Tribal Corner
Fusion and Geneology

Alaine Haddon-Casey

Last edition I touched briefly on dance genealogy and antecedents in American Tribal Style. In response I have received requests to elaborate on what ‘genealogy' means to ATS teachers and students. In short, genealogy in ATS refers to the ATS family tree and the specific training received. The movement vocabulary indicates whether the training is ‘Fat Chance Belly Dance' (FCBD) or one of its many offshoots.

‘American Tribal Style' (ATS) is a clearly distinctive and documented dance style, developed over a period of more than 20 years by Carolena Nericcio, Director of Fat Chance Belly Dance (FCBD), in San Francisco . ATS is not merely a series of learnt movements, cues and transitions, but also incorporates a specific method of teaching, costuming, music choice, ethic and aesthetic. Most importantly, it is not choreographed and relies on interaction between the dancers, in order to successfully improvise their performance on stage, using the ATS dance vocabulary of movements ( for more detailed information see Belly Dance Oasis Issue 7:Jan-April 2002 ).

‘Well, it's nice but is it Tribal?'

Many people on the East Coast of the USA and throughout the world have been introduced to ATS through instructional videos released by Carolena Nericcio (1995-97 FCBD series), Paulette Rees-Dennis (1993-2002 Gypsy Caravan series) and Kajira Djoumana (2002-2002 series). Whilst these videos have proven a valuable tool for developing ATS movement technique, step patterns and the distinctive ATS posture they are no substitute for direct learning. If there is a shortcoming to the videos it is that they have not as yet been able to transmit the ‘hallmark' of ATS, that is, group improvisation and synchronicity. As a result, many inspired by this style and armed with the videos have adopted the very distinctive ATS costuming, performed specific steps in choreographed form and presented this as ATS. But is it ATS?

“In some ways it would be easy to think that all the troupes who call themselves ‘tribal' are actually paying homage to FCBD, particularly when the costuming is so similar. Or when people attend our workshops and say they have their own tribal troupe – but then find out they do little of what we teach. We also [see] that the ATS costuming once solely associated with FCBD has become so popular that we can no longer assume that anyone in that costume necessarily does ATS (“Well It's Nice, But Is It Tribal?” Carolena Nericcio, TribalTalk,Vol5 #2, 2002)

“The costume is the most visually obvious trait that sets [ATS] apart from other belly dance styles. However, just as ‘the clothes don't make the man', the costume doesn't make your troupe [ATS]. This fact seems to escape many people who don't live on the West Coast [of the USA ] because they have not had access to live teachers for this style. It seems the look is very popular but many of the dancers copying it are not dancing in the [ATS] style' (Kajira Djoumana: The Tribal Bible. 2 nd edition. 2003)

Remember to term your dance appropriately, be honest with your audience and clear about what you are presenting. I recently heard of a teacher in another state conducting an American Tribal Style workshop. From the advice received, what was presented was neither an ATS teaching format nor presentation. If this is so, then using the ATS title may only serve to confuse students and audiences. Remember ATS is a clearly defined and specific style. In the same way that it would be inappropriate to title the ancient Guedra as Turkish Belly dance, or Classic Egyptian as a Zambra Mora, it is misleading to present something other than ATS as ATS. If what you're doing is ‘inspired by' ATS, then be clear about it and title what you are doing appropriately.

The term ‘Tribal' also creates some confusion. American Tribal Style or ATS is not to be confused with other traditional ‘tribal' dance forms in the MED genre; folkloric dances of identifiable tribal communities throughout Asia and the Middle and Near East . These traditional tribal dances are clearly identified by the name or region of the tribal communities studied, eg: the Kalaa M'gouna of the Maghreb , the Guedra blessing of a Tuareg tribe of the Berber nation, Banjara and so on. These tribal dance styles are taught and named appropriately and are performed in the traditional costume of the region.

Fusing the ‘fusion'

Many groups adopt aspects of their ATS specific training and ‘fuse' it with folkloric or cabaret styles and identify this as ‘Tribal Fusion': “ Fusion refers to a hybrid style that has been carefully constructed from research of two or more traditional or ‘authentic' dance styles' (Kajira Djoumana: ibid ).

Whilst ATS is clearly a fusion style, not all fusion styles are ATS. For example, ‘Dunyavi Rom' is a fusion of Turkish, Spanish and East Indian, primarily Romani dances and ‘El Mundo' is a very specific Spanish-Arabic fusion dance style. Neither have any reference to ATS whether in origins, movements and costuming and both are the result of extensive study of the individual dance forms ‘fused'.

So what happens when you ‘fuse the fusion' with something else? Well, with respect to ATS, those ‘fusing' ATS successfully have carefully studied the ‘rules' with trained ATS teachers directly before fusing it with other styles. Paulette Rees-Dennis, Director of Gypsy Caravan, Oregon is one such dancer (see pic). Once a member of FCBD, Paulette studied and performed ATS for a number of years. When she moved to Oregon she added extensive studies in regional folkloric, trance and ritual dance to her ATS repertoire. The result is a documented tribal fusion dance style based on, and retaining the integrity of ATS; the foundation ATS movements, cues, transitions, step patterns and improvisational format but with the incorporation of new ‘signature' movements that signal the Gypsy Caravan genealogy (branch of the ‘tribal family tree') to the ATS dance community.

Amy ‘Luna' Manderino, Director of ‘Lunatique' is another such ‘tribal fusion' teacher. After studying ATS with Carolena Nericcio at FCBD, Amy began co-teaching with Jill Parker (Director Ultra Gypsy and ex-FCBD member).. Amy is clear on her ‘branch' of the ATS ‘family tree': “ Carolena Nericcio's development of ATS was visionary and unique. She set a high standard for the rest of us to emulate in her precision dancing and innovative costume design. Her legacy can be seen in every troupe who can trace their origins to her classes .”

Amy in turn, taught Frederique David of Romani Tribe. The Romani ‘branch' has strong FCBD and Ultra Gypsy roots that are fused with contemporary urban influences. I had the pleasure of training with Susan of Romani (see pic) and enjoyed not only dancing the ‘traditional' ATS movements, but also learning ‘Romani-specific' variations (the ‘archer', the ‘wet dog', Egyptian variation and ‘diamond' patterns).

Ruth Hampton ( Seattle ), who recently participated in a two week dance exchange with Gypsy Trail here in WA, trains with Sharon Moore (accredited Gypsy Caravan teacher). The Gypsy Caravan influences were highlighted through this exchange as Ruth introduced us to several step variations (Ghawazee Two and Three, Ameya's Square and diamond patterns). Whilst Gypsy Trail (Perth) students and Ruth could easily dance together using the ATS foundations, once the Gypsy Caravan specific variations were learned the vocabulary was further expanded and some exciting improv' resulted. Ruth in turn learnt a number of new FCBD steps and variations developed by FCBD in the last couple of years. It was a true dance exchange.

Kajira Djoumana ( Santa Rosa ) trained for several years with Carolena Nericcio at FCBD as well as with Paulette Rees-Dennis of Gypsy Caravan. I have been fortunate to have undertaken some training with Kajira whilst in the USA and have picked up a number of variations from her ‘United We Dance Format' (UWD). Again, we are able to dance ATS together seamlessly and once the signature UWD movements and variations have been introduced and learnt the dance vocabulary is further expanded.

The key to successful ‘Tribal Fusion' is to learn the specific styles being fused. Study them well and know the moves and variations of ATS before developing additional movements for improvisational performance in the ATS style, ethic and aesthetic.

It's fascinating to watch the tribes at TribalFest , California and to identify the genealogy of the training. There are some signature steps and variations that are very appealing to the ATS dancer and even though my primary training and the reason I travel to the USA is FCBD, I do love to take the opportunity to arrange one-on-one training with teachers from other Tribal dance companies. I have found the variations developed by Romani, Gypsy Caravan and United We Dance particularly interesting and there is no doubt these influences occasionally creep into our own local Urban and Diaspora Tribe performances.

A First for Australia !

I am aware that not everyone is in a position to live and train in the USA for several weeks. I also acknowledge that this in no way diminishes the very real interest in ATS here in Australia . To learn from instructional videos is often the closest most Australian dancers get to ATS teaching and often this is all that is available. However, I am pleased to advise that in response to those who long for direct learning from a US-trained ‘master' teacher, I am co-ordinating a very exciting ATS workshop series to be conducted by Paulette Rees-Dennis, Director of the internationally renowned Gypsy Caravan, Oregon . Paulette will be in WA in March 2004!

Paulette will be teaching ATS and has agreed to include movements and variations specific to Gypsy Caravan. This will be the first time a prominent ATS master teacher and performer has travelled to Western Australia ; the first opportunity that many West Australian dancers and dance students have to learn from an American-trained ATS teacher and performer of her stature. We are truly privileged to have her make the journey. Workshops will be open to both ATS and non-ATS dance teachers and students. I strongly recommend anyone with an interest in American Tribal Style dance to consider attending these workshops.

Paulette will be accompanied by her husband Jeff, Director of the award winning Gypsy Caravan band (see pic). Jeff is an accomplished musician and recording artist so if there are any ‘muso's' out there interested in spending time with Jeff, I'm sure we will be able to persuade him to spend a little time with you.

For further information on Paulette's workshops please contact me on or check out the website for further details. If you want to know more about Paulette and Gypsy Caravan, check out