Tribal Musings,...by Australian
ATS Gypsy Trail's Goddess, Alaine
As an Australian
ATS dancer and teacher, it is great to be able to exchange links
and to further consolidate the 'sisterhood' of ATS dancers. The
word 'links' is truly appropriate. Through exchanging links we develop
communication links with other ATS dancers.
Where we can I think we all try to help each other out - it makes
sense. We're a small portion of the MED genre and we're pretty well
spread throughout the US and the world; our exchange of web 'links'
is just one way of demonstrating the tribal philosophy of support
within our form of belly dance.
It occurs to me that in many ways
ATS dancers, whether in the US, Australia, UK or Switzerland are
indeed part of a greater tribe; a sub-culture of the 'belly' dance
We are readily identifiable.
Our costumes no matter how varied all seem to be based on the 'classic'
ATS costume designed and well documented by Fat Chance Belly Dance
and it's antecedents and adopted in whole or part by ATS dancers
This is nowhere more truly
demonstrated for me than at TribalFest. Each Tribe has its own 'personality'.
Gypsy Caravan with their own band has a strong folkloric feel with
dancers in Ghawazee sleeves also playing frame drums. United We
Dance (UWG) threw off the headwraps and went 'green' with the most
amazing headpieces and peacock feather eyelashes, Romani reflected
the spirit of Berkeley. Strictly 'East Bay' - edgy and on the fringe
with PVC bra's, studs instead of coins and believe it or not - black
studded 'beanies'! In the midst of the differences were the common
costume elements, the three tiered skirt, the coin bra, oversized
headpieces fashioned whether fashioned from 'foliage' or fabric,
truckloads of vintage Kuchi jewellery, facial tattoos, pantaloons
and tassel belts.
We are also identifiable
by our use of the basic ATS movement vocabulary: This 'vocabulary'
is well documented through the video instructional and published
works of Carolena Nericcio (FCBD), Paulette Rees-Dennis (GC and
Kajira Djoumana (UWD). It is the work of these three women that
has taken ATS outside California and in fact, outside of the USA,
extending the small ATS family into a worldwide dance phenomenon!
There is always great responsibility in owning and distributing
information. With authority comes responsibility and I wonder if,
when these incredible women entered the worldwide marketplace, they
realised what they were doing when they took on the responsibility
of educating hundreds of ATS enthusiasts throughout the US and the
FCBD is my 'Mother ship' I particularly enjoy watching and learning
from other groups and TribalFest provides a wonderful opportunity
I discovered that you can tell a Tribe's antecedents by watching
the way they execute specific moves. The FCBD and Gypsy Caravan
'genealogy' shows in the variations, posture and execution of the
basic steps. A good example of genealogy at work is Romani. Some
Romani members emerged from Ultra Gypsy (UG) and this is demonstrated
in a number of their basic movements. Some of their variations on
the Basic Egyptian are very clearly UG inspired moves while the
Romani vocabulary also includes some great turns and diamond steps
that are their own.
ATS is uniquely American. There
is very little that is new in the universe, undoubtedly there are
many sources of inspiration and change. ATS took the commonly held
vision of belly dance and fused it with women's dances around the
world. It is often forgotten that many of the movements and steps
of what is commonly regarded as a uniquely Middle Eastern dance
are reflected in many forms of women's dances worldwide. ATS is
in the words of one audience member 'evocative, not provocative';
reflective of women's experiences across all cultures.
ATS is both restrictive and free-ing:
There is no need to seek the approval of other dance forms or cultures
in the development and performance of this dance. This translates
into an attitude; a way of approaching the dance, fellow dancers
and the audience; an attitude of strength and assertiveness, joy
and support when dancing with the group. ATS dancers are not merely
counting and executing steps in a choreographed set that appears
as a group of individuals each performing a solo dance for the pleasure
of the audience.
ATS dancers must connect with
each other; they must trust and relate to each other, otherwise
the cue would be missed, the energy and synchronicity lost. Restriction
to learning the basic vocabulary is necessary initially as without
a shared 'language' we face difficulties dancing together. Once
this shared language is mastered, then comes the freedom to dance
'on' the music, to experiment with the development of new steps
and different forms of music. So, as with most things, we learn
the fundamental rules well in order to be able to formulate new
moves and variations that complement and enhance our dance and to
stamp it with our own special tribe 'signature'.
Imitation and duplication: ATS
is a clearly documented style. Imitation is inevitable - as with
ballet, Spanish dance, tap and contemporary dance. All are specific
styles with documented steps, posture, attitude, aesthetic and ways
of using the body to express the message of the dance. Once a style
has caught the public imagination it is natural that as with for
example, ballet, many young dancers inspired by the great ballerina's
have an earnest desire to master the specified movements of the
experts in that dance. So it is with ATS. We look to those in authority
in ATS to show us how to achieve the dance. Just as the little girl
in the pink tutu may never make it to the heights of a principal
ballerina, so many of us may never make it to the heights of those
dancers regarded as the best in ATS, but it doesn't stop us from
wanting to be the best ATS dancers we can be.
Dance Culture: All forms of dance
have their own sub-culture within the broader dance heading of dance
arts. ATS has taken its place largely under the MED heading although
whether this is truly the correct place is disputed by some.
Notwithstanding this ATS
has proven itself to be acceptable to mainstream dance audiences
and is perhaps more appropriately placed under the general heading
of community/ethnic/multi-cultural dance. Although reluctant to
weigh in on any general debate on whether ATS fits with Middle Eastern
or 'belly dance' I will say this, in almost 10 years of studying
a number of Middle Eastern dance forms in the US, UK, Canada and
Australia, I have always considered the denigration of ATS by dancers
wearing costumes clearly influenced more by Hollywood and Las Vegas
than Middle Eastern dress and who perform 'arabesque' moves inspired
by male dancers, who in turn have been inspired by the Russian Ballet
just a little too myopic to warrant serious discussion. I consider
that we are all learning and performing 'fusion' and we should just
look to those we consider our most respected teachers. In the words
of an Western Australian indigenous dance teacher 'no culture remains
static - what we perform today is contemporary because it is performed
today and we are people living here today'.