Tribal Belly Dance

Table of Contents:

What is American Tribal Belly Dance?

Short answer: it is not cabaret style, it is not 'authentic' ethnic. It is fantasy, archetypical, interpretive tribal style.

What exactly IS tribal belly dance? I take it that it is not ethnic? Someone told me that FatChance does not do true ethnic forms - so do they create their own in tribal? I have not seen them - could someone provide some definition? --Myrrha

"This is the way it was explained to me. Tribal belly dance recreates what might have been. But there were many different tribes, mostly nomadic, and there is no documentation (no photographs or paintings or even much written) as to what really existed. So you take your best guess and play around with that. It has ethnic elements, certainly, but there just isn't enough real information to recreate exactly what went on in many diverse tribes throughout the middle-east/northern africa/mediterranian areas.

.... It's middle eastern style that gives the appearance of being ethnic, without necessarily attempting to be "authentic". Costumes are "inspired by" middle eastern ethnic costumes, without needing to be 100% accurate. "American tribal" can be part Turkish, part gypsy, part Tunisian, part Moroccan, part Egyptian, part Algerian, or whatever else inspires. A little bit of this, a little of that... no need to try to be perfectly authentic. --Sherezzah
"Costumes are not necessarily authentic because to a large extent no one knows what tribal women were wearing. And because the nomadic tribes often covered a large area, each tribe would have "borrowed" elements of clothing styles or dance styles from other cultures that they came in contact with. So these guesses and mixing of styles are appropriate to the genre. Probably the women of these many tribes were influenced by other cultures that they came in contact with during their nomadic travels. Again, there isn't really much in the way of documentation, so all you can do is guess.

I really like the tribal style of costuming and dance. At this point a good portion of what is in my costume closet could be used in a tribal costume. I made many of these costume elements, designing and sewing on the fly, in styles that I imagine might have been popular among tribal women somewhere and somewhen. I even have one dress sewn completely by hand because the fabric was too delicate to use my machine. I couldn't recreate it if my life depended on it, because I never used a pattern and did some custom fitting of sleeves.

FatChance is, in a word, mesmerizing. Their movements are almost achingly slow and (deceptively) simple, but so well performed and done in such elegant unison, that the overall effect is (to use a hackneyed term) magical. When we saw them at Rakkasah for the first time, we sat wide-eyed and speechless in amazement. We had never seen anything like it before. The dancers just exuded confidence and poise and pulled us right into it.

Habhi Ru, on the other hand, struck me as sheer exuberance and fun. We were also "pulled in" with them, but were clapping and zagareeting almost from the get-go. They seemed to be having a grand time throughout the show (despite the fact that, given this was at a RenFaire, they had probably performed the same dances several dozen times at least!). I particularly liked the dancers singing along with the music. Now, that's endurance.

The only similarities I can see between the two groups is the polish of their performances and their use of more "folkloric" dance styles, though they are very different styles. (I think I am using that word correctly, according to a definition given on this list recently.) Also, they both portray a strong image of dancing among a community of dancers, and exhibit the ability to make each audience member feel a part of that community. (Habhi Ru is particularly good at that.) So perhaps that, in a very longwinded way (sorry, folks), is what appeals to me in the tribal style--which, I suppose, is implied in the name itself. --Amanda

"One of the beauties of the tribal style is the latitude you have in picking and chosing the costuming elements that suit you. FatChanceBellyDance is a very different "tribe" than Habhi Ru, so of course the style of costuming and dance is different. Each different tribe would have had it's own style, and even within one tribe this would change over time. There is some documentation about some tribes at some specific time period, so you take what little you do know for certain about that tribe at that time, and go from there. The one common element among the tribes would have been a feeling of community among the tribe."

Rebecca of the Rose

"All right, all right, I just have to jump in on this thread now. ;-)

"In some cases, we *do* know what the people who used a particular type of music, and were from a particular regional area, would have been wearing, and doing, in terms of steps, etc.

"This is not infallible, nor does it necessarily go back very far. But in some cases we do know. (right, james? help! ;-)

"The way I prefer to think of 'tribal' is as archetypal, or romantically archetypal. It capture what people *think* 'tribal' is--some essential *qualities* that add up to say 'tribal' in a modern definition/connotation/idea/image. In this sense, it might either echo the authentic, or be fantasy (depending on whether you're talking to purists or not) or contain elements of both.

"I think it's important to acknowledge that it *is* our (western) *idea* of tribal--sometimes, perhaps, very learned and backed up by study--but still our idea, our dream.

"Yeah, dream. i think that defines it very well. Dream, in a positive sense. Dream, image, mirage, maybe archetype.

"As long as, with our creations, we do no disservice to the real cultures and music and etc, etc (yes, it's that "culturally sensitive" criteria again ;-), it may be like "an ye do no harm..."

"Again, as long as we declare ourselves, and what it is we're doing. So the audience understands. After all, we woulnd't want some uninformed yobbo to go turn up their nose at (yobbo--i like that word. thanks, Aussie sisters! ;-) people trying to carefully recreate authentic Ghawazee, and say "YOU guys aren't doing real folklore--it's nothing like Fatchance!" ;-) ;-)

"Tolerance, clarity and consideration. Amazing how far those things will go...;-) Applied in both--or all--directions...;-) ;-)"

--shakira, columbus, oh

"I have to jump in here too and echo an 'amen!' to Shakira of Columbus' comments.

"Her perception of the use of 'tribal' by these groups as archetypical sounds like an accurate one from my limited knowledge of them. And it _is_ a portrayal from our western viewpoint, albeit even an informed one.

"I don't want to sound like the 'ethnic police', but I share the belief that we, in general, need to be careful how we use terms and how we present ourselves to the public. For example, 'Tribal' is a very general term--there are 'tribes'--communities of people--all over the world. Believe me, the audience accepts what is presented as 'the truth', especially if they don't have any other information. This is a fact we, as Middle Eastern/Oriental dancers have to deal with EVERY TIME we perform, talk, write, teach....."

--Michelle Forner

"Let me also point out that FatChance calls themselves *American* tribal... that's to point out that it is our 'western' idea of tribalness :-) they're portraying." --Sherezzah

Hi All -

As a West Coaster, I'll try to jump in about "tribalism" in Belly Dance, as requested by Michelle Forner. The thing is, Michelle and Shakira basically echo my opinion of the tribal belly dance movement. I don't know what new contributions I can make to this thread. I'll try.

...why "tribal" is popular on the West Coast, I can speculate a few reasons. First, there is a tradition there, dubbed "California Tribal" that arose when Jamila Salimpour and group, Bal Anat (I believe that's the name of the group, going from memory here) were very active at Renaissance Fairs, etc... --Michele
"Amina of SF has told me that Jamilla Salimpour readily admitted that her vision for B'al Anat was, well, her vision. It had something to do with the Middle East--certainly, the music did-- but more to do with hippies, tribal love rock, and other ethnic fusions going on in the Bay Area in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

"Do I think B'al Anat and descendents such as Fat Chance are ethnic? You bet. It's Northern California of the 1960s ethnic, Age of Aquarius ethnic, being revived in the 1990s. To me, Fat Chance and some of the other new tribal groups seem to be recreating an era in U.S. history. And Michelle, I think that's why it's so fascinating for SF Bay Area people in their 20s, who didn't experience the hippie era, so much a part of San Francisco's history. I can imagine Fat Chance, Gypsy Caravan (of the Pacific Northwest), Dancers of the Crescent Moon, and, less so, Habi Ru, on the stage of a Love-In or Grateful Dead Concert.

"I admire Fat Chance for their precision and for their ability to create a mood. Their dancers are very supple. They have good undulations, backbends, and the like. Carolina Nerecchio seems to be very professional; she also is an excellent promoter. Thing is, after you've seen Fat Chance once or twice, IMHO,you've basically seen them. They found their niche, perfected it, people like it, so that's where Fat Chance stays.

"I am glad that Fat Chance's popularity in the Bay Area has created a rennaissance of interest in things Middle Eastern. I have been called a fool for saying that fans of Fat Chance may decide to broaden their interest by exploring other areas of the SF Middle Eastern Dance scene. By this I mean they'll go out see the cabaret dancers, (who try so hard to be authentic in their presentation of Oriental dance as it is performed in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.). Hopefully, they'll see the ethnic dance groups who try to present the debke, the Ghawazee, the ghedra, the karshlama, etc., in forms consistent to the way these dances are done in their respective countries. And I do think this is happening.

"Today, Fat Chance's promotions characterize themselves as American Tribal Fantasy Dancers. Problem is, unlike the Fat Chance fans on this alias, the Bay Area Fat Chance audiences did not come to the group with any knowledge of Middle Eastern dance. It is these people who have a tendency to think that Fat Chance is authentic Middle Eastern. Like many Oriental dancers in S.F., I do not like it when people find out I am a belly dancer and then immediately say, "Oh, you must be in Fat Chance Belly Dance." Fat Chance has done a good job in promoting their thing. It's a good thing, but it is not the only game in town. Those of us who have another game have a responsibility to promote what we do. And if what we do is trying to portray this dance as it is done today in the Middle East, it is our duty to educate the audience of this fact."


"I think [Shakira's] definition of 'tribal' is right on the money. Talking to Gypsy Caravan, they were very clear they didn't represent any ethnicity but their own, and a primary feature of the group is that it is very much its own community." --Andrea

"On another note, interesting someone mentioned that FatChance limits their own dance vocabulary; Gypsy Caravan also does that." --Shu-Ju

"I am attracted to American tribal stuff mostly because it is different. Hokey, but different. I've seen the FatChance video, and my area has a troupe with a similar theme which I've seen several times. So I have some small basis for my opinion, though only a small one. As far as I can see, the only difference is in the costumes. I'm not a big fan of cabaret costuming (it has all begun to look alike to me: "oh look, another pastel"). This tribal stuff is much more interesting to me: there are all sorts of scarves and wraps and different clashing colors and tassels and odd pieces of semi-matching jewelry. I just can't resist. However, I have a question. The dance itself looks like good ol' sharqi to me. Is there any attempt at doing more 'ethnic' forms of dance? Or is it all in the costuming? I've liked what I've seen either way, but I wonder if the movement addresses different dance forms at all.

"Also, in response to someone's comment about people thinking that FatChance's version is not only authentic but also the only form of ethnic dance..... I had an e-mail exchange that went something like this: 'I'm making a yelek for a ghawazee routine.' 'Is that what FatChance wears in that video?' 'No (a description of a yelek followed).' 'I don't know about that.... that's not what FatChance wears... you'd better do some research. After all, if that's what dancers really wore, why aren't FatChance wearing them?' ''

"Still, love that video!"


"One of the ways one of my troupes here in Olympia has dealt with the issue of authenticity is to call ourselves a dance troupe 'in the Spirit of the Middle East'. I sort of call our style of dancing 'Middle Eastern fusion'. The images and costuming are heavily ethnic, but the dance steps are also borrowed from jazz, and modern dance, as well as from other ethnic backgrounds (including Japanese Bon Odori!). We bill ourselves as dance with a 'tribal flavor', and make no bones that our choreography is more theatrical than 'authentic' ethnic. The audience responds to the energy we present, not the documentation of what is 'real' or our own interpretation. We try to tailor our shows to our audience, and we have been well-received. Yes, we're definitely a troupe that works with images and archetypes, with acknowledgements to 'steps' and teachers that are truly authentic." --Qamariss-zaraah, The Zaakira Dancers

"Yes, I, too prefer tribal style to caberat. For me, tribal style is more a matter of costuming than of movements although FCBD troupe has a very distinctive performance style. For a tribal style costume, I like solid, non-sheer harem pants, a beladi dress, and hip belt. Depending on the floor, I'll either go barefoot, wear half-sole sandals or ballet slippers. I usually paint tattoos on with black eyeliner. I tattoo my face, the backs of my hands, and the upper part of my feet if they are going to show. For a headdress, I'll either wear a headband or a veil tied over my head Arab-style. For jewelry, I favor lots of necklaces, several bracelets wore at wrist level, and earrings (if I'm not covering my head)." --Robyn

"IMHO, I think we should differentiate between *tribal* and *folkloric*. Tribal to me is FCBD- a very American style. They use alot of Indian (from India) costuming ideas along with Middle Eastern. Folkloric represents a style of costume, dance, & music from a particular area. For example, Ghawaazee have a particular style of costuming, dance, and music as do Tunisians, Algerians, etc. I feel that belidi could fall under folkloric because it is a style of costume that Egyptians wear for their belidi or country sections. Because it is done in an entertainment venue, it may not be true folkloric, but in a *folkloric style*.

"As a resturant performer, I do a lot of cabaret, but I do find that certain audiances enjoy a *belidi* style show every now and then, just for a chance to see something different. This is often when I do a cane dance, but my costumes may still a bit *glitzy* because of the venue. As a member of Jawaahir Dance Co., I get to perform many folkloric dances as that is one of our purposes- to bring the rich heritage of Arabic music and dance to the american public on the theater stage."


...a real basic question! [snip] How do you characterize the difference between cabaret and tribal? I'd really like to hear what all comprises "tribal". --Padma

"The answers I've seen so far relate to the difference in costuming (barbaric tribal splendor vs. sequins and glitz). As far as the *dancing* goes, I see some diagnostic differences:

"-- Cabaret is more frequently a solo performance (emphasis on "performance"), a single dancer displaying her skill to an audience which is paying, one way or another, for the privilege. The performer/audience dynamic is very clear, even when you've got an appreciative middle-eastern audience that sings along and hops on stage: performer/entertainer/paid contractor *here*, audience/entertained/patrons *there*. [Footnote: While I've see n a few instances of cabaret troupes, they've tended to do Busby Berkeley-type routines where the emphasis is less on the dancers' moves than on the patterns the group of dancers makes on stage. Think of synchronized swimming -- that kind of whole-rather-than-the-parts design.]

"-- Tribal Style is *inherently* troupe style, a tribe of dancers working together from the movement and music traditions of their particular tribe. While the basic vocabulary of movement is shared (in the case of FatChance, for instance, there's a foundation posture, certain assumptions about where the arms can and can't move, an assumed direction in which the overall movement of the dance turns) individuals get a chance to strut their own particular stuff. Think of a henna party (which may be where this dance got started) -- women dancing together in unison for the camaraderie of it, then one spinning out into a solo to show off, matched by the next one showing off *her* solo chops. The SF Bay Guardian's dance reviewer compared FatChance, in March 1994, to 'watching a good jazz combo in action: each dancer speaks in her own voice'. The jazz analogy is a good one: the leader lays down a melody line, you all know it and each other well enough to follow and harmonize in it; everybody riffs on their own instruments in turn, then you come back together for the finish. This aspect of Tribal Style differs from both solo cabaret and ensemble cabaret in that it's the *group energy*, the communication within the tribe, that fuels the dance. Knowing each other and sharing that common vocabulary of movement, that melody line, is all-important.

"Aha! THERE it is. THAT's the difference. In tribal style, you're dancing for each other -- and the audience gets to feel like part of the tribe. The performer/audience dynamic is different: still a performance, but a more intimate, less formal one. (Another side effect is that the dancers are not working ONLY for the audience, so the audience doesn't get to be the omnipotent sultan on whom all depends. You can't say 'That one. Wash her and send her to my room'. if she's accompanied by four healthy sisters, all wearing spiked bracelets and some with swords on their heads.)

"And yes, Padma, FatChanceBellyDance is not the only tribal troupe. The other *truly wonderful* one in the San Francisco Bay Area is Habi-Ru, led by John Compton ("The Sheik"); in the Pacific Northwest, there's Gypsy Caravan (which posts to this list and has a link off the main Belly Dance Homepage); and plenty of lesser-known ones elsewhere, probably more all the time. I notice that through the last three Rakassahs and Desert Dance Festivals the proportion of ethnic to glitzy vendors has been changing dramatically, that's an indicator. And while you're on the Web, take a look at the FatChance page, and see if Carolena's got around to putting up *her* definition of 'tribal', as she planned to. (Or you can find a back copy of the Spring 1995 Whole Earth Review in which she gives a long interview to anthropologist Myra Zussman. That will eventually be on the web page, too.)"

-- Ma'Aleesh

"Aha! THERE it is. THAT's the difference. In tribal style, you're dancing for each other -- and the audience gets to feel like part of the tribe. The performer/audience dynamic is different: still a performance, but a more intimate, less formal one. (Another side effect is that the dancers are not working ONLY for the audience . . ." --Jo
"The topic of interaction/communication between the artist/entertainer and her audience is fascinating to me.

"At a FCBD concert, are their stage lights? Lighting the stage, in a general sense and it the execution, is a cue of sorts to the audience for what is expected from them. Jo, by more formal, do you mean more distant?

"Jo is certainly correct about the 'come hither' paradigm of the dancers most folks see as cabaret style. What I've noticed is that this particular paradigm gathers in dancers outside of the Arab world (there are exceptions). An accomplished Egyptian dancer not only has many subtle things going on on-stage, she is fashioning a world under those lights that often has very little to do with 'come hither' and more to do with a conversational approach to female power and requirements.

"That the western dancer lives in a 'come hither' world is just more testimony to the orientalism that is the frequent basis for an interest in the dance." -jj-

Geographic Location

"PS One of my real questions, is *why* has tribal caught on so heavily out west coast [USA] way, and not elsewhere. yet, at least. even with the videos...anyone care to speculate?" --Shakira

"On Shakira's question of why 'tribal' is popular on the West Coast, I can speculate a few reasons. First, there is a tradition there, dubbed 'California Tribal' that arose when Jamila Salimpour and group, Bal Anat (I believe that's the name of the group, going from memory here) were very active at Renaissance Fairs, etc., around the area in the (I believe) mid- to late-1960s to 1970s. It was a mix of many cultural influences, culled from secondary sources, imagination, current practices, etc.....

"Second, consider the area--the West Coast, and especially the SF-Bay area, is known to be more on the 'edge', a bit freer, less conventional--remember the Haight-Ashbury scene? Perhaps that environment fosters this approach to the dance.

"Please, west-coasters, jump in!"

--Michelle Forner

[Regarding why tribal style seems to occur only on the West Coast of the US] "My guess is no strong dancers who are into it have moved anywhere but up and down the west coast yet. After all, Fat Chance spawned Gypsy Caravan, which spawned Princess..." --Andrea

"Also, I don't know about Princess, but both FatChance and Gypsy Caravan have leaders who work hard at promoting the group and the dance form. (I know Paulette works hard at it, and from what I hear in this group, Carolina also works hard at it.) Even a strong dancer has to promote her/himself to develop a following, both for self and for the art form." --Shu-Ju

Ethnic or Folkloric Dances

Sometimes people confuse the term 'tribal style dance', the American fantasy tribal style that FatChanceBellyDance excells in with ethnic or folkloric (tribal) dancing. Here is some discussion of ethnic/folkloric "tribal" styles.

There are groups on the East Coast who do more ethnic and tribal dances. (Actually, I think I would describe it as ethnic--or maybe 'glitter ethnic'!) Women of Selket in Richmond, Virginia are one of the best ethnic troupes I've seen anyway. They carefully research and take advantage of their travels in the Middle East. Orientale Expressions in Chapel Hill, NC also do a number of ethnic routines. (I'm a part of this group even though I am in SC now.) We also have a pharonic routine that we've performed for workshops (thanks, Shakira for having us; and Dance Camp in Michigan) and also for the Rameses II exhibit at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC a few years ago. --Dianne
"On the question of tribal being west coast and uncertainly east coast (I'm answering old messages here, catching up ;-), Dianne Chidester mentions both Women of Selket and Orientale Expressions, two very very fine ethnic troupes all right (and I might add troupe Ti'Amullat in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is also almost wholly ethnic, I think, and very, very fine as well.).

"I was aware of these groups when I posted the question: why is tribal so predominantly (it seems) west coast. I think enough of all these groups to put them in my shows, which I call 'artists of the dance' (well, in the Selket's case, to *ask*; the schedules have never clicked...)--and I'm picky!

"But I think they are different. I understand that the Oregon group, Gypsy Caravan, *studies* ethnic--but I *believe* the 'tribal' groups mix n' match more readily, whereas people like Ti'Amullat and Orientale Expressions have costumes tailored to the music to the ethnic or folkloric form....that is, they don't set Ghawazee or Indian-inspired costumes with Ouled Nail music and Saudi moves. Whereas, *as I understand it,* the tribal groups are reaching for an image, and mix 'n match more, or do their 'own creative thing' to cool sounding ethnic or cool ethnic-sounding music.....

"Don't want to step on any toes here! But I wouldn't have classified either of the southern or midwestern groups as tribal! Great, yes. ;-) tribal, no. ;-)

"So maybe east coast does ethnic (and midwest, too) and west coast does tribal as well as ethnic....(I've seen some fine ethnic from Jordan Dancers' performing group!!!!!)

"Corrections, folks? ;-)"


"I listened to an intense discussion of this, at a point where I hadn't formed an opinion myself. I had only seen cabaret style for the most part--very little exposure to anything else. When asked to define 'tribal' there was a lot of circular definition for the terms: 'Tribal means gypsy'. What's gypsy? 'Gypsy is ethnic'. What's ethnic? 'Um, it's tribal'.

"Among all this was a sense that there was a right way, an authentic middle eastern dance that reflected a fairly limited stylistic form. There was an implication that other dance, cabaret in particular but also including other so-called tribal, was not really authentic.

"The trouble with all of this was that there is no one authentic tribe. There are dozens, maybe hundreds. Each has its own dance style, and each has some dances that have evolved a lot over decades and centuries. There is no one gypsy clan to model, no one ethnic group to point to and say "that's authentic." People grounded in other tribes or ethnic groups or clans could say with equal certainty "that's not the right way." And Americans look very silly if they suggest that an Egyptian woman who learned to dance in some village or city suburb in Egypt is not authentically Egyptian simply because she does her version of her native dance alone on a stage and wears sequins rather than coins.

"Drumming reflects a similar problem. An accomplished American drummer who learned from a Lebanese performer was brushed off by an Egyptian: "You're not very good. You don't do any of it right." Of course, the playing was not right according to the variations and techniques typical of _Egyptian_ drummers. Another place and time, a Syrian musican complimented the same drummer: "you're really very good." In the face of that, all you can do is shrug.

"Anyway (talk about babbling!) based on what I heard in that discussion, I've concluded that when people say "tribal" or "ethnic" or "gypsy" they are referring to whatever folkloric dance they are familiar with. In the med-dance context, that covers dances of the folk throughout the Mediterranean region, but mostly south, east, and northeast. That spans Northern African from Morocco to Egypt more or less, and up through the Saudi Arabian peninsula into that part of Eurasia bounded by Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and of course Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, etc. Greek restaurants often have cabaret-style belly dancing, but the waiters and waitresses do folkloric Greek dancing.

So what, someone wondered, is "folkloric"? Apparently, that's any dance of any community of people that involves a segment of the community in performance. Cabaret style is singular in that it involves lots of people sitting down to watch one person dance to entertain them. Folkloric dance throughout the world involves groups of people, sometimes in singles and pairs surrounded by others, but generally in groups and interactive singles and pairs.

Now I'll stop wittering on and let someone else babble for a while!


"I live in the Minneapolis area in Minnesota. A lot of what I have learned has come from Cassandra. I am forunate to have such a gifted artist who takes Middle East dance very seriously- it is her life, her chosen career. Her specialty is Arabic dance, Raqs Sharki.

"Contemporary Raqs Sharki, Oriental dance, is a blend of many different dance styles -Tunisian, Algerian, Egyptian, Persian, Turkish, Gulf, etc. Egyptians claim that theirs is the *true* Oriental Dance. (You should hear Ragia Hassan get started on this topic!!) Egypt has gone through many occupation periods which allows for a merging of different dance styles. The Mizmar Band that plays for the Ghawaazee are a remnant of the Turkish Army bands from the Otoman Empire, for example. Trade and occupation blend music and dance in both interacting countries--thus the Mizmar Bands in Egypt and the Belly Dancer in Turkey today. Arabic dance is done to Arabic music, and knowing the apropriate Aribic music is important. When we start using western music, we are doing *American* belly dance. The best way to learn Arabic dance style if you don't have the resources I do, is watching the Egyptian dancers on video. Watch how they respond to the music and what music they are dancing to. You have to really develop an eye because Egyptians are much more suttle in their movements than Americans. I can still hear Ragia saying to us "No fighting, no fighting!", her reaction to the large and heavy moves we tend to use! When I used to teach, and now when I do Lecture demos in the schools, I play cuts of the different instruments used so that the students are familure with their sounds. Then I play cuts from several different versions of "Hizzy Ya Nawam"- a simple oud and tabla folk version and more fully orchestrated versions - in an attempt to explain what I am responding to in the music as I dance. If you want to do* Arabic* dance, you have to learn to hear the music as an Arab does.

"As for Tunisian, Gulf, etc., my exposure has come from Oasis Dance Camp. Each year I have gotten a taste of the folkloric music and dance from a different area. Habiba from PA- Tunisian, Sherazade from AZ-Persian, Zeina (I think she is in TN now)-Reda Troup Ghawaazee, Kay Harding Campbell from MA- Gulf (Saudi) dances, are just a few examples. We learn the apropriate dance style, music and costume that go with these dances. We also learn what we can and cannot add to our Oriental or *cabaret* dance. Each of these teachers has studied intentently their area of expertiece. They have studied with the native professionals in their homeland.

"The difference between cabaret and folkloric is, again, the music, the costume and the dance steps-style. You can use some Tunisian movements in cabaret, but you can't use Egyptian movements in your Tunisian routine, and you shouldn't wear a cabaret costume to do Tunisian, or vise versa.

"There really is no way I can adiquitely explain the differences in this medium, it is something you have to see as on video or in performance. There are videos of some of the folkloric dancers, but you would probably need to contact some of the people I mentioned to get them. The other thing you could do is come to Oasis Dance Camp. The MI camp is in Sept., and the WA camp is in Oct. One of the directors is on the list- Jean Courter...

Zulaika, who is learning to apreciate the culture that gave us this dance form and is thankful for the enrichment it has brought to her life.

Attitudes towards American Tribal Style

"This isn't intended as a flame but as a way to resolve some dispute in our community. It may result in flames however. But I'm gonna go out on a limb here (and I HATE conflict) re Zemyna's comment:
Just because "tribal" dancers are saying it's "authentic", doesn't mean it's so. Go ahead and wear it. It looks cool, but don't tell everyone that the "Put it in the Blender Eclectic mix" costume is "for Real". --Zemyna
"As an American tribal dancer I want to know what has gone on before re tribal dancers that I'm suffering under now. Reply to me privately if you wish.

"My understanding of American tribal bellydancing is that it's an American phenomenon (which appeals mostly to American audiences) and is an amalgamation of folkloric-derived movements from the Middle East and East India, with Gypsy influences from many lands, and individual interpretations thrown into the pot. The costume usually has as much authentic jewelry as possible applied as heavily as possible, includes an East Indian choli (without the apron usually), a fantasy Gypsy-style tiered skirt, and often fringed or tasseled belts which probably derive from camel tassles but which swing really nicely, so I don't care if they were worn by hogs..

"Apparently someone somewhere claimed it's an authentic representation of something? I have to say I've seen nothing like this dance and costume on any of the tapes I have of the various regions, which I've bought from historians Aisha Ali and Morocco and others, although many of the root movements are there and those movements also are the roots of Cabaret dancing.

"However, I have to say that both my dance partner and I were so weirded out by a feeling of animosity we perceived-- separately, and then shared together--that we almost chose not to dance at a dance camp finale this year. We really got hostile vibes and didn't know where they came from except that people kept bringing up, vehemently, tribal isn't authentic. Yeah, okay, it's an amalgamation. Seems obvious to me; most belly dance is. So?

"So, apparently there are a lot of hard feelings and venom out there about tribal. Could we get it out (discussed maybe) and get it overwith? Or at least can I understand its source. I feel like I'm in the middle of a war and I don't even know which side I'm on, but I'm having to duck bullets. (Not yours personally Zemyna. It's just that your comment brought back all the confusion and bruises from our recent experiences and I'd really like to get it done and over with, if I can, unless perhaps it represents a schism so wide and longstanding that it will forever be an unfortunate and unpleasant rift in the dance community.

Pat/Zamin in Portland, Ore. who really DOES wish we all could just get along but who also hates taking potshots for someone else.

"Dear Pat: I'm sorry that you have misinterpretted my comments.

I didn't mean to give the impression I was flaming, slinging, or otherwise attacking the "choli" question or choli wearers.

I do see that on many occassions, that some particular item, this time cholis, are adopted and so rapidly accepted, that they are not recognized as an innovation. All living things grow and evolve, including dance and it's costuming. However, new comers will jump on a bandwagon, and without realizing it, a new myth is born. In this case I read a sentence that, Im not sure who wrote it, that implied someone should research the heck out of cholis so that there could be some thread of evidence dug up that makes them "authentic" wear for belly dancers. Um, that's what I meant by trying to pound a square peg into a round hole.

"I think that the American 'tribal' style is an interesting innovation, and dancers should do the style that they like best. Wear the costume you like best. I'm sorry if you thought that was a direct attack on the style.

"Be honest with yourself and audience in what you are portraying.

"This American style 'Belly dance' that I do, is a great fantasy outlet for me. I admit it. I could never purport to do anything else.

"I'm also sorry to hear that you were ostracised at a dance camp. I've never been to one, but I can't imagine that that is what they are for. It certainly isn't any reason to stop your preferred style of dancing. I don't know the specific situation, but even in a closely knit troupe, personalities and style preferences clash. One learns to get over it and get along."


"Hello Pat/Zamin,

"I happen to agree on this one. When I started taking lessons 20 (!) years ago, I hadn't heard the term 'American Tribal Bellydance'. All I knew was I liked those jingly coins and swinging tassels. I figured it was amalgamation, but what the heck, so am I. I never claimed to be purely one thing or another and neither is my dance. For years, mostly what I saw was bugle beads and, to my untrained eye, a restrained style of dance. Fine, if that's what you like, do it, do it well, and have fun. But it's not for me. Now, 20 years later, seems lots of people like coins and tassels. At last, dancers in my area are starting to dress and dance like I always have.

"I think part of the interest (in American Tribal Bellydance) is due to dancers wanting to perform in non-nightclub venues. To be more acceptable to family-type venues, we cloak ourselves in 'tribal' costumes and use words like 'inspired by traditional dances` in our advertising. The general public may not know the difference, but we should.

"I'm sorry you and your friend felt hostile vibes from other dancers. Don't we get enough crap from non-dancers and non-aficionados? I hate conflict too!

This is not intended as a flame. This is a topic near and dear to me and I could not refrain from commenting."

Opinionated old lady,

"Pat, Sweetie:

"I'm the one who coined the name 'California Tribal' & *not* out of any sort of animosity, just to distinguish real "tribal" (Berber, Bedu, Kurdi, etc) from the fertile fantasy that was born in San Francisco: I love good theater, which is what it was intended to be.

"I don't think any of the comments I've seen re 'tribal' were digs,(have to admit I haven't seen 'em all) but there are some people, who are into tribal out there, who say it's 'authentic' - esp. in the '70s & '80s, when it was invented & developing.

"BTW: 'cabaret' is a misleading, American designation. In point of fact, while in America, a night club is considered to be lower class & a cabaret a more elegant place, in Europe & the Mideast, the opposite is true & there is no such designation/separation vis-a-vis Oriental dance. It is done in the homes & on the stages, usually, however by different (classes of) people.

"Relax & enjoy whichever style fits & feels good on you."

Beladi blessings, Morocco

"I wholehearly concur. Even in the little time I've been in the dance community, I've noticed that this issue is a _major_ split. I think that a honest discussion of just why tribal is so...well, disliked is a word you can use, I suppose. I hope that I havn't cased a potertial flamewar -- ladies and gentlemen, IMHO, PLEASE remeber that there are real people on the other end, and just because you are right does not alleviate you of that social responablity..." --Asim

"Dear Pat/Zamin:

This whole 'tribal/ethnic' thing has been going on a long time - too long, some of us might say. Back in the dark ages (early 70s) there was no quarter given between the camps of 'authentic' vs. 'cabaret'. You know, the bells-vs-beads competition.

"And 'authentic' meant our own fantasy version of the mysterious east - kind of a hippie orientalism. Huge pantaloons, coin bras & belts, camel tassels, tattoos made from lashkote waterproof eyeliner (that could burn a hole in canvas it was so chemical), bracelets and armbands and headpieces and two or three skirts. 'Cabaret' was lots of leg and skin, beads and occasional fake coins, and accessories from head to toe. Never the twain would meet.

"Nearly 30 years later,it's starting all over again! Yes, it is a strictly American fantasy concoction - but so is Sleazana channeling Elvis at Rakassah last year! Fat Chance has promoted their particular style of costuming as the primary example of tribal in the past few years, and it's certainly taken off. But you might want to consult Rocky on the 'traditional' aspects.

"What I found, and please don't take this as denigrating to your style, is that many dancers who started out tribal back in we old ladies' heyday eventually branched out. Many found that the fantasy was not as appealing as the reality, and went for true authenticism through research, study and travel. (Morocco, Eva Cernik and Laurel Grey come immediately to mind - and there are many others!) Others found that they wanted to explore a greater range of movement and musical interpretation, and expanded into egyptian, turkish, lebanese, interpretive and western-influenced forms (i.e., Shareen el Safy, Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour, Kathryn Ferguson, Suzanna Del Vecchio et al.).

"What is wonderful about the tribal style is that through its very broad appeal to a new and !youthful! audience it is bringing many new dancers into the fold. And as these new dancers, such as yourself, mature and grow in their dance, they may well find new and innovative outlets as well. Tribal is basic in its simplicity of movement, and provides a basis for more complex movement as the dancer gains in ability and understanding. But this is, as you say, a living form, and it will grow new shoots as long as we feed it with our love and attention.

"I have personally gone from 70s hippie ethnic to 80s club dancer to 90s travelling workshop teacher. And the stuff I learned in the beginning is still the stuff I teach and stress to beginning dancers. I may sound like an old bag here, but I had no idea when I started dancing the various paths on which it would lead me. After all this time, I still do tribal as well as cabaret, character and goddess dance. And each of them contains elements of the others as well.

"Guess what I'm trying to get across here is that your personal concept of dance will grow and change as you do.

However, I have to say that both my dance partner and I were so weirded out by a feeling of animosity we perceived-- separately, and then shared together--that we almost chose not to dance at a dance camp finale this year. We really got hostile vibes and didn't know where they came from except that people kept bringing up, vehemently, tribal isn't authentic. Yeah, okay, it's an amalgamation. Seems obvious to me; most belly dance is. So?
"Were you able to communicate your acceptance of their assessment - yeah, it is an amalgamation? Or was it that dance camp, more so than seminars and shows, is about getting to the roots of the dance... especially in terms of understanding the music, learning from native teachers and such. This setting really does promote authenticity (as opposed to 'tribal' in this context) and some people may have felt that interpretive dance of whatever stripe was of lesser value than the home-baked variety.

"There's also a phenomenon that I call 'belly-er than thou' - the need to put others down due to your own insecurity in a particular situation. (see my article of the same name in i think the April 95 issue of Jareeda). Yes, it's ugly, it's hurtful, it's pointless - and the only thing it really shows is that the person making the judgment is lacking in some way. I've done it, had it done to me, and frankly it ain't worth it.

"There will always be different styles and interpretations. And after watching this scene for 25 years, I've gotta believe the folk/entertainment conundrum will never be resolved. What we *can* do is relax and accept that some things will always appeal to different people. The easiest way I know of to do this is simply add two little words to any prounoucement regarding style, interpretation, costuming, or any other aspect of dance - "for me". By that, I mean that we should all acknowledge that to a great extent what we like is just what *we* like - doesn't mean everybody else has to like it too. That way lies war!

"The one exception to that rule is that well-documented research must be acknowledged as accurate. So if Rocky says she knows something, believe me, she knows it! Basically, consider the source of any opinion, and weight it accordingly.

"I don't have any hard feelings about tribal, though it's not a style for me. But I won't tell anyone they're wrong for doing it - I'll just wait and see what that dancer is doing five years from now.

"OK, off the soapbox for now."


"Dear Baraka & List Friends: "Baraka: Thank you so much for your vote of confidence.... (blush, blush) "Friends: I've never seen it so clearly & beautifully 'put', as in Baraka's post re 'tribal' vs 'cabaret'. I'm going to print it out & save it.... & show it to those who seem to need its advice.....

"Most important is, whatever 'style', we're out there & we're dancing!! Learn & grow & spread the joy!!"

Commish qui danse

"When I began dancing a year ago, it was the FCBD style that attracted me because of the power, class, and dignity it seemed to eminate. I regarded cabaret dancing as sleazy, cheap, and not many steps removed from the stripper as a form of art. The glitter was offensive to me and the women seemed weak in that their dance form was dependant on a need to appear sexual for validation. FC didn't need validation, didn't care. They had each other (there's strength in numbers) and they had a connection with each other that made us want to be one too! I didn't see that with other troupes who tended to try to spend so much time trying to stay together and get the steps right that the spell was always broken. FCBD casts a spell over the audience and that is what's so appealing. It's also very simple. It seemed hard at first, only because it's so hard for many of us to 'own' those parts of out bodies. I spent hours just trying to do a taxim, the most hypnotic aspect of the dance. When I first took classes, I loved it! We all had our little skirts and cholis. We didn't know much but what we looked good and it had a tribal feel to it. As I became more familiar and obsessed with the dance I began looking at other dancers (cabaret). I would do a basic egyptian and was told..Can't do that, that's too cabaret. It had to be more restricted, pulled in. The Arabic with a twist had to function within a confined space. I began to see that I was really feeling restricted and confined space. I began to see that I was really feeling restricted and needed to grow to understand BD more.

"When I went to camp it was an eye opener. I was educated as to what egyptian cabaret really was. I was, as the other poster said, branching out because I realized there was much more to the dance than I ever dreamed and I wanted to know. The glitter moved from being sleazy street walker fare to being an extension of the movements in the dance, beautiful and expressive. The women weren't weak as I thought but strong and dignified in a way that I was unable to see in the beginning, especially with ME cabaret...I still have trouble with the frenetic American dance form...slow down and savor, less is more. It can be, as Shareen al Safi says, "delicious". I still can't see myself in one of those costumes but that has more to do with my own self-image than the dress itself. I am now not only a bd workshop and class junkie, but am becoming a fabric junkie. I now understand the dance more as an art form. I freely use any steps I desire as a way of expressing the music through my body and spirit and I still look back fondly at FC, still enjoy that dance form but with a much broader perspective. My advise to those inn tribal who only know're missing sooo much if you don't study with as many of the wonderful dancers as you can, both cabaret and ethnic. Your passion only increases and you will find that you will be able to *express* yourself in ways you never dreamed possible which will take you to higher heights on your own than you ever could with a group of others. There's so much to say but this is already way too long.

"Bringing this full circle (it's been almost a year exactly since I began this journey) I made an interesting connection this week-end. My first exposure to an extreme variety of dance was at Rakkahsah. I had been in tribal for a few months and that's all I knew. I was shocked and intrigued. What really got me was when I saw Alexandria and her group. They did Gawazee in these outrageous sparkling short skirts with clunky heels and these crown kind of headbands. I thought, this was way weird and bazaar. Before I stopped tribal, I saw an early FCBD video (Tattoo One) in which the dancing was much freer than it is now. This week-end, I saw Alexandria again but in a more intimate setting. The *outrageous* beaded skirts were now an absolute delight to watch. They swished with the hip moves in a way that said, let's party! If you've ever seen those string beaded fringe skirts catch the light you know what I mean. I now know that that's the point of the movement, to make the skirts do that thing they do. But another odd thought crept in.. the way the dancers moved in and out of dancing with one another was very similar to FC now but it was very different in that it had a totally different feel, one of absolute joy and enthusiasm more like in Tattoo One. American tribal has really changed. I guess when they say it's authentic American Tribal, they mean they have taken these moves and really changed them to fit the theatrical interpretation. I as a beginner thought I was learning authentic dance. Then I learned that as outrageous as these outfits looked...this was authentic Gawazee! They actually wore these kind of outfits! In American tribal, you learn Gawazee, Arabic, Tunisian, but do you really? There must be so much influencing of one group on another, especially out here. Where Alexandria is out there, fun, and enthusiastic, FC is more refined and restricted in their vocabulary. Where American Cabaret is more frenetic and exuberant, Egyptian is more refined and subtle, each putting a different spin on the same moves.

"I think if you like tribal, that's great. But if you are passionate about the dance study and learn all you can from everyone you can, it becomes a more joyful and extremely rich experience. Don't limit yourself. I could have done so because I had such biased projections. Really glad I got over that one.

"As far as the split in camps? I sometimes sense an undercurrent. I don't much get into that myself because I focus more on the joy of being with others, tribal or not, and I love it all. I do however sense this as a very tight community and that memories have a long life. Be considarate and clear with others and don't burn any bridges. We have so much to offer each other, it's a shame when division occurs."


Last Modified: 15 Jun 1997
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