Tribal Happenings & Theresa Tomb
Originally published in Bellydance Oasis magazine
Issue 60 2017
Hello dear readers
I’m sitting here in a warm train ( thank goodness as it’s winter and I hate the cold) on my way to Sydney for a family lunch. I’ve had a relatively quiet time on the dance front as far as travel goes which has worked well for me as I prepare for my brand new intensive “STAGECRAFT” to make its debut in Sydney in September as well as work on another exciting project which I’m not quite ready to announce yet but you will all be the first to know…promise! To find out more about “STAGECRAFT” check out https://www.facebook.com/events/314853362268217/?ti=icl for more details but better get in quick as spaces are going much faster than expected!
In march I did get to go to Wasrsaw Poland for the first time which I was thrilled about for a number of reasons. The first being the dancers there. I have known Agata Zakrzewska and Katarzyna Lidia from the Siren Society and Hamas dance school for a few years now. They have attended several of my workshops over the years in Europe and have even dedicated some of their Monday night classes to be a “Devi Mamak” class teaching my steps and concepts. The dancers and teachers of this school are hard working and dedicated. They teach a range of different tribal styles as well as folkloric Egyptian and oriental styles of dance and I was impressed with the quality and representation of these styles in the gala show. These girls work AND play hard!
The event that I was there for was The Tribal Halfa Festival. April Rose from the USA, Maria Fomina from the Ukraine and Hilde Cannoodt from the UK were the other special guests. I got to share an apartment with these amazing women and artists which I loved. We all had a blast together and each and everyone are amazingly talented. In the upcoming issues of the oasis I will be interviewing them so you can learn more about these ladies. In the mean time Hilde will be coming to Australia where she will be teaching a series of workshops on her signature contemporary and tribal fusion techniques as well as choreology and Laban in Sydney at Amera’s Palace on the 29th of October. Please check out
https://www.facebook.com/events/1916363048633923/ for more details. Hilde will also be in Shellharbour NSW (25km South of Wollongong) at Astarte Mind & Body Studio from 1st-5th November 2017. Tickets available through Eventbrite. Check out https://www.facebook.com/events/1890027554344560/?ref=br_rs for mor details.
Back to the festival in Poland. Agata ad Dominika who are co owners in the Hamsa school ran a very well oiled festival. They were there to assist and explain everything to the attendees who came from all over Europe. The attention to detail such as gift packs with note pads and information and lunches really made everyone feel appreciated and important. It was well attended with approximately 40 people in each workshop. There were not many teachers. Only an extra 3 apart from the 4 special guests but this enabled all attendees to be able to do everything if their body allowed.
The gala show was amazing. Even though it was Hamsa schools tribal festival ( they also host a Show dedicated to more tradition styles) there was a large representation of oriental in the show as well which I personally like to see for texture and variety. I was thrilled to perform one of my original Flamenco fusion choreographies with Katarzyna, Agata and about 10 of their students. Katarzyna and Agata had learnt my choreography in Berlin the year before and I was very impressed with how well they had learnt the choreo and relayed it to their students. I was honoured to perform it with them on stage. I also performed an ATS(r) quartet with Agata, Katarzyna and Maria from the Ukraine which was super fun. Add 2 solos and needless to say I had lots of costume changes but got to watch some of the show from the wings at least.
On a social level I loved the polish ladies. They took great care of me and all their guests and gave me plenty of polish vodka to try! What’s not to love!?
On a more personal level I was so excited to go to Warsaw as it is the place of Chopins birth who is my favourite romantic composer and if I’m not playing my own piano compositions these days it’s his I love to play. One day I hope to learn all of his nocturnes. It was so interesting to go to the Chopin museum and then take a drive out to his birth place and home. Was great just to walk though the grounds, see the room where he was born and touch his pianos! I was very greatfull to the ladies from the Hamsa school for taking me out there and making my dream come true.
I will leave you now with a little fireside chat with the lovely Teresa Tomb from Kentucky. In my opinion she is one of the unsung heros of Tribal belly dance in the USA. I have known Teresa for many years now and am consistently impressed with her dedication and artistic vision. Always exploring new avenues and materials but always staying true to herself. Till next time readers. Happy dancing!
AN INTERVIEW WITH TERESA TOMB by Devi Mamak
1) When and how did you start belly dancing?
I started taking classes in 1995 with my teacher Suzanne Armetta. She taught classes at one of the YMCA ‘s in town. Her classes focused on folkloric and cabaret style dances. She passed away unexpectedly about a year and half into my study with her.
Suzanne Armetta was a lovely dancer from the east coast who moved to Kentucky with her husband. She rode horses as well as taught belly dance. Wonderful spirit and great laugh. She was Sicilian. She reminded me of Dalia Carella. Suzanne’s main teacher was Veda Sereem who had a large influence on Suzanne’s style.
After she passed away, I reached out to Carolena and adopted her as my 2nd teacher. I had discovered FatChance while on tour in the western part of the U.S in 1996. I shared a video of them with Suzanne when she was alive and she was really impressed.
2) How did you manage to study with Carolena living so far away from her? This was before YouTube and skype! How did you find distance learning?
The owner of a belly dance shop called Kismet in Salt Lake City turned me onto FatChanceBellyDance(r). I had been dancing about a year and described my aesthetic and he pulled out their video tapes and said ,”I think you’d like this group based on what you’re describing.” He was correct!
I had started taking flamenco lessons around the same time period. Suzanne, my belly dance teacher, would correct me and say you’re letting your flamenco come into your belly dance. My flamenco teacher would tell me I did floreos like a middle eastern dancer. Just like peanut butter and chocolate I thought the two flavours mixed naturally.
Back to Carolena: shortly after Suzanne passed, I scheduled a 2 week trip to San Francisco to soak up as much as I could. At the time I believe Rakkasah was going on and Rina Rall was covering classes in Noe Valley. I met Carolena in person on a Wednesday evening when FatChance was performing at Amira’s. I got to study with her later on in my trip.
After the trip, I continue studying using the FatChance instructional videos and occasionally emailing questions to Carolena.
I kept up with material by traveling to workshops with Carolena in Sante Fe hosted by Myra Krien. I would continue to go to San Francisco on occasion and study with both Carolena and Jill Parker.
A lot of my training in the early days after Suzanne passed away was a lot of self practice, lots of videos, lots of workshops, some private lessons here and there with various dancers. Most of what was offered here at the time was cabaret and Orientale style, so our troupe’s style is infused with a grand blend of folkloric, cabaret, North African, ATS, flamenco, and some sprinklings of Indian dance.
3) It would have been an interesting time to learn from both Carolena and Jill. I’m imagining you would have witnessed the birth of Tribal fusion first hand. What was that like?
Yes! Very interesting! The first time I saw FatChance I was completely mesmerised by how they were executing the belly dance art form. The group dynamic, the lushness of the costuming, the repetition of the movements was absolutely hypnotising.
There were boundaries in this dance form that were being pushed aside and this pushing aside was magnified by what Ultra Gypsy was exploring. They would be playing with fire, fire pots and eating fire while dancing. It all seemed to be a playful nod to something taboo and dangerous, which made it so exciting and larger than life.
I really resonated with the styles that both Carolena and Jill represented. The aesthetic suited my own. From the beginning of my dance exploration I had a big imagination for how I wanted to utilise the dance form. My imagination wanted to paint with the dance. Seeing artists like Carolena and Jill do things that were really different from more traditional styles of belly dance invigorated that notion.
Later on, we witnessed troupes like Urban Tribal and Unmata come onto the scene and what those dancers were doing was incredibly amazing. The Tribal belly dance world was just on fire.
Through all these years, I hosted almost everybody at some point in Lexington. I’ve always felt it was really important for me as a teacher to expose my students to the artists who I loved, respected, and was studying with. I wanted them to understand where I and it was all coming from, if that makes sense. All of this was done along side a huge respect for traditional cabaret and folkloric forms, because these were the roots of the fusion forms essentially at the core.
4) That sounds like a very exciting time. Who did some of you and your students benefit from the most back then and why?
Well, I think our biggest influences have been Carolena, Jill, Dalia, Amel Tafsout, Elena Lentini (Elena is a huge influence on me personally), Mira Betz, and our East Coast Tribal sisters from Zafira: Olivia Kissel especially.
I came into belly dance as someone who had been playing music. The last project I had been involved in utilised a lot of improvisation as a tool to find our hooks and write our songs.
Carolena’s ATSr) style laid down a format communicating with body language in an improvised manner that made a lot of sense to me. The style of costuming as well was really visually pleasing as it complimented the movements so well. I just really appreciated how all of it went together.
Myself and the original crew of Rakadu all studied styles that were either cabaret or folkloric in the beginning because that was all that was around on this side of the country. We met the ladies of Zafira: Olivia Kissel and Christina back in our early baby dancer days at a workshop with Morocco (Aunt Rocky). Their troupe and our troupe were the only tribal groups on the East coast at the time it would have seemed. Needless to say, we were very happy to meet each other.
When I think about Rakadu’s “style” I think we are a grand mixture that includes ATS at its spine, cabaret and North African folkloric and Indian dances, mixed with theatrical story telling and contemporary improvisational dance. I know that is a lot of influence, but we come by it naturally and honestly.
Jill Parker has been a great influence and mentor to us. I’ve had a few instances of my dance experience coming full circle while I’ve studied with her. I would learn something from her and recognise the roots of where a certain step or combination came from based on classes I had taken in my early belly dance career with cabaret teachers but they would have Jill’s spin and Jill’s body language on it them and it would open up my own creative mind to how to change the “dialect or accent” of a step, so that it fit your own style. In the same way that Carolena has stayed true and dedicated to her art form, I believe Jill has stayed committed to her approach with belly dance. I really appreciate this devotion and honing of the craft and the standing by your commitments.
For a while during the Tribal Fusion explosion, I witnessed a lot of dancers constantly trying to redefine themselves to stay ahead of the next big thing. I really appreciated the “stick to it” devotion that Carolena displayed in the face of many dancers expressing boredom with her style. The devotion to the form won out and because of this we have a reference for Tribal belly dance and for Tribal Fusion. ATS(r) has become essentially a classic form and without that devotion and commitment we would not have a solid reference for Tribal fusion.
5) Oh your a musician too?! What do you play?
I play the flute. I also played keyboard for a couple of bands in the late 80s/early 90s. One band was a speed metal punk pop band and the other alternative funk pop band. I also have dabbled in experimental sound making in some avante garde projects. Basically give me an instrument and I will find ways to create sound with them.
6) You say there wasn’t much happening in the way of Tribal on the east coast. How is that now and do you think that west coast and east coast styles differ?
There is certainly much more happening regionally in the tribal belly dance world than when I started, particularly in the Midwest and the southeast. New York City continues to favor the more classic forms like cabaret, Orientale, folkloric. There is some tribal but it is not as represented there.
7) I agree that it’s important to have dancers/ teachers like Carolena and Jill to stay true to their style so it doesn’t become watered down. You also mentioned that dancers were trying to constantly evolve and redefine . I’ve seen this too to the point of not being belly dance any more. Do you think that is still happening in the USA today or is the pendulum swinging back?
I see trends in the belly dance world cycle through, similar to the fashion world. If an accomplished and influential artist gets ahold of a concept and explores and presents it in a powerful way, it shines a light on that concept or style or innovation and you’ll begin to see others explore that direction too. We all want to wear that attractive item.
I’ve seen the pendulum swing out in many directions and then it comes back to a place where dancers return to the roots. Dance is a fluid art form and it makes sense that dancers explore different techniques and styles while trying to find their voice. I think ultimately, a conscientious dancer and artist will return to the roots of the dance many times through her career and keep those roots at the core of her dance.
And I agree, I’ve seen many evolutions of the dance happen that I would no longer consider belly dance. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not belly dance. I think as belly dancers our experience and progress through the art form from the point when we are baby dancers to experienced instructors and choreographers, we experience feedback from our bodies that includes physical discoveries of what our bodies can do, discovery muscles we hadn’t noticed before and we experience the emotional connection from the music and the expressive movements. We just simply really start to feel things, all the things. I think this can naturally create more exploration that’s both physical and expressive, emotive. In essence we start to “play with our food”. It is not unlike what dancers like Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn were doing long ago. The result ends up being something other than belly dance but is still connected emotionally and physically to the form.
8. So where do you see tribal belly dance going to next?
Hmmm, a good question. I see the form getting more explorative in a theatrical way for a bit and then maybe cycling back to its more folkloric roots.
9. What are your future plans for yourself and your troupe?
We are coming up on Rakadu’s 20th anniversary in 2018, so I see us delving back into our older material and processes, rediscovering our original magic.
10) What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love music and painting and I would love to say that this is what I do when I’m not dancing but it has been a while since I was diligent in these areas. I am an animal lover and am looking into ways to spend more time with animals outside of my own cats. I have also been in a costume design and jewellery design phase and like spending time on working on concepts.