1 certification workshop and she also taught Jamila’s format for the local dancers. Many tribal bellydancers came for the class to meet with the mother of tribal bellydance and they are deeply impressed by the finger cymbal patterns and movements.
General Scene of ATS and Tribal Belly dance at Taiwan
Geographically, ATS is learnt and performed around Taipei metropolitan area while Black Sheep format spreads wide from Taipei, Taichung to South Taiwan. Due to the limited accessibility to resources, bellydance performers and instructors in South Taiwan are mostly taking both oriental dance and tribal bellydance as the whole package for teaching and performing. This is also true for dancers in North Taiwan even though they may have an individual preference toward certain styles. Perhaps this is because bellydance is so new here and students want to learn as much as they can and instructors also wish to ensure a full coverage for their students.
People are very fond of tribal fusion bellydance, in particular Rachel Brice and the breaking movement and urban chic style from her early Indigo period. Many dancers and students dream to dance like Rachel. Some directly imitate her from outfit to movement while others believe learning ATS and Suhaila Salimpour technique would eventually be helpful in developing a closer version to the famous Indigo style. In both cases, they all want that famous Rachel look. One of the most outstanding followers of Indigo style in Taiwan, in terms of dance technique and stage presentation, is Cheer Chang, who did a stunning tribal fusion solo piece in April 2009, with Suhaila Salimpour performing at the same show. Furthermore, whenever Rachel and her group present new performances, her looks and movements will be referenced by local dancers. Gothic style bellydance is also popular here as a new gender of tribal bellydance. Somehow, the concept of group dancing together as a tribe is not that strong in Taiwan and rather the ‘look’ takes the lead.
As the saying goes, ‘beauty is only skin deep.’ Somehow the tribal look is often the first impression and attraction to dancers and students here. Some women like me, like the ATS costume since it covers up more than the typical two-piece costume in cabaret bellydance. Others like the cool look Rachel and other tribal fusion bellydancers have. As it develops longer, more dancers and students who are serious about being tribal bellydancers gradually learn and explore the global tribal community. We realise there is much more to catch up on with other colleagues globally, develop into a real tribal bellydancer. We need to know about music and rhythms. We need to learn to fuse different dance forms properly. Tribal bellydance in a way is like a gate leading us toward a new world with abundant creation freedom and inspiration. Somehow we need to have more of an understanding about bellydance in general so we can better present it with our own cultural interpretation.
Generally speaking, the popularity of ATS and Tribal Bellydance is growing relatively slowly in Taiwan mainly because it requires more fundamental techniques such as finger cymbals, which is extremely foreign to local dancers and students. In addition, the idea of group improvisation in a way discourages many from learning and performing with finger cymbals. It has partially resulted from cultural gaps where improvisation seems to be seen as a negative and a challenging concept. As a rule Taiwanese dancers like to have everything under control by preparing and knowing everything in advance. Furthermore, since learning choreographies remains the major method to learn and teach bellydance, improvisation simply is not what many people expect from class and stage. Few dancers have experienced joyful experiences of group improvisation and like me constantly hold on this path and try to promote this beautiful and exciting dance style for further awareness and exposure. We look forward to joining with other tribal sisters worldwide for more fun!
For comments and questions please contact email@example.com
For more information please check Lisa’s blogs below:
Well that’s it for this issue of Tribal Corner. Don’t forget that we have The Tribal Mosaic in Wollongong coming up. You can contact Jacqueline via the website about this exciting and first ever Tribal retreat held in the beautiful Govinda vallery. www.tribaljewels.com.au.
Carolena and Megha will once again be presenting The General Skills certificate and Teacher Training. Teacher Training is all booked out but there are a few spaces left for the General Skills certificate. You can contact me for this one at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to see some of you at these exciting events. Till then, over and out! Dxxxx