Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Tribal, Sakura Style : Part Deux!

Well, here we are again - time for a bit more warbling on! I am going to try to control any innate prattling tendencies this week, so that I get everything I want to say into one post, and it's done with. I hate things that just linger on and on - so I WILL do it. I hope.

Carrying on from where we left off last time ...

Traditional Rajasthani dancers; Tribal
Bellydance draws upon Indian dance,
but does not lay claim to being
Tribal Bellydance can be a source of dramatic misconceptions for those not 'in the know'. The use of vintage textiles and jewellery together with the moniker of 'tribal' can lead people to think that it is some ancient, authentic dance form. Quite simply - it's not!!! Yes, Tribal draws on other older dance forms, be they Middle Eastern, Indian, Flamenco or African - but it reinterprets them and places them into a modern frame. Whilst all due respect and homage is given to its origins, it is essentially a dance of today, danced by today's people. I read somewhere recently that it's a 'hotch-potch'; I know what the writer was getting at, but I hate that particular term. It implies that the founders of Tribal just took any old move and threw them all into the mix. I wasn't there, but I'm pretty sure that a little more thought went into it! Each tribal format has its own aesthetic - and the moves and stylisations incorporated into it take account of that.

Paulette Rees-Denis dances to musical
accompaniment from her husband, Jeff,
They worked closely together with
other musicians, as Gypsy Caravan, to
produce an array of music suitable
 for tribal dance. 
This modern aspect of the dance does have implications for the way in which it is presented. Choice of  music, for example. Several groups have written and performed music specifically for tribal dance - Helm and Gypsy Caravan to name but two. This music is ideal for improvisation; it often does not have sudden changes in tempo, for example. But does this mean that this is ALL that we can dance to? I would say 'No!' I have seen some beautiful improvisation to Spanish and Indian flavoured music, for example - dance forms that in themselves have heavily influenced tribal. But what about more contemporary music - dare I say it, 'pop' music?  I know that some people have a real problem with this - but we don't. At least, not in moderation. Sakura have always danced to more traditional tribal or Middle Eastern music (in performances at any rate. Drilling is another matter. Just try drilling Boxes and Directional Shimmy Combos to 'Satellite' by the Hooters - woo hoo!). However, at the moment we are preparing two performances for upcoming haflas. One is a slow dance to a traditional tribal track - steady tempo, repetitive phrasing, just written for improv! It's also a very beautiful track, which makes you feel slinky as you dance. That's why we chose it! The second track is a bit different for us - it's a contemporary track, lots of tempo changes .... at first glance you might think it just wouldn't work for improv. But it does. Brilliantly. The key is that we both really KNOW the music - backwards, forwards, standing on our head know it. And we have talked about the music, about how we interpret different parts of it. We haven't danced it to death - we don't want it to become a choreography - but we have a shared understanding of it. Does this mean we will abandon more traditional tracks in future? Definitely not! This track just fits the venue where it will be performed perfectly, and as an occasional 'one-off' we think it's fine - it's actually refreshing for us. But we know where our roots lie and won't be abandoning them. Now what about troupes who ALWAYS perform to contemporary music? If I'm honest, I'm not 100% comfortable with that - but can't quite get my head around why in order to write it down coherently here! Suffice it to say that it's not a path that Sakura will be taking ...

FatChance BellyDance, 2010
 Which brings me on to the subject of improvisation. There used to be a common understanding that improvised tribal should be ALL improvised. 100%. Some folk used to take great glee in watching videos of FCBD to try to 'catch them out' in a bit of choreo. And yet, flicking back through my Tribal Bible the other day, that's not what comes across at all. What comes across is that it should be MAINLY improv. Which throws a whole new light on things. If you're dancing for yourself, whether in class or in rehearsals 100% improv is great. However, as soon as you take that out to an audience, you take on further responsibility; the responsibility to ENTERTAIN. And that means thinking about concepts such as staging, thinking about entrances/exits, thinking about formations - all of which, sometimes necessitate a measure of pre-planning. When we perform, the degree of this pre-planning varies. Sometimes we DO dance 100% improv - usually to more traditional music. Sometimes, to add a bit of punch, we might choreo a short entrance - which might be as simple as an agreed step. We might loosely agree an ending (which is still a bit up in the air as we might get carried away doing something else!) If there is a particular 'punctuation spot' in the music we might chat and agree a few possible moves that might go there. But the vast majority of the dance - probably 90% plus - is improv. And we have no qualms at all in saying we dance Improvised Tribal Style. Neither do we feel any need to hide the facts that bits of the dance may be prearranged, because basically it's done to ensure that you, as our audience, are considered. You're not outsiders, we want you to enjoy and be drawn into our dance - so we want to present it to best effect. Yes, we could dance 100% improv to everything. We could even have a bash at doing it to a track we didn't know very well. But we wouldn't be doing the music, the dance or YOU true justice. So we'll save that for when we hit the dance floor for a general boogie at the end of the hafla!

Gypsy Caravan : a modern take on
tribal costuming
 Now - costuming!!! Oooh, shiny things!!! Sadly, too often people see this as being what tribal IS. That traditional tribal outfit - pantaloons, big skirt, choli, coin bra, turban - is what people see as being THE Tribal Costume. It is a very imposing, very beautiful look. Sakura really enjoy wearing it - and do so quite often (with some adaptations - Cayte in a turban bears more than a passing resemblance to Widow Twanky!). But is it the ONLY tribal costume that's permissible? Not at all. That particular costume, in all its elegance, was presented on the FCBD Costuming DVD  - but if you look at FCBD today, you can see that although many basic elements remain unchanged others - the headwear for example - have moved on, with 'hair gardens' and headbands ousting the turban on many occasions. We are around 10 years on, after all! If you look at some other troupes today, such as Gypsy Caravan, they may perform in more pared -down outfits - trousers and ghawazee coats for example - but maintain that tribal feel with big belts, jewellery and head wraps. Other troupes, in particular those dancing more fusion styles, such as Urban Tribal, wear very minimalistic costumes - black trousers and crop top with  very little jewellery. Sakura probably are somewhere in the middle. Sometimes we dress up in the full traditional tribal outfit. Sometimes we cut it back a little - pantaloons/trousers and long coats. Lots of make up and bindis - always! Sometimes hairbands with big flowers and feathers (easier for short hair than the full hair garden!), sometimes head wraps. We choose our outfits to match the dance we are performing, and the venue. And it's all good! At the end of the day, though, it's the DANCE that matters, not the costume. I dream of a hafla where, in the first half everyone would perform in black t-shirts and trousers. No clues given about their style; it should be apparent from their moves, music and 'feel'. Then in the second half the same dancers would return to do the same dances again - in full costume. I think that would really sharpen up our perceptions and presentation, and keep us all on our toes. Costume doth not a tribal - or indeed any other - dancer make!!

Well, I'm coming to the end of this post. I was going to write a bit about creativity in our dance, but have so much to say that I'm going to save that for a post all of its own. Hopefully you know understand a bit more about where we, as Sakura, are coming from, and why we do what we do. You may not agree with it all, but that's fine. If we all thought the same it'd be a boring old world!

Until next time - happy dancing!

P.S. Check out the YIP! Podcast site and associated Facebook page for details of their 'Propapalooza' event on 9th July. We can't get there in person - but we're having a Propapalooza party (Thank You Jo!)

Thanks to Paulette Rees-Denis and YIP Podcast for images in this post


  1. Having spoken a bit about music choices in this post, I came across this post from Asharah on her 'Bellydance Paladin' : . She's talking specifically about Middle Eastern music here as opposed to what we might call tribal, but it's a good read and provides plenty food for thought.

  2. Another great read. I'm another Widow Twanky I would love to look regal in a turban but it is not to be.

  3. I can see a new troupe - 'Twanky Tribal'!