Connection: The Heart of Tribal Belly Dance

I love group dancing, more than any other style. This is why American Tribal Style captured my heart.

When doing Improvisational Style Belly Dance (ATS, ITS, etc.) the class participants bond and interact more than any solo-oriented dance I’ve ever studied. You have to, because the dance form is, like the name implies, improvisational. Each dancer learns the language of movement, then small to medium groups of them perform it, with one person in the front as a lead. The group rotates regularly to share the lead spot.

It is so beautiful and exhilarating to experience the “mind meld” moments we have while dancing. Sometimes you’re in the back of the group, fixed so keenly on the lead dancer’s every gesture, that you just KNOW what she’s about to do even before she does it, and you both glide so seamlessly as a flock.

I grew-up attending modern and ballet classes, and these are so singular feeling. The students shuffle in, stand separately, stare at the teacher, then they shuffle out. In ATS/ITS you stand close together in a pod of dancers, you tune into each others movements, and you make intimate eye contact, and you SMILE at one another. It’s magical.

One of the other reasons I think I was so enamored with ATS right off the bat was that it reminded me of something I saw in a dream (or past life memory?) many years ago. As a teenager, one night I had a vivid dream of dancing with other women. It looked to be somewhere in Western Europe around the middle ages. Myself and the other women were dressed in plain, country style dresses, with little flowers woven in our long hair. We were dancing in a circle in the grass, cloudy sky overhead, and my soul was bursting with joy and contentment. The feeling was so connected and grounding, being one with myself and my sisters.

Fast forward to a few years ago, the first time I was exposed to ITS movement. I was taking Sabrina Fox’s Tribal Fusion class in San Diego (Tribal Fusion is different- it’s a mostly solo dance form). Sabrina  mixed it up a bit that evening and had us do a little ITS style movement. Since I had only taken Cabaret and Tribal Fusion style classes up until this point, the movement was totally new to me. The class was instructed to form the classic “horseshoe” shape particular to Improvisational Tribal Style, then we danced in groups in the center. I felt so lost! But it was fun.

Then we all shifted out of the horseshoe shape and started circling the room doing grapevine shimmies, and I had a flash of that dream where I danced with other women in the grass. I was suddenly filled with that same exact joy I’d felt in the dream, and I almost came to tears right there in class.

So perhaps one of the reasons why I love ATS so much is that is reminds me of dances I’ve done in another life. Regardless of the past life connection, I think it resonates with many people simply because circle dances, and communal dances have been a part of so many cultural histories. We can’t discount our genetic memory. Many of the modern Western dances that focus on mostly the isolation of the individual don’t give us that same human connection that we really need. In our compartmentalized, nuclear family structured, transient capitalist lives, dance like this is nourishment for our starving souls.

And, of course, I couldn’t close this post without a little video of Fat Chance Bellydance, the mamas of ATS…

 

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