Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tribal, Sakura Style!!!!

For a few days now my promised blog on what tribal means to us has been struggling to emerge, like a shimmering butterfly from a grubby old chrysalis. But it's problematic. Largely because of my inherent tendency to ramble, and to turn a train ticket into the next Anna Karenina.

You see, I want to write about what tribal means to US, to Sakura. But whenever I plan it out in my head I find that I'm rewriting a combination of Tribal Visions and the Tribal Bible, and of course there's really no need for that. There are loads of links on here to sites where you can find out all about the origins of Tribal Bellydance and what it actually is. I want to write about how all those sources, together with chats we've had, training we've undertaken and videos we've watched have influenced us as dancers - what OUR philosophy on tribal is.

Instead I've got a head full of spaghetti.

Don't panic - this is actually quite normal for me. All I need to do is to find the end of a strand and to start unravelling. I suppose the best way to do this is actually to start writing ....... and see what emerges! So here goes ....

WARNING : What you will read here are our views, although these are influenced by our  experiences and people we've met over our dancing years. So if you don't like anything you read, please don't blame anyone else. It's all our own fault, just for a change.

First and foremost, Sakura dance Improvised Tribal Style, as a group. Yep, opening page of the Tribal Bible here folks, for those of us lucky enough to own a copy. To us, that is Tribal with a capital 'T'. You won't find us dancing choreos or indeed soloing (unless it's within a group context).

Now, before anyone gets the old proverbials in a twist, let us qualify this .....

Spot Sakura - class choreo to Huda!
 There is nowt wrong with dancing choreo. Indeed, when we don't have our Sakura hats (or headdresses) on we dance tribal choreo with our class group too, amd have a fabby time doing it. There's nothing wrong with using tribal moves and costuming in a solo. We enjoy watching them (though it ain't happening for us anytime soon. One of us in particular would be far too much of a scaredy cat ...).

It's just that to us, Tribal equates with group improv.

And making that improv connection
 And no, it doesn't feel anything like dancing a choreography. It feels totally different. It's creating art, creating something brand new, there and then, in that moment. Something that will never be recreated in quite the same way again. It's not being alone, it's being a co-creator, working together, trusting that other person (or people) not just in the physical sense, but creatively too, to walk with you on that creative path through and with the music. It's being there, as you are, at that very point in time, and responding as you are then to one another, to the music and to the audience too when you're performing. It isn't a style that you can copy, it's a style that you have to feel, deep in your bones, your heart, your soul.

Jo does some pretty cool sword solos!
 Our friend Jo put the whole connection thing beautifully in her blog :

"When you improvise and dance together you really see the other person, how the dance transforms them. Like a glamour you see a glimpse of the real them shining out, and it's beautiful."

It's all about connection, community  and also about sharing responsibility too - whether that be for leading or for following or for supporting in a chorus line.You really do need to become involved in both leading AND following to truly feel that connection.  It certainly isn't about just one person leading the whole time, whether that be the teacher or any other dancer. In class we call that 'drilling' folks! Again it can be lots of fun and good practice in following moves and cues but actual improvisation is far more organic than that. You gotta lead it to feed it!

Yes, it IS group improv all the way for Sakura; it's a feeling that we just don't get from dancing any other way.

If we have to cross bridges, please
can they be in Portland, Oregon?
 I suppose the only niggle that one of us has is the fact that whenever we write descriptions of what style we dance for haflas and the like, we feel that we have to qualify it as Improvised Tribal Style. That should be implicit in the name 'Tribal', that's how it started. But so many other groups and dancers - on an international scale here folks - describe their dances as 'Tribal' without any qualifying additional description, even when they are dancing solos or choreographies, that we do feel we have to clarify what we do. Yes, it's all semantics and labels but that is, after all, how human beings make sense of the world and yes, it matters. To us anyway. In an ideal world choreographed troupes would say they danced tribal choreographies or tribally inspired choreos. Soloists would say they were dancing tribal solos or tribally inspired solos. But being realistic that's never going to happen. So we shall just have to build a bridge and dance over it as it were!

ASIDE : I am warbling and rambling and am nowhere near finished. I may have to make this a two-parter to ensure you all stay awake. Zzzzzzzzzzzz ......

Gypsy Caravan : Improv at its best!
So - we dance group improv. What else makes tribal Tribal (deliberate capitalisation there!) for us? Well of course, the steps need to be tribal. Drawing from oriental styles, Indian, Flamenco, folk styles - with emphases varying according to the format, they do have a different quality. I've heard people describe tribal  as being 'earthier' but I'm never too sure about that one; some of those North African folk styles and indeed other bellydance styles look pretty earthy to me! But whatever it is there IS a different quality to the movement - beyond the mere steps alone - that is I think down to posture and intention. If you don't quite agree, put two dancers, one Oriental trained, one Tribal trained into tribal costume and get them to dance a tribal choreo alongside one another. The difference will shine through, I promise you; costume and steps alone doth not a tribal dancer make!

FatChance Bellydance
We have lots of fun playing with some of our
friends who dance in this format - but is
that really improv?
And of course, steps in Tribal are agreed, codified. This is what makes the real difference between group improvisation and just copying moves. In theory you can play around with any style of bellydance and do a halfway decent job of mimicking one another and having lots of fun with it, but without a shared vocabulary of moves, right down to arm placements, hand positions and so on, you will not be able to really let go, to go with the flow, to improvise in the group improv sense of the word. Once you've truly made that improv connection, you will really feel the difference. Whether you are dancing one of  the major formats or whether it's something you've created or tweaked within your own troupe, you WILL feel the difference. We have great fun hitting the dance floor with friends who are trained in other formats, for example, but it IS a different experience to us improvising either together or indeed with our class, where we do have a commonality of movement. When you have that inbuilt shared knowledge and muscle memory you can 'let go' of that part of your consciousness that is trying to work out what move is happening and what's coming next - and can just dance!!!!

Yes, I have warbled - not quite as long as the Tribal Bible yet though!

But in the interests of sanity (well, your sanity. Mine went out the window a long time ago!). I'm going to stop here - for now. I hope everything has come across as I wanted it to.There is SO much more I want to say.I want to talk more about ....

Tribal - A dance for today
Tribal - Room for Creativity?
Improvisation -Does it have to be 100% improv, 100% of the time?
Costume - Yes, you got it, doth not a tribal dancer make! But also, costume in 2011 - what does that mean?
Music - How far do we/should we stick with tradition? Can we play?

So I shall post a follow-up blog in a few days time, once I've sorted my thoughts out again.

Once more the opinions expressed will be those of Sakura Tribal, and you may well disagree. Possibly vehemently. That's fine, just don't go hang drawing and quartering anyone else because of our opinions. Actually don't go hang drawing and quartering us either. We have pretty Ghawazee dresses to show off in a couple of weeks.... and you do love us really. Don't you????

Until next time, happy dancing!


  1. Great post,can't wait for part two.

  2. Part Two will be coming up in the next couple of days! x