Remember the days of dance and creativity? Back when tribal and fusion belly dance were new on the scene and really anything was accepted in the genre. Of course, in reality, it’s still very new but some changes have happened over the last handful of years that – for me – have really stifled the creativity of this art form. The first of them being the defining and ownership of ATS (American Tribal Style). ATS took the tribal belly dance community by storm. And when the idea of creating 8-32 count combos that each started with a simple cue for the other dancers to follow, it created a plethora of dance combinations. Dancers all around us – ourselves included – were mixing up belly dance moves, switching up the order, doing the moves forward and backwards, in groups and circles, in straight lines and v-shaped formations. Creativity was abound! Our troupe, Hiplash, would share our combos with other local troupes and vice-versa. We would learn each other’s languages so that we might all dance together when the opportunity struck.
Those were incredibly exciting days for us – especially for me. I love to create choreography and what’s better than coming up with quick quips of choreo? So much fun! We could dance to any type of music, any genre. Our formations and combinations would blow each other away. It was an exciting couple of years when ATS/ITS/Group Improv was really headed down this amazing path. Then, quite suddenly, it all came to a grinding halt. Rumor spread like wild-fire that ATS belonged to Carolena Nericcio and it had now been trademarked. All of a sudden, only specific combos created by Carolena were accepted as ATS and they were only to be done by dancers who had officially learned them in some manner from her and/or FatChance BellyDance. I remember feeling so lost. What about our combos that we had created? What about all of the incredible combos being created all around us? And how/why had I learned this concept from a different woman years before – from Kajira Djoumahna? Of course, in later years I learned that Kajira and Carolena seemed to have come up with this idea at the same time, in different places. Or was it that Carolena taught it to Kajira and Kajira changed it up to add the left hip? Really, I’ve always felt unclear about that, but ultimately, it’s not the point. The point is that a dance movement that was growing, ebbing, flowing, evolving and getting more exciting ever day was squashed. It wasn’t really Carolena’s fault in any way. She wanted to copyright and teach her dance combos and formula which was a brilliant business move as a dancer. She’s given us a really cool new belly dance language that can be spoken all around the world – as Kristine Adams has proved in her journeys. But why did we, the dancers, give up on doing our own thing? Continuing to have fun and come up with our own combos? Were we swept away with the beauty and grace that is FatChance BellyDance? Did we feel our combos weren’t cool enough or valuable enough? Unmata continued to do their own thing, eventually calling their style ITS (Improvisational Tribal Style). Could all combos and formulas outside of ATS fall under the ITS heading? I’ve always wondered.
Now dancers would begin to take Carolena’s classes. Learn the “official” ATS combos and essentially abandon that “silly idea” of creating their own combos. Even my own troupe, Hiplash, began quickly to lean heavily on the ATS combos and banish our own for the sake of doing the proper moves. I slowly got bored with dancing. It was still fun to go out and dance with others who knew the ATS language. Dancing with someone new and knowing the same combos was a blast. But dancing with the troupe and only, always doing the same thing month after month, show after show got me stuck in a rut. I really lost my passion for dancing. I wanted to return to choreography and maybe start a new troupe but I live in a small town with a small pool of dancers and let’s face it, my life was changing by leaps and bounds at that time in personal ways. I had gotten busier than ever running Cairo Caravan for MECDA (Middle Eastern Dance and Culture Association), and running the organization as a whole. Between my lackluster feeling about permanently doing the same combos over and over again into eternity and my new found busy work, dance really fell to the wayside.
I still dance from time to time. More often at home, on my own. Occasionally with a friend or new dancer that I’ve just met that can speak the ATS language. I just danced with the beautiful MissPheth from Texas at this year’s Henna Intensive & Retreat – under the full moon in the middle of a forest to live drumming – talk about exciting! But I still long for that creative time when all of us were coming out of our cocoons and becoming butterflies. Did you and/or your troupe make up your own combinations back before ATS was official? Do you think that idea might ever come back? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Here’s a fun video from the Tribal Fest 12 after party… filled with great performances. Note the last performance by Lumina Dance – those beautiful combos! Nice work ladies!