29 September 2010


Let's have a contest to choose a permanent name for "ATS Old School" and"ATS New Style."
The winner will go down in history, and get a free something when the results of the contest are announced.
Myself and members of FCBD will choose the winning entries.
Tell me what name describes the concept of "Old School."
Tell me what name describes the concept of "New Style."

Let the games begin!

Yes or No?

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for managing a kind word between the barbs. But, I'm not fooling myself, there were more barbs than soft spots in the recent discussion. I was amazed at the way the {fireside chat} went from people talking to me to people talking at me to people taking about me.
Hello, I'm in the room.
I must have really angered a lot of people when I "took ATS back" a few years ago. But it needed to go into the shop for overhaul. It had gotten so distorted that it stood the chance of losing out on the legacy it deserves. I appreciate you all tolerating the hiatus. But now it seems like you are just as angered at having the name back.
Can't win, that must be the name of this game.
So, what say we just put this game on the shelf? Let's start a new one that pleases as many as possible.

So, here we go with the third in a series of posts about the new identity of ATS. I titled this, "Yes or No?" because several people asked that very question in their responses to my original post "ATS Old School, ATS New Style {fireside chat}" and the follow-up, "FRIENDS, nothing has changed."
And the answer is, "Well, yes and no." Read on.

I have excerpted anonymous quotes from the blog posts so I can be sure to answer as thoroughly as possible. Great questions and comments from everyone, by the way. {I'll refer to ATS Old School and ATS New Style in this text, but don't be put off if you were offended by the terminology that I suggested. See below for a contest to adjust the nomenclature.}

Q: "If we perform the core/old school ATS steps as we have learned them (from the videos), but add additional steps that we have borrowed from other groups and adapted, are we still ATS? Or are we "cheaters?" We have no intention of our ATS steps dropping below a distinct majority of our vocabulary."
A: If you have a vocabulary that includes Gypsy Caravan and/or Black Sheep Belly Dance steps, and are not a Sister Studio, you are welcome to use the term "ATS" in your title. However, I see GS and BSBD as distinct styles in and of themselves, so it's a bit hard for me to see them all working together. I suppose you might even have to redesign some of those moves to suit the FCBD ATS "filter."

Q: It hit me full on when I found myself in a huge ATS circle, led by Rachel Brice in precise FCBD format. I could never have danced with her if I had not learned a language we both spoke. I knew that night that I wanted to be fluent so I could experience that magic again and again. I believe it is this that we fear losing, but with strong attachment will come preservation by many.
On the nomenclature.: Cabaret dancers differentiate "classical" Egyptian style from other interpretations and is highly respected because of its heritage. If that is what happens with ATS, as I believe it will, I will be even more pleased to help represent the "original gangsta".
A: I see that the broader definition of ATS has caused a general fear that the original vocabulary will be lost. Not while FCBD is on the scene! We will continue to uphold the format, even with the eventual addition of new steps and variations from our own studio.

Q: I find this very interesting. I was among the people who thought I was ATS, then found I wasn't once the definition was clarified (and went through a whole gamut of emotions including confusion, sadness, and anger), and have come to peace with my troupe's ATS-esque style. I think that, with this introduction of multiple ATS styles, it is possible we'll see some fantastic innovation. Instead of many mini-FCBD's, I think different troupes or areas of dancers will emerge showing their strengths and bring interesting developments to the dance. At the same time I think dancers and groups that stick tight with how FCBD is doing things will continue to get stronger and keep that core ATS alive.
A: Exactly, this is very well worded. It's about being free to create and continue to spread ATS all across the globe. No more arguments about who is and is not, ATS. But your creations will flourish or perish depending on how well they work with the ATS Old School vocabulary.

Q: Do I think everything that comes up will be awesome or fit what Carolena has in mind? No. Do I think people will use the term ATS when their dancing has nothing at all to do with what *is* ATS? Yes, but they'd do that no matter what Carolena or anyone else says. Is this transition going to be smooth and effortless, without lots of questions and clarifications and all that mess? Probably not. It might open up some good dialogue within troupes, communities and the wider ATS world about how people are dancing, why they are dancing, how they want to achieve their dance goals, and the future of the style.
A: We have seen already that it's not going to be easy. I meant for it to be a joyous occasion, like opening the castle walls and inviting the whole village in so we could share our abundance. But it wasn't like that. I still feel a bit stunned by the abject criticism that I received for a few days after the original post on 16 Sep. Some of the harshest words came from the Sister Studios, whom I think felt like I was taking away their hard won status. Even more curious, almost all of the SS that objected said that they have their own new moves already, but were keeping them out of the ATS vocabulary. Hint: don't hide them from me, show them to me.

Q: With this announcement, I feel relief. I don't feel like I've been sneaking into Mommy's liquor cabinet to drink her port while her back is turned. :)...Our original moves and variations will go back back into our vocabulary and go back to dancing in Carolena's name. ...I can understand everyone's fear of everything becoming ATS. I look at the indiscipline of so much of the Tribal Fusion out there, and shudder to think that could happen in ATS. ...But as was said earlier, this isn't going to change anything. There are already crappy dancers who don't know their Core ATS (Old School in CN's terms) but calling themselves ATS. ...And they will attract people who don't know or care about the difference. But out of those people will come people who WILL want to know FCBD moves.
A: Well, I'm glad someone feels relief! I will still ask that Sister Studios maintain a strict adherence to the FCBD format, both Old School and New School. If you teach GC or BSBD moves, just keep them separate as you have been doing. FCBD Sister Studios should really be FCBD Sister Studios.
*You can have the Port, it's too sweet for me. I prefer a rich Merlot and Cabernet.

Q: My wish, Mama C, is for some very clear criteria in this next DVD. Maybe a numbered list or a fancy flowchart (e.g. "Does the move maintain uplifted arms? If yes, proceed to the next question..."). All kidding aside, I realize very clear criteria may seem like we're spelling out common sense, but I am very concerned that not everyone has the same ATS common sense. If you showed one hundred dancers a new move and asked us if it works as NS ATS, would we all give the same answer...I don't know. I'm worried that we will all have different interpretations of what ATS is. ...So, though it may be difficult to write "rules" for such a creative, beautiful dance, I think that spelling out the criteria for knowing if something is ATS...very clearly...with no room for misinterpretation...would be very helpful.
A: Flow chart, very good idea. Probably easier for dancers to visualize the filter/format than translate the words. And you are right, this whole thing fell apart in the mid-nineties when people branching off did not, in my mind, exhibit ATS Common Sense, that was why I wanted to take ATS back and be able to control the quality of who used the name. But that's proving to be an exhausting process and I think I would be holding creativity at bay if I didn't make the decision to open the castle gates.
Q: It seems fairly clear (to me, at least), that if the vast majority of your moves are FCBD, and you have created some of your own variations on these moves, added a few unique moves, and modified a few GC and BSBD moves to fit within the ATS format, you are invited back into the club. I have also gathered from previous posting on Tribe, that GS and TT is not a requirement to identify as ATS. As clear as it seems to me, I would appreciate a solid "yes" or "no".
A: It is not necessary to attend General Skills for ATS (GS) and Teacher Training for ATS (TT) in order to be considered and ATS troupe, or to teach ATS. Ever since I started teaching classes, and eventually producing videos, people have considered a secondary understanding of the dance to be enough experience to begin teaching and performing. Surely, this is how the dance spread world-wide and I have no contest with it.
GS and TT are for the people that want a first hand tour and desire to (or, can tolerate!) spend four to six days with me asking whatever question they want and get a thorough education about each and every step, formation and application.

Q: In the context of New Style, your comments make perfect sense regarding BSBD and GC keeping in mind ATS posture, etc. This is the area, I think could get muddy as I believe some will take this new information once you publish it and run.
A: I'm fine with the general ATS public blending FCBD ATS with GC and BSBD. I would expect that Sister Studios will continue to keep the style separate, as SS means that you *want* to adhere to FCBD Old School. New creations of FCBD ATS are acceptable, but we won't be using anyone else's steps as part of our vocabulary.

Q: This is essentially what I see this "Old School/New Style" ATS announcement fostering. Allowing (and encouraging!) .... directors and teachers, and our troupes as well, to follow our creative bliss, while still staying true to ATS aesthetics and philosophies. This empowers everyone to create moves and ideas which are reflections of our troupe's individual creative visions, but still be part of a larger ATS "family" with whom we can collaborate and support.
A: Exactly!

Q: Those who choose to closely follow in FatChance's footsteps will still have that joy and freedom to do so. The body of work endorsed by FatChance, through their workshops and videos, will continue to be a yard stick for technique and presentation. Sister Studios will continue to be part of that standard by which ATS will be measured. Acknowledging and empowering this not-at-all-new branch of the ATS tree isn't taking anything away from anyone. I know that it feels like that to many, but I hope that they will see that you have been surrounded by these dancers all along--you have supported them, admired them, connected with them, shared with them, inspired them and been inspired in return. They're strong and respectful dancers who are valuable contributors to the ATS community already. Carolena is now putting her arm around those dancers and saying, "Welcome to the family, we're glad you're here." And I think that is a benefit to everyone, don't you? I hope so...
A: Perfect, thank you for this.

These comments were really helpful in showing me what needed to be clarified from the original fireside chat. Now, let me try to summarize where we are right now.

When I started teaching and making videos back in the early 90s, I had no concept of having to control what happened to ATS. I felt that since I was creating a "style" of an established dance, it wasn't my place to impose anything more than my creativity and loyalty (and funding, let's not forget that I paid for a lot of ads to get all of this into place! Before there were free FaceBook ads, we had to pay dearly for newspaper and magazine placement.)
But things didn't go as anticipated. People started branching off and teaching and the aestheic of the style started to change. At first I tried to make a statement, but it only resulted in resentment. I decided to retreat and let things develop "out there" while we stuck to the orginal vision of ATS "in here."
Eventually Tribal Fusion emerged and things started to divide in a way that made sense. I was comfortable saying that ATS was what FatChance did, Gypsy Caravan was what Paulette did, Black Sheep Belly Dance was what Kajira did, and Tribal Fusion was what the youngsters did. That met with some resistence, but it felt like the right thing to do.
But now, as the years have passed, we have lots of Sister Studios that are happy and willing to hold down the FCBD ATS format. I find that it has become so solid, that we are starting to create. Not only at FatChanceBellyDance, but many of the Sister Studios are coming up with new moves and variatons, to my delight some are actually the same! Osmosis! Collective subconscious! 100 monkeys with typewriters!
It's time to open up the boundaries of ATS. I propose, of course, to follow tradition. The core steps from Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals and Tribal Basics Vol. 4 Embellishments and Variations are the Old School*. Everyone knows them, they are universal and will continue to be. Tribal Basics Vol. 5 Cues and Transitions and Tribal Basics Vol. 6 Improvisational Choreography support both Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 as well as the Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations collaboration with FatChance and Devyani Dance Co.
I want to embrace new steps as they emerge and call them, simply New Style*. Because of the landslide of new steps I wiil likley not add them to the General Skills for ATS curriculum. I don't even need to see all of them as they are created. As long as they follow the format of Antatomy of a Step: the posture does not change; the ATS Old School steps remain the core;the result of a new step reinforces the aesthetic of uplifted arms and joyful display of the body; the step conveys happiness; any cues should be brief and logical, the more "rules" you have to add, the less successful the step will be; the principals of non-verbal communication govern all cues and formations.

So, to answer the question, "Yes or No?" The answer is Yes and No. I had intended the Old School/New Style idea to be applicable to those that were adhereing to FCBD ATS. It never occured to me that the GS/BSBD blends would want to come on board. But OK, here goes: "Yes", you can call yourselves ATS if you are not doing stricly FCBD ATS, but you don't have to if you have settled with another name for your brand of Tribal. "Yes" you can blend and create new steps regardless if you are blended or FCBD ATS. "No" you will not flow** with other dancers if they don't know your stylizations, but you can share them and the universe will expand. "No" you should not blend GC/BSBD if you are a Sister Studio, the desire to remain true to FCBD ATS should be apparent.

**Flow: If you choose to create your own thing you will not be able to flow with another ATS dancer that you have never danced with before. What do I mean by flow? Flow is when both dancers have the same muscle memory for steps, interpret the music in the same way, have a similar skill level and use the ATS formations of duet, trio and quartet. Flow is dancing in the divine subconscious. But if you have one version of a step and another dancer has a different version, you will have to discuss it ahead of time and you will have to think, or stay in the conscious while you dance. This is not a bad thing, but just be aware of it.

*Now let's have a contest to choose a permanent name for "ATS Old School" and"ATS New Style." Send your suggestions to my blog, look for the title "Contest!" The winner will go down in history, and get a free something when the results of the contest are announced. Myself and members of FCBD will choose the winning entries.

I hope this third post will satisfy the need for clarification that was absent in the first two posts. As ever, let me know your thoughts on my blog.

20 September 2010

how has ATS changed your life?

Hi All,
Whew! let's take a sideline to the raging fire of Old School, New Style.
Let me know how ATS has changed your life. Be as specific as you like.

18 September 2010

ATS Old School, ATS New Style

This is new home for the infamous fireside chat discussing ATS Old School, ATS New Style.
Please re-post all the great comments from FaceBook, Tribe.net and any personal emails you send to me that you would like to share. Let's keep the conversation going!

{fireside chat} Greetings,
Thanks for joining me, there's something that I want to share with you.
When I first released Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals, I encouraged the viewer to "use these ideas in your version of American Tribal Style Belly Dance." At that moment, I had no idea that ATS would become a worldwide phenomenon. I had no thought to control it, I just wanted to get it out there for people to enjoy. I assumed that you would see it, be inspired, and go on to create a dance that followed, what was to me, the obvious aesthetic and lines of classic female beauty.
Imagine my surprise when my little ATS morphed into so many interpretations of "Tribal."
At first I was delighted, so many people were coming on board. I faced a lot of criticism from the traditionalists who feared that the public would regard Tribal as more authentic than Oriental Style. I stood my ground in that I wasn't trying to steal anyone's market share, I just had a new idea that knew would add to the growing population of students interested in belly dance. People like me, that loved the music and culture, but felt a resonance to the romantic idea of a more folkloric looking dance. The music we chose was more from the countryside than the city and we also experimented with sounds from other cultures, as well as modern fusions that were emerging in San Francisco and other progressive cities. The costume was rich and heavy; full skirts, pantaloons, a version of the Indian choli top, mythical coin bras and tassel belts, and of course a full cloth headdress and lots of jewelry.
As things evolved in our San Francisco classes, I came up with the signature concept of ATS-group improvisation. We used standard belly dance steps, and made up some of our own based on those steps, but what was new was the way that we used them in set formations. We decided on duets, trios and quartets, with the occasional solo, to be performed within the context of a chorus line of troupe dancers. The posture and steps would remain a solid, unchanging core but the way the dancers used them was the improv part-the leader would cue the followers as to her next step and the whole formation could change in unison.
This is still a mystery to audiences, the whole group flows so seamlessly that it is often impossible to tell that it's improv. Perhaps that's the one hitch in ATS, the most amazing part is hidden from the onlookers.

Onward to the reason for tonight's talk.
I never intended to have to police the dance. I expected that everyone would play nice and respect each other, and me. But something happened in the mid-nineties. The desire for the dance had begun to spread and more and more people wanted to learn. I was invited to travel, but had no interest in it at the time. If I left San Francisco, the business would fall behind. Plus, I didn't consciously know it at the time but I wasn't done creating the dance. Truthfully it felt, and it still does, like I was just a tool of the dance goddess. Not to sound cliche`, it was just that I had no personal plan other than to dance for a few years. It feels like something bigger than me just plucked me out of the masses and said, "Go do this."
And, I did.
But the bubble burst when students started splintering off and teaching right around the corner from me. That felt wrong. I would never have opened up shop if my teacher was still on the scene. I decided not to take a stance, not wanting to appear petty and more importantly, not wanting to put a damper on the progress of the dance.
But here's the deal-it felt as if just when I was preparing to give a gift...it was snatched out of my hands. I was attempting to be humble in giving the dance away, not feeling the need for ownership, as I assumed that would naturally be attributed to me out of courtesy. But it was not to be. I was stunned, hurt, angry and too proud to say so. I retreated.
I waited and watched to see what would happen. It was pretty rough for a while. All sorts of dances were being created and called "Tribal", some even "ATS", which made no sense to me as there was nothing ATS about them at all.
I realized that people who had no experience with ATS were jumping on the bandwagon. It made sense to remain in the game and encourage people to call these new styles simply Tribal. Most people added a prefix or suffix, like Fusion, Gothic, East Coast, etc. Attempting I believe to stay under the umbrella of the popularity of Tribal while distinguishing themselves as original at the same time. Makes no sense to me, but OK.
Eventually, the very people that turned away from me, or perhaps I should say the next generation of students of the original diaspora, started to recognize the true ATS, and me. I felt like it was worth the wait. I'm glad I didn't speak out against those that had broken away. And I'm glad that we are on track again.

A digression for a history lesson of the ATS underground, finally here is the reason for tonight's talk.
Things are good right now. There is still some confusion about what is ATS and what is any variety of Tribal, but that's OK. We have Sister Studios, teachers that adhere to the philosophy of FatChanceBellyDance in their ATS classes, 98 at the time of this writing. We have TribalStar Galactica, my attempt in getting all the "tribes" together in one place, no matter of the genre, 247 at the time of this letter.
It's finally time for me to give the gift that I had intended at the filming of Dance Fundamentals-be creative and have fun.
There are so many new steps and concepts being presented to me that I feel the need to broaden our definition of ATS. I propose that the steps from Tribal Basics Vol. 1 Dance Fundamentals and Tribal Basics Vol. 4 Embellishments and Variations be considered ATS Old School, as they are the foundation of what we do. Everything else, including our Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations, are to be considered ATS New Style.
There will be new steps added to the ATS vocabulary, but they will not be mandatory. As well, you are free to create new steps and variations of your own. You can show them to me, or not. I am always happy to give a common sense creative critique on what makes a good ATS step, but you will not get in trouble if you are moved to create something on your own.
As one dancer recently brought to my attention, we all have our own dialectics. By the nature of either distance, ala FatChance and Devyani, or simply a student group that dances together on a regular basis, we develop our own creative steps and variations (more on how to do that at the end of this letter.) The dance is the same but experimenting and mistakes lead us to create, and that's a good thing.
But here's the deal; if you choose to create your own thing you will not be able to flow with another ATS dancer that you have never danced with before. What do I mean by flow? Flow is when both dancers have the same muscle memory for steps, interpret the music in the same way, have a similar skill level and use the ATS formations of duet, trio and quartet. Flow is dancing in the divine subconscious. But if you have one version of a step and another dancer has a different version, you will have to discuss it ahead of time and you will have to think, or stay in the conscious while you dance. This is not a bad thing, but just be aware of it.
So that's it.
I'm still on the scene. I will still be teaching ATS all over the world. We will continue to produce instructional DVDs. I'm not going anywhere. In fact I'm just sitting here on the porch and I invite my dance family to come and play in the front yard. Show me what you are doing, tell me how it has changed your life, share a new piece of music with me. Just come home for a spell and let me enjoy your happiness. Then you can run off to the next house and create yet again.

Anatomy of a Step.
In June of 2011 we will shoot the next instructional DVD, to be released in the Fall. It will be titled Anatomy of a Step. We'll introduce you to the new work that we are doing as well as that of guest artists. The theme of this DVD will be to introduce you to the process of creating steps and variations. But for now, use this formula: the posture does not change. The ATS Old School steps remain the core. The result of a new step reinforces the aesthetic of uplifted arms and joyful display of the body. The step conveys happiness. Any cues should be brief and logical, the more "rules" you have to add, the less successful the step will be. The principals of non-verbal communication govern all cues and formations.
I think that if you follow these suggestions you will have success, and I hope find more depth in the dance.

My friends, enjoy the dance. And phone home every now and then.
Best wishes,