30 June 2015

Why Folklorists (Should) Love American Tribal Style® Belly Dance

Why Folklorists (Should) Love American Tribal Style® Belly Dance

Carolena Nericcio, creator of American Tribal Style® Belly Dance, dancing with her troupe, Fat Chance Belly Dance®
I was recently chatting with a folklore colleague who was thinking about starting belly dance classes, specifically, American Tribal Style® Belly Dance classes (or ATS for short). It occurred to me if folklorists knew what made ATS different from other styles of belly dance, would be all over this as something interesting and neat to talk about with the concepts of our discipline.
Here’s why (in handy bullet point form):
  • ATS is an improvised dance form using an agreed-upon movement vocabulary to communicate and create within the moment. It shows us how artistic performers utilize the tools in their creative toolbox (in this case, the dance moves) to create an emergent performance, much like epic singers or fairy-tale tellers might also do, but with the body instead of with words and phrases.
  • ATS exemplifies tradition and variation at work. The way you’re “supposed” to do the moves is the stable current of tradition, while the “flavor” that develops in troupe worldwide (intentionally or not) is the dynamic of variation.
  • ATS is only a few decades old, so it represents a fledgling folklore genre and folk group that we can study as it moves through infancy into maturity. There are already offshoots (Improvisational Tribal Style/ITS, tribal fusion, and countless other takes on tribal/improvisational belly dance), which makes for an intriguing example of cause-and-effect and community-building in action.
  • Material culture galore! The costuming style of ATS is unique and rich in texture, color, sound, weight… so many things! I would refer anyone who’s interested in this particular aspect of ATS to my article, “’Whether it’s coins, fringe, or just stuff that’s sparkly': Aesthetics and Utility in a Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Troupe’s Costumes.” Midwestern Folklore 32 (1/2). (Terre Haute: Indiana State University Press). 83-97.
  • Because ATS incorporates dance moves from the Middle East (as well as from Indian classical dance, flamenco, and Gypsy dances to a degree), practitioners have an interesting relationship with the idea of “authenticity.” Most dancers agree that they’re not trying to recreate an actual tribe’s dances or costumes, but rather that ATS is a fusion that draws on these elements. But we could be having a conversation about cultural appropriation, too… is it all roses and sunshine in ATS-land? It’s a tough call, and more scholarship might be illuminating.
  • Verbal arts abound: personal narratives (how one got into the dance, transformative moments while dancing, funny run-ins with other troupes’ “flavors” that you didn’t pick up on at first), legends about origins of the dance, folkspeech such as naming practices, greeting and cheering (zagarheet anyone?), etc. Plenty of customary folklore, too: haflas, finger cymbal/zil practices, and obviously the whole body of dance movements that we collectively learn and perform
  • ATS dancers are an intentional community, a folk group comprised of hobbyists and professionals (and everything in between) who develop a shared worldview and esoteric understandings of the beauty of women’s bodies, the value of exercise in otherwise sedentary cultures, and the importance of clear and direct communication, among other things. I’ve seen ATS dancers develop greater body awareness and confidence/self-esteem, likely as a result of practicing this dance form. How is that not interesting to folklorists?
  • Perhaps you’ve noticed all the “®”/registered trademarks appearing in this post. That’s because the creator of ATS and founder of the troupe FatChance BellyDance® wants to protect her creative/intellectual property. Can you really trademark art? Or a dance form? Enough folklorists are engaged in these questions with other folk arts that I think we’d be interested in what makes this instance unique.
I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. I really love this clip where Carolena Nericcio, my teacher and the creator of ATS, explains what it’s all about.
I’d love to hear from other dancers and folklorists on this topic!

21 June 2015

Father's Day

Here's a re-post of an entry from 2010..

I have been trying to start the chapter about my Dad, Carl Nericcio. There is so much to say, that I've decided to do it in small parts.
As some of you might know, he passed away a few years ago just after his birthday, at the age of 88. It was the closing weekend of Devotion 2008.
This morning as I was sorting through some of his things, I came across his driver's license and a hand written combination to a lock. I decided to use them to start an ancestor altar in my house. As I was setting it up, the thought came to me, "I wish we could try again, so I could weather the storm with you."
Our relationship was fractured, due to lots of things that will come to light in future posts. But suffice to say that when I was a child I was confused by his temper. Ever the Capricorn, I kept trying to figure out the pattern to his outbursts, so could stay out of the way. But there was no pattern, he was like a ball, ricocheting off any surface. There was no way to stay out of the way. It took more than 30 years for me to realize that he wasn't angry at me, (the ego gets involved even when it would be less painful to stay out of it!) he was just angry.
I try to live my life without regrets. I don't spend time wishing things could be different. But this morning I wanted to be able to go back in time, to a moment when he was raging and just stand there with him. If I could just put my little-girl hand into his and smile at him without being afraid or running away. Just be there to weather the storm.

26 May 2015

Cues & Tattoos Workshop: Energetic Body, Quiet Mind

A few month's ago at Cues and Tattoos, I taught a workshop called Energetic Body Quiet Mind. The focus of this workshop is to dig deep into core steps and, through repetition, be able to flow with a group of dancers. At one point we diverted into another workshop topic, Touch the Music, to identify favorite songs and hear first person why people chose them.

Here's the list of songs that we came up with. I asked everyone for one contemporary song and one belly dance song. The songs in blue are ones that we used in class, most of the others are the contemporary choices, and a few belly dance songs that we didn't get to.


Carolena’s Recommendations
Please see this recent blog post with a list of my favorite songs.

Suggested Favorites (songs in blue were danced to in the workshop)
“Reich Mir die Hand” by Blutengel
“Aicha” by Cheb Khaled
“Nubian” by Raquy and the Cavemen
“Caravan” by Raquy and the Cavemen
“Misirlou” by Dick Dale
“Sogonie” by Dikanda
“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
“Abadou” by Zap Mamma
“Black Magic Woman” by Santana
“Blessings” by Solace
“Video” by India.Arie
“Improvisations for Guitar” from the House of Tomorrow soundtrack
“Tamatant Tilay” by Tinariwen
“Sella Fina” by Helm
“Gold Dust Woman” by Fleetwood Mac
“In My Life” by the Beatles
“La Vie en Rose”
“Claire de Lune”
“Le Chat du Rabbin”
“My December” by Linkin Park
“Nierka” by Dead Can Dance
“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison
“Frame Drum” by Helm
“Jednou” by Gipsy.cz
“Singin’ in the Bathtub” by Mandy Patinkin
“Zion” by Lauryn Hill
“Hosanni Oo” by Helm
“9 Lives” by Aerosmith
“Bon-syo” by Reuben von Ramsey
“Baburi” by Yuvol Ron
“You Belong to Me” by Annie Lennox
“Sout al Shami”
“Pass the Dutch” by Missy Elliott
Chiftitelli rhythm loop
“Mother” by Danzig
“Nefertari's Dream” by Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton
“What I Be” by
“Immortal Egypt” by Hossam Ramzy and Phil Thornton
“Unknown Awareness”
“Beni Beni” by Niyaz
“Paradise” by Sade
“Pictures of You” by the Cure
“Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha” by Deva Premal
 “Charon’s Crossing” by Beats Antique
“Bashraf nawa’ather Yusuf Bey” by Rose Zahran

We also did a bit of Greek line dancing (expect this in the workshops that you take from me!) I wanted everyone to experience how simple it is to pick up a dance when it's a "community" activity. It doesn't really matter if you get it right, you just have to smile and imitate what the other people are doing. The Greek folk song we danced to was “Samiotisa" (Kalamatianos is the name of the 12 step pattern danced to the 7 beat rhythm!.”

08 May 2015

Dancing in Flow® Playlist

Here's a compilation of six of my Dancing in Flow® playlists. Best of the best. Songs that command that I stop thinking and respond to the music.

And here's a re-post of how to teach a Dancing in Flow® Class.

Dancing in Flow®

Dancing in Flow® was created by Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman with the class format of “all dance, no talk.”  Since designing this class, other ATS® instructors have also begun to offer similar classes. 

These guidelines will help to define the class and suggest ways for each teacher to structure and prepare for the class.  Please incorporate them in your own Dancing in Flow® classes.

During the class, there will be no verbal communication.  The teacher will not explain the movements, give feedback to students or comment on what she is teaching.  The only exception to this is when the teacher initially greets the class, explaining what will happen and suggesting that the participants just follow the movements and enjoy without worrying about whether they are doing the movements correctly.

Dancing in Flow® is a one hour class divided into 4 fifteen minute segments with a quiet water break every 15 min. During the first fifteen minutes of class, the brain will chatter as the students become used to dancing continuously. During the second fifteen minutes, the brain will begin to relax.  During the third period of dance, the brain will finally decide to take a vacation to allow the body to enjoy moving.  Finally, during the last fifteen minutes, you will go on auto-pilot into pure bliss.  Maintain the silence at the end of the class to allow the students to leave in this meditative state.

As an instructor, there are only a few things that you need to do to prep for class:
Create a 1 hour playlist alternating between slow and fast songs. 
Choose relatively short songs to allow for variety. 
You should be familiar and comfortable with the music, and more importantly it should literally move you, as the driving force behind the Flow® concept is responding to the music without thinking.

When you are teaching, remember that you are talking exclusively with your body, not using words.  So, you must be clear in your cues and movements so that the class can follow you.