A little letter to my fellow belly dancers.

My dear fellow belly dancers,

Just because a dancer’s style does not fit into your idea of “cabaret” or “traditional” belly dance, this does not mean that her style is “tribal” or “tribal fusion”. Sometimes a dancer is some other variety of fusion. See Anasma (NYC) or Ebony (DC) for examples.

Also, if you identify yourself as “tribal fusion”, please be able to perform oriental style.

It makes me sad when dancers box themselves into a style, especially new dancers.  It’s like a ballet dancer saying that she only wants to perform contemporary pieces but never wants to perform in The Nutcracker or Swan Lake.  Belly dance is, at its heart, a Middle Eastern art form,  and yes, I do expect those dancers who perform primarily tribal style to be able to perform cabaret and oriental styles.  You don’t need to be a master at oriental belly dance, but I do want you to be able to interpret the music of Umm Kalthoum or a really hot tabla solo.

While I’m at it, I suggest to the oriental dancers out there to try out ATS, particularly if you work in a troupe.  The ability to follow your troupe-mates body angles and lines is essential to any dancer working in a performing company, and ATS will help you improve your peripheral vision by leaps and bounds.  Personally, I’ve learned a LOT about how I present myself as a soloist by working in an American Tribal Style company.  ATS will also help you clean up your arm carriage, and it might even help you get rid of that unconscious flippy left or right hand (you know the one I’m talking about).  Also, the improvisational essence of ATS will help you think on her feet should anything go wrong in your performance, such as music or costuming mishaps.



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That’s a good point about ATS being a good tool for learning to dance in a group. I took a ATS intro class over the summer two summers ago (?) and while I don’t think it’s my thing, I appreciate that I did it, and appreciate ATS performances a lot more now.




I must take issue with this one. I think that some of the primary developers of ATS were not trained as cabaret dancers. My current ATS teacher in New York was not. And Sera in New York says that her dance form “consciously rejects Orientalism”. There are dancers who prefer to think of their dance as American, in rejection of unfortunate cultural attitudes towards women in the Middle East. I don’t think that some of these dancers feel a necessity to dance in an Oriental style, nor do I see why it would be necessary. My own ATS teacher has developed her art form into a unique form of liturgical dance, and feels no affinity with Oriental styles..

I do agree that if you are performing tribal fusion, you must have a background in ATS, otherwise you don’t know what you are fusing. It is too easy to call anything you do “tribal fusion”.




As always, I agree with you completely. I study with whomever I can, whenever I can, and whatever I perform, I strive to perform well. Knowing more can never hurt an artist.




Why is it “sad” to you that a dancer knows and openly pursues styles of dance which resonate the most strongly with him or her?

I think that being exposed to / taking classes in various styles can only be a good thing, from an educational perspective. In that way, I agree with you.

However, saying what pieces other performers /should be willing to perform/ is dangerously close to dictating their artistic perspective based on your own personal ideology. I find that interesting coming from someone who so strongly defends her own artistic perspective.




    I totally see what you’re saying here… but I still think that a belly dancer (if one is going to call herself a “belly dancer”) should be able to perform at least a bit of the classical and more “traditional” styles and vice versa.

    I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t disappoint me when a dancer says, “I’m just going to study ____ style”. It totally does. That’s my opinion. I’m not going to tell you that you MUST go take oriental dance (although if you were to choose to, Shems is an invaluable resource and SO close to you!), and if you choose to develop yourself solely as a tribal style dancer, that’s not my decision to change. I’d LOVE to see more dancers, however, try out various styles of belly dance before saying that they’ve chosen one over another, and this is BECAUSE it widens their artistic and creative options. And this goes the other way around – I think more cabaret and oriental dancers should take ATS and see what it’s all about rather than just judging it and saying, “oh, I don’t do tribal”. Whether they like it or not, tribal style is a style of belly dance, and I think that we should have experience in many varieties of this ever-changing dance. Plus, the more you have in your toolbox, the more creative you can be, and the more ways you’ll have to express yourself personally. I don’t think my opinion that dancers should study multiple styles is in conflict with my artistic vision.

    This dance is funny in that it plays two roles: one is that of an artistic expression for those of us who study, perform, and teach it. The other is that of preserving and developing a folkdance that has evolved to be presented on stage. Whether we like it or not, this dance has its roots in the Middle East, and I do think it’s up to anyone who calls herself a belly dancer to familiarize herself with the stylizations from the region. That’s my personal conviction, but of course, I came to this dance as a student of Middle Eastern studies, so that’s going to color how I look at this dance and how I choose to express myself through it. Does that makes sense?

    Thanks for the replies… I just ramble on and on, and I do love reading what people have to say, particularly when they DON’T agree with me! 😀




Like I said, I think cross-training is important, because it’s important to know where all aspects of your dance come from. I would like to take with Shems soon, but right now time and money are an issue. It’s definitely on my list.

However, what you’re saying here (in the original post, that is) seems to be more than “you should know where your dance comes from,”– it’s more “I want to see you perform X style if you call yourself a Y dancer,” (ie– ” I do expect those dancers who perform primarily tribal style to be able to perform cabaret and oriental styles”) and I make a strong distinction between which styles one has studied and/or are familiar with and which styles one feels drawn to performing. Saying what you expect a dancer to perform, style-wise, is too close to dictating their artistic expression for my liking.

To add to that, something that perplexed me about this post: a few entries back, you make a strong case for why we should not compare ballet and bellydance based on their roots, and here in this post you are using ballet to make a comparitive conclusion about bellydance. Logically, this seems a bit faulty to me.




“Just because a dancer’s style does not fit into your idea of “cabaret” or “traditional” belly dance, this does not mean that her style is “tribal” or “tribal fusion”. Sometimes a dancer is some other variety of fusion.”

Absolutely. Tempest comes to mind as another dancer who engages in a fusion style which is not rooted in ATS (to my knowledge). I would also add that just because the costuming might not be a typical bedlah or folkloric dress, or if the music contains some more Western or electronic elements does not automatically make a piece “tribal” either.

However, there is similar issue of dancers claiming the “tribal/tribal fusion” name deliberately and incorrectly to gain additional attention, audiences, etc. As it has gained popularity, some performers and teachers who may not have any actual ATS/ITS background advertise themselves as “tribal” just to cash in on the trend.

I think this situation (i.e. people claiming they teach or perform “tribal” when in fact they are dancing in another fusion style) can often lead to people mislabeling other fusion styles as “tribal/tribal fusion” because the only “tribal” they’ve been exposed to isn’t Tribal at all. In addition to this though, I believe there are some in the bellydance community who just might not be interested in investigating or seriously observing Tribal style so when they see something they identify as non-cabaret they might automatically assume it’s Tribal.



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