Friday, 24 June 2011

Videos of the Week - In The Beginning!

This week we've actually got not one but several videos for you! Someone was asking a few weeks ago if I  knew of any footage of the original Bal Anat or Jamila Salimpour - and here, lurking amongst my You Tube favourites, I found some gems.

Firstly, a bit of background information. In the 'Tribal Bible' Kajira Djoumahna traces the roots of Tribal style to  San Francisco in the late nineteen sixties:

'(Jamila Salimpour) is credited for beginning this eclectic fusion approach to Mid-Eastern Dance in her presentations at the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire with her seminal group, Bal Anat' 
Tribal Bible, 2003

Our first video gives an overview of Jamila's life and work:

The footage in this video really gives a flavour of the dance as it was then, and in particular, as Kajira points out, of the 'feeling' evoked by Bal Anat, in blending past and present cultures, with the costuming and facial markings, whilst not laying claim to being truly authentic, still recalling that sense of 'tribal' that is in turn reflected by many of today's dancers. The family tradition as continued by Jamila's daughter, Suhaila, and her grandaughter, Isabella, is also outlined here - and thus we can see how Jamila's folkloric work not only gave birth to tribal as we know it now, but also to the Suhaila dance format.

Our next video is the first of a series of three and shows more extensive footage of Bal Anat :

Here Jamila gives us an insight into what she believes to be the origins of bellydance; whether you agree with these or not it still makes for interesting viewing, although sadly the sound quality on this video is not wonderful. It's also interesting to see the foundations of some of our common tribal moves, such as the Egyptian - and to see her teaching drops to a class of students!

If you watch this on You Tube you will be able to link into the other two videos in this series.The second one features examples of sword and finger cymbal work, in addition to some snake dancing (whick kicks in at around 2:50 until 4:10, just in case you either don't like snakes or are not a fan of snake dancing). In the third you will see some dancing (including floorwork) with some very impressive looking pots, and also will notice the way in which other troupe members (apparently there were at one point as many as 40 of them!) support the main dancers, for example by drumming. I think one of my favourite parts of this video is the little blonde girl in the audience (at around 4:15); she has such an expression of awe and amazement at what she is seeing. It makes me wonder what happened to her. Was she inspired to go on and dance herself as has happened to so many of us? If anyone does know any more about her please do tell!

Our next video, from the seventies, features some double sword work :

This was an eye opener for me! I had always blithely presumed that dancing with two swords was a recent development; that as dancers in general became more proficient over the years with one sword they had begun to challenge themselves by adding a second - but this video from forty years ago completely disproves that assumption!

Finally, some footage of a male dancer, Ricky, with Bal Anat in the early 1970s:

In the 'Tribal Bible', John Compton (probably the best known Bal Anat male dancer, who went on to form 'Hahbi Ru') tells the story of how Jamila at first refused to accept him as a student, saying that she would not teach a man. However, eventually his perseverance and commitment won through, and the rest is history!

Well, there you have it! Of course, the story of tribal evolved much further from here, with one of Jamila's students, Masha Archer, going on to teach Carolena Nericcio. I really uaven't tried to give you a full history here; there are lots of sources far more qualified than me which can do that! What I have tried to do is just to give you a flavour of Bal Anat's style which lies at the very roots of tribal (Jamila never termed her style tribal - she merely called it 'bellydance'; the 'tribal' label came later as synchronised group improvisation was born). I think you will agree that these videos certainly strongly evoke that feeling of the early days. I would so love to have been there - if Doctor Who ever comes calling for me my first Tardis request will be a trip to an early Bal Anat performance!

You can find out much more about the Salimpour legacy at There is also information on there about the current Bal Anat, restarted in 2001 by Suhaila, in addition to an online shop which includes a variety of dvds featuring old and new footage.

I do hope you've enjoyed our little touch of time travel - it's always good to know your roots!

Until next time, happy dancing!

Unfortunately I have had these photographs on my computer for some time and cannot remember the original source. Please accept my apologies!

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