“Bellydance,” a term used to cover a myriad of different ethnic dance styles, is also a term that is often shrouded in mystery and misconceptions.
While the stereotypical image of a sequined, chiffoned dancer shimmying delicately does have basis in reality, there are many other sides of bellydance to discover.
Salome, co-director of the tribal group Tribal Reflections (and her student group, Filles de la Lune,) shares with us her experience of dance. She and her co-director, Naxi, practice Tribal Improv and Tribal Fusion style dance–very earthy dances that are a refreshing departure from the “usual.” From the Bedouin to Victorian Ladies, influences from around the world and around time can be seen in their unique and innovative dance.
KCQ: When did you begin dancing, and what made you decide to try it?
S: I started dancing when I was 6 years old. Ballet and Jazz were mandatory for being a competitive gymnast. With ballet and gymnastics, you usually are over the hill at 17. I did the family thing for about 12 years and ran across a picture of a belly dancer in an advertisement on a fax at my office. They were offering belly dance classes. Have to admit it was the drawing of the lady in the beautiful exotic costume that made me decide to try it. I wanted to wear a costume like that. Escape a bit from everyday boredom. So at 30 years old I decided to try my first belly dance class. Purely as just a way to work out to begin with. It was first a hobby that turned into a lifestyle and then into a professional moonlighting career. It has taken me all over the US for training and performing purposes. Didn’t realize all that ballet I did when I was younger would really pay off in my 30s as a belly dancer.
KCQ: Could you describe your style/the type of dance you do?
S: My co-director and I teach Improv Tribal Style belly dance, and we also have a Tribal Fusion Professional troupe. Tribal Fusion Style is a dancer or a group of dancers with predominantly tribal style belly dance traits using other dance disciplines along with world and contemporary dance styles to enhance the core style of Tribal Style belly dance. Improvisational choreography with cues is fundamental to the composition of Tribal Fusion choreography. Group Improvisation refers to a structured and codified repertoire of movements, each with their own distinct cue, performed in a lead and follow format. Group Improv is generally associated with American Tribal Style and Group Improvisational Tribal Style. Solo Improvisation refers to one dancer spontaneously dancing and being “in the moment” with the music. Solo improvisers will often be intimately familiar with their music or have some sort of a loose framework in mind for their dance presentation.
KCQ: Has your style changed at all from when you began, and if so, how?
S: My style has evolved a lot since I took my first class. I began as a cabaret belly dancer, drawn into it by the shiny rhinestones and satin formfitting fabrics. As I studied it, it felt like something was missing, I needed something different, more earthy when it came to the music and movements. I started to become more interested in the heavy ethnic jewelry and layers of cottons and velvets and ethnic fabrics. It felt more comfortable dancing in the dirt at Renaissance Fairs than it did in heels in a restaurant. I was bored doing solos and wanted to dance with others. I met Martha who had the same interests and from there we embarked on a journey that has taken us through so much training in the tribal community, as well as different styles of dance like Flamenco, Salsa and East Indian. From all of our studies and training, we have been able to develop our own personal style that is very different than the cabaret we both started out in.
KCQ: Aside from the obvious result of making moving, living art, what are some other benefits of this activity?
S: The travel and the friendships. In order to give our students the best quality of training, we have to always be up-to-date on current trends in the Belly dance world–which means we have to train and be taught ourselves. And by doing so, we have to leave Wichita and attend Belly dance events, workshops, and shows all over the US. From doing that, we have developed strong friendships with other dancers in different states like us that also travel around for training. There is a large amount of support within the different troupes. We look for any reason to get together and dance. And of course, the culture. It is impossible to study this dance form without understanding and experiencing the culture of it as well. I have learned more about the different cultures in the world as a belly dancer than I have reading history books in school.
KCQ: What kind of advice would you give to a beginning dancer, or someone who has never done it before and wants to try?
S: I tell anyone that wants to do it to just try it. It doesn’t matter what shape and size you are, what age or maturity level. It is a way for someone (male or female) to become in tune with their own body. And to embrace it for what it is and how to make it look beautiful with movement. It is hard, so I try to let newbies know not to get discouraged when they can’t do a belly roll at first. It takes time and dedication to become a good dancer, but the rewards of self-confidence, self-awareness, and friendships are so worth it in the long run. I wish more teenage girls would try out this dance form. It would be a great age to build self-esteem and feel beautiful about themselves at the same time. The same goes for middle-aged housewives, too.
Salome and Naxi teach at Amira Dance Productions in Wichita, KS. Visit their fan page on facebook: Tribal Reflections Bellydance & Filles de la Lune Improv troupes