Why is it called "tribal"?

Moon

New member
Hi everyone,

My boyfriend just read a short description of a tribal workshop, and he was annoyed by the name "tribal", because the dance style is invented by Americans, hasn't got anything to do with a real tribe and according to him, the name gives the wrong impression of the dance.
I don't know much about tribal, so I can't explain to him why it's called that way. Maybe some tribal experts on this forum can?

Thank you! :)

(P.S. I hope I didn't offend anyone)
 
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Dunyah

New member
Well, lots of folks call it ATS belly dancing, or American Tribal Style belly dancing, which is a bit more accurate. Yes, the word "tribal" has been given a new definition by American belly dancers. :) I'm not an ATS belly dancer myself, but from my observations, the dance style is "tribal" for the participating dancers because it is always done in a group, and because of the improvisational nature of the style, which requires a high degree of trust and communication among the dancers and gives them a sense of belonging to a community or "tribe."

Then there's tribal fusion, which is another whole ball of wax! :D Don't even get me started. There's the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to tribal fusion (IMHO).
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Its called tribal because the person who created it in the '70's, (not mentioning any names), claimed that what she was doing were tribal dances from North Africa. It was her artistic creation, but at the time for whatever reason, she was claiming that it was authentic North african dance.

Morocco, who at the time was one of the few American dancers who had actually traveled extensively in that region stated that she had never seen anything like it in her travels and that it was in fact an American creation. She started calling it California Tribal as a joke and then the name stuck.

Later Carolina Noriccio codified it and it began to be called American Tribal, or just Tribal.
 

Dunyah

New member
Hi Tarik,
You don't know me, but I saw you dance with Morocco at Rakkasah East in 2000 (I was there with my band Americanistan) and I admire Morocco's and your dancing very much. I have also enjoyed recent links to video clips of yourself and other male dancers posted in another forum.

I happened to be a West Coast student of Jamila back in the days, although I only studied with her at the weeklong workshops and not in her regular classes. My dance teacher at the time, Christine Gault, studied with Jamila and her very talented protegee Aida al Adawi. Christine taught Jamila's style of dancing. It wasn't ever called tribal back then that I recall, though the term "a gathering of the tribes" was used, I believe, to describe the Bal Anat troupe performance, which did include some Tunisian style dancing and a version of the Guedra, both of which are North African. Bal Anat also performed 9/8 Turkish-style dance, sword dances, tray dances and had soloists as well. At least some attempt was made to represent the dances accurately but it was definitely theatricalized.

We called our style "ethnic," which wasn't strictly accurate, either. :) But it WAS good belly dance technique, Jamila was no slouch as a dancer or as a teacher.

American Tribal Style in the FatChance lineage is quite different from what Jamila taught. We did not use the flamenco-style posture, wrist circles, unsafe upper body circles leaning way back, or use cueing for group improvisation.

We did dance with safe posture, play zills, dance with veils, use props, perform floor dances, wear headpieces and dance solo mostly. There was a distinctive veil wrap, with the veil secured to the top of the head, and tucked around the body in such a way that it belled out above the hips, that was a Jamila-style signature "look." We used no chiffon skirts or beaded bra/belt sets, we preferred cotton, silk, mirror cloth and Afghni style jewelry.

However, Jamila and her students danced in both styles of costuming, as Jamila owned a nightclub and some of her dancers performed both in the troupe and as soloists in the clubs. So people shouldn't lay the "split" between "tribal" and "cabaret" (the term used back then on the west coast) or nightclub dancing. They did both.

Carolena's costuming style for FatChance originated with Masha Archer, a Jamila protegee who developed a very distinct visual style utilizing many of the "ethnic" costuming choices. Masha later became a designer of very beautiful jewelry with an ethnic flair which was sold at exclusive stores.

I never heard Jamila or my teacher or other teachers at the weeklong workshop claim that they were teaching "tribal" dances from North Africa. I'm not saying that that was never said, but I don't think it was said in 1979 and 1980, the years that I attended the weeklong workshops, or by my teacher from 1976-1980 while I was with her.

I think Jamila deserves a lot of credit for the pioneering work she did as a teacher, performer and producer. The dance technique she taught, which is still the foundation of my dance, was very sound.
 

Aziyade

New member
Hi Dunyah,

I was curious about Jamila's contribution to the dance world, since the only experience I have with her are her archive series videos, her books, and what I've learned from Suhaila. I knew there were a lot of people who said what she was teaching was inauthentic -- but I wondered what exactly was inauthentic about it.

From what I've seen of the old black and white movies, and watching Arab and Turkish college students dancing for fun, what was taught on Jamila's videos and manuals was right on -- it's what I see the kids do, and what I recognize from the movies. So I kept wondering, what about that was inauthentic, you know?

As for the "ethnic" dances, I can't imagine they were any less authentic that what Reda put on stage. I was so disappointed with the first Reda video I bought -- it was 99% ballet, with a few hip drops!

I would imagine that the REAL folk/ethnic dance is a lot like any folk dance -- it's fun to DO but not terribly exciting to WATCH. So when you stage it, you have to jazz it up somehow. At least that's what our folk dance group does. We still consider what we do "authentic" even if sometimes women dance the men's parts, or we dance in visual patterns or groups that you wouldn't see in the village setting.

Thanks for clearing up the "Tribal" (ATS) connection -- I know she's being referred to as "the godmother" of ATS, but I always thought that was sort of a buzzword, and really just meant that she inspired the creators of ATS, not that ATS was built stone-for-stone on what she taught in her classes.

Just from what I've seen in Suhaila's classes, the dancing is really very different from what I've seen of Fat Chance or Gypsy Caravan, and I kind of wondered why they were linked.
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Jamila, etc.

Dear Aziyade asnd Dunya,
I am another dancer who has been around just about forever. I started dancing in 1974. Please believe me when I tell you that even Jamila finally came out and admitted that what she taught was "half hooey". She may have had some movement structures that were ethnically correct, but certainly she was not into telling the truth about the authenticity of what she was teaching or how she was presenting it. Her goddess dance was one of the biggest bunches of nonsense that ever existed in reagard to authenticity, from the costume to every other aspect of it. Most of what she presented was not very accurate. In many was she is the mother of American cabaret dance on the West coast, because her style was not authentic, nor was that of her followers such as Shelley Muzzy, Meta and others. ( I ADORE Shelley and think the world of her, but having studeid her Salimpour stuff, I can tell you that it's not authentic. What she learned from Aisha Ali on the other hand is really good.)
I think we can say that she at least opened up belly dance to the western part of the U.S. We can also say that she was the mother of a LOT of misinformation and is a part of the reason why there is such weird stuff going on today. I know she was teaching her stuff as the real thing because I know people who studied with her, too. Things have deteriorated considerably and I think one of the reasons is that no perameters in reality were set to begin with, so that many dancers have not had the chance and have not learned to respect the dance as an authentic ethnic artitistic offering with boundaries, meaning, and its own real soul, separate from anything that anyone made up.
BTW Aziyade,I agree with you 100% about Reda's insipid balletic stuff. Talk about bad fusion!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But he at least was never claiming to be authentic in his presentation of folkloric dances, to my knowledge. He sees himself as an innovator, not a dance ethnologist, I think.
I want to end this post by saying that Jamila was incredibly brave to stand up in front of about a 1,000 people and come right out and SAY that she taught a lot of nonsense. I never had more respect for her than at that moment, and I am happy I was there to witness it.
Regards,
A'isha
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Dear A'isha: Thanks for your input. I deliberately ommited mentioning anyone by name because I know how emotionally charged things can get when you make a statement about a person, no matter how true it is. I wasn't my intent to accuse our call anyone out, just describe how the name came about in as benign a way as possible.

Dunya, thanks for the compliment. I hope you understand I wasn't trying to take a cheap shot at anyone, but as A'isha confirmed, at the time, there were things that were being presented as authentic that really weren't. That's not to say that it may not have been good creative dance. Personally I can't and wont comment on its merits because I've never seen any of her work.

As for Mahmoud, I agree with both A'isha and Aziyade. Most of what Reda does is overly balletic and not Oriental or folkloric at all. However, I can personally atest to the fact that he never claims his works are rewal folk. He's the first person to tell you that it is not real folk, but folk inspired. The reason for this is another issue.

I am more annoyed with the choreographers who have come out of the Reda Troupe who do present their work as authentic and persist in calling it folk dance. These guys are almost all, without exception, Cairo born and raised and have never been to any of the folk communities in Egypt. Its like expecting someone born and raised in New York City all their lives to know about authentic Navajo folk dances from the South west. Now these guys are running around teaching Reda's choreos, (often claiming that they are their own choreographies),to the same music no less, as if they were real folklore.

Worse of all, they all look the same. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Step, step, turn, Kick, step back, hip drop, step, step turn undulate turn. No creativity, or originality. Nice to know its not only Americans who are guilty of this sort of thing....I think
 

Aziyade

New member
Okay, I don't mean to be beating a dead horse, but I'm still trying to figure out what in her style was inauthentic -- but this is JUST from the videos and book. I've never studied with her directly.

'Cause I've seen kids do:

- Egyptian basic (step hip-lift)
- pivot-shift-sit (or variations, but not with the turn)
- counterclockwise pivots
- pivots one-up, one-down
- basic circular movements with hips and figure 8 movements as taught on tape 2.

and I've seen on video from the old movies:
- Arabic 1 and 2 footwork with chest lift or undulation
- hip figure 8's with abdominal pull-in
- Algerian shimmy (and travelling down hip accents)
- Egyptian back walk (pelvic roll thing)
- 3/4 shimmy and its many variations
- abdominal roll up to down

and I've Turkish kids do movements similar to (but not those exact combinations) the steps taught on the folkloric video, but a little more exaggerated and without the accompanying arm movements.

See why I'm confused?????

I think maybe, when we talk about the authentic approach being a mood or essence -- maybe that's what was not in Jamila's teaching?? Yes/No ???Because so many of the movements themselves, and how they're executed look EXACTLY like what I see the kids doing -- and it's unlikely that they were influenced by American Cabaret dance from the 1970s.

Now I certainly wouldn't assert that what I see on Jamila's videos is anything like what I see in modern Egyptian staged Raqs Sharqi, but it's dead-on for what I'm seeing in Arab/Turkish social dance. I DO know that Suhaila said their costuming ideas they just grabbed from the pages of National Geographic, so I would assume the costume wasn't authentic, and if she did have pieces called, for instance, "Algerian Ouled Nail" dance, and it was just basic bellydance done to that Algerian 6/8 rhythm -- okay, I can see how THAT is not authentic. BUt as for the movement vocabulary itself -- it's walking and quacking like a duck, so why is it not a duck?

I don't mean to be dense, but I REALLY don't understand and I want to!

P.S.
I sort of assumed the Goddess dance (if that's the one on the modern Bal Anat video) was an interpretive piece to set the mood for the show. I didn't know that was passed off as being authentic -- what was it described as? Does anyone know?
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
I don't think anyone was saying that her basic Oriental Dance movement vocabulary was inauthentic. However, keep in mind that Oriental is only one out of many dances. There are many different dances and just because they have hip movements doesn't mean that those dances are Oriental.

Each folk dance has its own movement vocabulary and therefore, there are things that you would do in an Oriental dance that wouldn't go in another hip centric folk dance. For example, Tunisian Shabba uses vigourous forward and back hip twists. Do we do this movenent in Oriental, yes. However, you wouldn't do undulations or snake arm in Shabba, but you would in Oriental. Banat Mazin style uses rapid side to side shimmies generated from the hips, but does not use hip twists, undulations or snake arms. See what I mean?

Each dance has its particular character and identity although the movement vocabularies of all these dances is Middle Eastern and North African there are certain things that belong in certain dances and others that dont. Think of it like cooking. Lets say Italian food. There are certain things that you would put in a Lassagna that you wouldn't put in a Raviolli. Are there certain ingredients that they both share? Yes, Pasta, tomato sauce, ground beef and a few other things, but you wouldn't cover raviollis in a layer of parmissan cheese the way you would a lassagna and you certainly wouldn't boil a lassagna the way you would raviolli.

My guess is that she was using an authentic movement ingredients to create her own unique dish, but presenting it as an authentic dish from a particular region, when in fact, no such dish existed in that region. People who had been to that local and were familiar with the cusine knew that in that region they don't have any such dish and in fact, don't use those ingredients, even though people in other parts of that country do in fact use some of them.

I hope this kind of makes sense...all this talk about food is making me hungry:rolleyes: bye for now.
 

zamora

New member
if married to a native american, as i am..you are also tired of the american tribal title thrown around
but if you have mid east blood, as i do, you just wish "they" would drop the "belly dance" from the american tribal style fusion kitchen sink, whatever, title
 

Aziyade

New member
Tarik:

Okay, yeah that makes sense. :) Thanks!


But for the record, I WOULD cover raviolis with Parmesan cheese. Cheese is good. Cheese is our friend! (I'd put cheese on my breakfast cereal if my husband wouldn't freak out about it.)
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
Tarik:

Okay, yeah that makes sense. :) Thanks!


But for the record, I WOULD cover raviolis with Parmesan cheese. Cheese is good. Cheese is our friend! (I'd put cheese on my breakfast cereal if my husband wouldn't freak out about it.)
I just want the pasta mafia to know I have nothing to do with this. I told her not to use that cheese, I did, I did!
 

Tarik Sultan

New member
if married to a native american, as i am..you are also tired of the american tribal title thrown around
but if you have mid east blood, as i do, you just wish "they" would drop the "belly dance" from the american tribal style fusion kitchen sink, whatever, title
Do you mean that you wish they would stop calling it American Tribal "Belly Dance"?
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Tribal, etc.

Dear Tarik,
I think the same thing about Jamila and the different dances. And as the broken record I am, I must also add that movement is definately not the sum total of the dance,and that the essence of what she was doing was theatrics, American style.

There is nothing wrong with that, but since she was claiming authenticity, there is where the problem was.

As people, I really like Jamila and Suhaila both, but to say their work has been based in the realities of Middle Eastern dance would be off base. Suhaila has my undying affection because she was so very sweet to my daughter, who is chronically ill and has a pretty darn hard life.
Regards,
A'isha
 

zamora

New member
yes...stop putting the term "belly dance" after the american tribal title
it is not belly dance!
i have been faced with some odd jobs in my lifetime, but when a very prominate armenian family calls me to ask questions ,as to where their money went, we all stop to wonder.
it seems they had a family reunion.they delegated the planning jobs to different parts of the family.
they spent a lot of money on what they thought was going to be a good "kef" to "picnic" music, like richard hagopian plays...old songs from their homeland etc
they get some tribal group, in PANTS ,shoes, fake multi colored hair.no zills, no veil
new age american music
they were very upset
called it burleques
why do people miss represent them selves?
dont they know, it only makes them look bad?
 

Aisha Azar

New member
Tribal, etc.

Dear Zamora,
You are a woman after my own heart. I have been preaching this same thing for a very long time...with pretty hostile responses in many cases. But, I have noticed more and more people are getting on the band wagon for clarity in definition and I am thrilled to see it!!!!!
Everyone, please know that this does not mean I don't appreciate Tribal dance.... I just don't think its belly dance.
Regards,
A'isha
 

zamora

New member
i am feeling your love!
i will not back down on this topic !
it is false advertising!
and it touches all of us.
we go further to wish that if the "tribal" people have their own functions, excluding all that is true belly dance, including male dancers .....
so called belly dance events should be just that ,BELLY DANCE.
and SOME SO CALLED BELLY DANCE AND MIDDLE EASTERN CULTURE organizations, ezines,etc. should re read their mission statements.
(on gilded serpent, one can read about 2 chapters of some aussie tribal dancers tour with am american band...who cares?)
right now, as a member of mecda, one recieves a copy of CYMBAL mag.
its not about belly dance that much either
it covers american tribal fusion
some diffinete lines MUST be drawn soon!
z
 

steffib

New member
Hm, I am not sure I follow this argument why American Tribal Style Belly Dance is not belly dance:

We dance to classic bellydance songs (played by real live musicians), we wear skirts and wrap tops and coins belts, we're working on playing zills, and most importantly, our movement vocubulary is very similar to what is taught in a cabaret classes. -- So, what is not belly dance about that?

Now, I can see that some of the more recent fusion forms are crossing the line into interpretive dance, but that is different from ATS - I am not sure I can come up with a good explanation why good old-fashioned ATS is not belly dance. (I know that it is neither Middle Eastern nor authentic.)
 
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