Fusion, Bedouin, What's the Difference?
4 DVDs reviewed and compared
When Lynette of Gilded Serpent sent me these three DVDs to review, I wondered
what they had in common other than the word "Tribal" in their
titles. Also, I'm not exactly a wholehearted aficionado of Tribal anything.
So, in addition to watching them myself, I discussed portions of this review
with a few other dancers who have a strong background in Tribal, but who
have chosen not to be quoted directly in this article.
a long while, I equated Tribal solely with the American
Tribal Style popularized by Fat Chance Bellydance. Then
one day it dawned on me, finally, that even the Tribal
dancers were sick of doing the same 24 moves over and over
in group formations, and they were reaching farther and
farther into other styles for inspirations to re-invent
their dance. One of the styles that emerged from that is
what is now called Tribal Fusion, which acknowledges ATS
but has its own look.
requires a lot of body conditioning, joint flexibility, and
arm jewelry. They all seem to do Yoga and Pilates, and there's
often an assumption that the people who come to their classes
already share this background. This leads to an emphasis on
obvious physical virtuosity far beyond what you would get in
most folkloric dance classes (which can be demanding in their
despite many claims to being original, there's a very common
look and feel to all of it. There's East Coast Tribal but I
can't distinguish it from West Coast... and they don't really
change the mood or the feeling of their dance to match the
music, other than to match the tempo. Furthermore, the top
stylists are still, according to my insider sources, doing
the same things they were doing ten years ago.
The Exotic Art of Bellydance
another DVD from the Bellydance Superstars
This performance DVD from the Bellydance Superstars features a series of short,
mostly solo performances by Rachel Brice, Sharon Kihara, Mardi Love,
Zoe Jakes, Moria Chappell, Samantha Hasthorpe, Dusty Palk, Kami Liddle, Sabrina,
and Urban Tribal. Music ranges from Greek-textured
jazz to live Middle Eastern acoustic, to the industrial jazz of Amon
Tobin and the moody late 90's trip-hop that sounds like Portishead but
performances are mercifully short - I only say that because
there are so many of them. Everyone went on at least twice.
Most of the performances looked to me like they were improvised,
and they alternated beween live musicians and pre-recorded
music. Where they used recordings, the dancers obviously knew
the pieces well and knew where the stops and breaks were; they
were less successful with the live musicians. The musicians
weren't quite enough to be an orchestra.
already into Tribal Fusion or its moodier cousin Raks
Gothique, this features some of the top TF stylists
showing how it's supposed to look at its best. And these dancers
are all very, very skilled. If you are a die-hard traditionalist
who thinks Tribal Fusion and Gothic bellydance are a plague
upon the land, this won't change your mind, so save your pennies.
personally found it interesting but not totally inspiring.
There was nothing in the dancing itself that I haven't
seen before. Best-of-breed certainly, but not new.
moments in each dancer's performance where I was engaged, but
then they'd do something else that seemed random, or that was
done at a poor angle to the camera (poorly framed or positioned).
The dancers didn't really have a sense when to stick with a
move and when to change it. The element of Goth theatricality
(i.e., creepiness) in their stances and their aesthetic is
simply not my thing.
I was also
bored by the lack of footwork and traveling steps to offset
all the time they spent slinking in one place. Folkloric dance
often has a lot of jumps and hops, or at least a sternum bounce
or two. Even doing a few hops or skips as an accent would have
added spice to these seamlessly smooth, controlled, leveled-out
the signature moves on here include the Tribal backbend, the
slow Turkish drop, the Berber walk, and intricate abdominal
isolations and chest articulations. Hip-hop influence shows
in freeze-frame taxim and other moves; the influence was in
the moves, but not necessarily the same attitude or rhythmic
sense as one would find in hip-hop.
have liked to have seen more differentiation among the dancers.
Stylistically, it was hard to tell one dancer from another
just by watching unless the shot was close enough to really
see their faces.
personal favorite on this DVD was actually Mardi Love.
She was the smoothest and had, I thought, the most beautiful
hands. She also had more expressiveness and her soft features
really played up the romantic, vintage feel of the overall
has a finely honed technique that many people try to copy,
but it's so optimized for her body proportions that it doesn't
seem to look as good on other dancers as it does on her. She's
much better live - but don't solo right after her, because
she literally blows lesser dancers off the stage unless she's
dancing together with them in a group.
Egyptian style Raks Sharki, the emotion is supposed to
well up from inside. Here, the emphasis was more on body
movement than on pure emotion. I didn't see anyone get
carried away by what they were doing. I wasn't carried
away either. When I see a dancer I really like, I want
to *be* her, or him, right at that moment. My heart leaps
at the music and then leaps again when I see what they're
doing. With this one, I was interested, but not that engaged.
be because they were in a studio setting, and they had no one
to interact with. Most of them didn't know how to flirt with
the camera directly, and they didn't have a horde of folkloric
troupe members to kneel at their feet, clapping encouragement.
look like they were really "inside the music", which
was rather removed from what many G.S. readers would think
of as "bellydance music" or "Middle Eastern
music". It's hard to do those intricate isolations and
not have an abstracted facial expression. The dancing, like
the music, seemed a little random. More groove would have been
a good thing.
it was well-photographed, showing a lot of close-ups of their
abs and torso. I could definitely tell what they were doing.
The costumes set off well against the backdrop - a simple yet
sumptuous red curtain with variously placed large urns and
a remarkable consistency among the costumes - they're not identical,
in fact they're all very eclectic and individually put together.
However there's definitely a look: bare torso to show off those
Pilates abs, covered legs with long fringe belts, bell bottom
pants, black tops with rows of coins, and heavy jewelry on
arms, neck and head. A lot of metal. The arm jewelry showcased
and encouraged the use of the arms. The bell-bottom pants completely
hide the feet, which are not emphasized.
fact if you're looking for Tribal Fusion costuming ideas,
there's even a backstage part where the dancers talk about
their influences and where they got all their pieces: Thailand,
India, self-made, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, animal bones,
eBay. (No one mentioned sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, or
the Americas.) Influences include 1920's vamp, late 1800s,
comic books, burlesque, Star Wars, and contemporary high-fashion
their costuming might look best on the body type that most
of these dancers have: pale skin, long, lithe, toned torso,
and (for the most part) rather flat-chested. If you're short
and pudgy, or unusually proportioned, or dark-skinned, you
might need to re-tool somewhat.
were also part of the look. I like tattoos, despite not having
any of my own. However, a couple of the dancers had tattoos
below the navel, and sometimes they looked from far away like
overgrown pubic hair crawling out of their very low-rise pants.
Fascinating but a little gross at the same time.
to be a total absence of a developed personality, character,
or interactivity. I wanted to see a little humor, or play,
or storytelling. And if you just want to create a spectacle,
why limit yourself to bellydance? Take the music and figure
out what would work best to showcase it. No need to do abdominal
pops for the thousandth time just because you can.
would also have liked to see some choreographic development
within each performance. Even with an improvisation, a
dancer can introduce the moves she'll be using and then
come back to them, developing them more each time, in some
coherent flow that echoes the repetitions that might occur
in the music.
about the "broken"-looking postures of Tribal Fusion
before. Now I think they're possibly from fusion comics, and
also from the Indian dancing-Shiva statues. Other issues included
chicken-wing arms - which I've also heard called the "Tyrannosaurus
Rex syndrome" - as well as over-lifted shoulders, flapping
hands, and expressionless faces. They were ultra-slinky, ultra-theatrical,
even jerky at times - sometimes a simple elegance would have
been a welcome change from all the vamping.
be nice to see more movements traveling through the body from
bottom to top, from top to bottom, or one side to the other.
This is something I remember seeing in breakdancing that was
one of its best features. In bellydance the equivalent would
be a shimmy that starts in the hips, goes to the shoulders,
and then into a chest pop. Randomly popping bits in and out
is mind blowing because the viewer can't figure out how it
works at all - but then, sometimes, they don't know where to
look next and they miss half of it.
A good dancer,
a good choreographer, and a good stage magician can all direct
the viewer's attention so that you always know exactly where
you're supposed to be looking. We do this mostly through directing
our gaze, through hand gestures, and framing. When the movements
are too cleverly random and unpredictable, this continuity
exception to the common look and feel was the performance by Urban
Tribal with Heather Stants.
They, at least, are experimenting and trying new things, in
their case seeking a more modern-dance aesthetic. I didn't
really like their choreography all that much. There's more
to modern dance than wearing simpler leotards. But hey... they're
trying new things!
Bedouin Tribal Dance
Featuring Gypsies of the Nile
another DVD immediately after this one, Hossam Ramzy's "Bedouin
Tribal Dance", a folkloric representation of the Bedouins
of the Nile, who are also identified as the Ghawazee. Despite
having the word "Tribal" in its title, this DVD is
worlds apart from the BDSS Tribal Fusion.
were a lot more people onstage, including musicians, as
well as male and female dancers. They were not trying to
be "exotic" necessarily. The dances had lots
of character interactions, a stage filled with people,
and a down-home family feeling, with people sharing focus
and giving focus to one another. (There were no men on
the Tribal Fusion DVD.)
costumes, and music were vary careful recreations of only one
area, Egypt, and only one group within Egypt. The female dancers
were covered up on their torsos, with bare forearms and far
less jewelry. The covering was almost the opposite of the Tribal
Fusion look, which has bare midriffs, the lowest possible belt-line,
and heavily braceleted or covered arms.
Some of the
numbers showed line dancing, including a Debke - you don't
see any Tribal Fusion dancers doing Debke, although the old-school
Tribal troupes like Hahbi'Ru did.
was more relaxed, simpler, more casual feeling, designed for
endurance at hours of weddings. The presentation overall was
designed to maintain a festive atmosphere rather than capture
a viewer's attention completely.
were less studied-looking, even though they were carefully
choreographed. The dances followed the phrasing of music, which
was very folkloric, with repetitive, predictable, balanced
melody lines and a constant beat. The female dancers were flirtatious
and playful, but not in a vampy way. The aesthetic, like the
locale, was designed by natives and would appeal to natives.
has several performances and also step by step instructions
for some of the movements used in the dance. I didn't go over
the instructions that carefully, but they seemed remarkably
thorough and methodical.
folkloric dances are often under-appreciated because they
look so "easy" and casual compared to the spectacle
and theatricality of Tribal Fusion. This Egyptian folkloric
dance, no less than any other, has its own look and feel
that makes it authentic.
menu screens are absolutely stunningly gorgeous, as is the
stage itself. Very textured, with a lot of little details that
look authentic but not messy. The dancing and musical performance
was very high quality: polished, consistent, well-choreographed
and well-staged. The videography is excellent - good color,
easy to watch, more group shots.
even though I have a lot less to say about this DVD, I
think it's of better quality overall. I would recommend
it to anyone with a serious interest in Egyptian folkloric
a Tribal Fusion aficionado might find it boring, though. The
dances, while charming, are completely lacking in the dark
edge of fascination that is part of the Tribal Fusion draw.
produced by WorldDance New York
is primarily instructional, unlike the Bedouin one which is
primarily performance. It's actually the second one I've seen
of the same series produced by WorldDance New York,
the first one being a Tribal Fusion/East Coast Tribal instructional
from Sera. This one was well-formatted, with
an introductory statement, some warmups and drills, and then
background includes Flamenco, Roma, Brazilian Samba, Capoeira,
yoga and more. She has worked with Dalia
Carella, and in addition is a certified personal
trainer and license massage therapist. Her fitness background
seems to pay off; she had a lot of good things to say about
protecting the spine, and her drills and warm-ups appeared
based on a sound and solid foundation; at least, they worked
So why is
it rated only 3 zills? Well... I loved the warmups and the
drills, but wasn't so crazy about the choreographies that are
the bulk of the DVD. Actually, it might not be the choreos
themselves so much as the sense of timing in which they were
one thing I failed to rail against in the BDSS Tribal Fusions
part above is the over-busy, frantic, regimented feel of
so many American bellydance choreographies. It could be
the influence of jazz dancing, disco, high-school marching
band, I don't know what, but most workshop choreographies
don't have enough rests or pauses or variations in speed.
It's like, people won't get their money's worth unless
they learn 100 moves and can do them back-to-back without
any transitions in three minutes of music.
of "fitness class" hip-hop, which seems to consist
solely of lengthy and complex choreographies that must be memorized
in 45 minutes or less, makes this problem even worse in Tribal
Fusion than maybe in other bellydance styles. I've taken classes
which felt literally like the instructor had randomly slapped
movements together as if splicing a video, and when I asked
what preparation to use in order to get from a hip up to a
hip down in the last 7/8 of a beat, all I got was a blank look.
In a workshop
choreo, you still can teach those same 100 moves, but add a
rest in between some of them to vary the pace, or do some of
them half time, even quarter time, just for variety's sake.
Or sandbag it for a few counts, repeat the same thing for a
bar or two, just to give the learner's brains a chance to catch
up and remember the next thing, and prepare for it.
In the choreographies
on this DVD, they were not so much rushed as unvarying in pace,
and a little too consistently on the beat, hitting every single
one. I think the movement combinations themselves were promising.
I liked many of the individual movement sequences, and I might
try to adapt them. But let's start at the beginning.
I was particularly
interested in the introduction, because it included what amounts
to a manifesto of Tribal Fusion, an apologia or artistic statement
of purpose. I hope it's not plagiarism to quote it in depth:
encourage you to... put yourself deeply into these movements
and get as much as you can out of them...
interesting to think about the relationship between dance
and the times in which it was created... How do we affect
the times that we live in? How is our dance affected by those
times culturally? Think about that... Anywhere in the world,
each place has dances that came about because of its culture,
and [these dances have] then affected [that] culture in an
interweave of relationship...
we do here is significant, what we're building [is significant]... Jamila
Salimpour, Fat Chance Bellydance, and Ruth
St Denis, are to bellydance what Coleman
Barks is to Sufi poetry...
brought together influences from ancient arts and then presented
an original interpretive translation that resonated deeply
with people from these parts and these times... Westerners
and around the world [people] can inspire is to look more
deeply into the cultures from which they came, and their
arts, and take those into ourselves, and create what we can
from that. It could be that your responsibility to the times
is to dance at the edge of what you can do, and dive as deeply
as you can into the cultures that are presented to you..."
I have to
say that I liked Darshan's personality very much. She came
across as very warm, friendly, confident, and calm. In addition
to the artistic statement, she carefully outlined what we would
be doing, and also explained some of the differences between
what she called "Tribalesque" which is Fat Chance's
ATS style, "Contemporary Tribal Fusion" emphasizing
theatricality and precision torso work, and "World Fusion".
Each of these flavors is represented in one of the three choreographies.
also really liked the warmups and drills. They seemed more
valuable to me than the choreographies. Darshan emphasized
sparing the low spine, having a lightness in the hip joints,
being grounded, and having a lifted torso.
several exercises and drills that I'd never seen before, and
her form was really exemplary. Her arms were always beautifully
placed, and her hands, while relatively calm, were still alive,
still breathing with the movement. Having excellent form can
make even the simplest of movements breathtakingly beautiful,
and watching Darshan's demonstrations during these warm-ups
was the single most worthwhile part of this DVD. The drills
were excellent, and she repeated them plenty of times, remarking, "You
can never have too much drilling" - I totally agree.
A few things
to make your practice go better. First, have adequate floor
space, because she does travel. Second, have the TV or monitor
at standing eye level. Third, put your mirror behind you so
you can check yourself periodically but it's not a distraction.
note: this DVD is not for beginners. She uses a lot of
Pilates jargon such as "engage your navel" and "use
your core" without ever explaining what it really
means to do these things. I think you really need to have
a few private lessons in Pilates from an instructor with
a keen eye and the ability to answer questions in order
to really understand what Darshan really means here.
warm ups, she uses positive encouragements such as "stretch
to show your beautiful neck" that not only acknowledges
the student as the center of attention (rather than the instructor's
ego), but also gives a clear image of what to strive for. This
came across as geniunely affirming rather than as superficially
section was also good, and showed a variety of moves and isolations.
A few missing pieces, not too many. I would have liked her
to explain the role of the neck in the ribcage lifts, but hey,
no one talks about necks, ever. Pilates-trained bellydance
geeks talk about lats, and psoas, and trapezius, and glutes,
and lower abs, and this, and that, but necks don't seem to
exist. You can see it on her, though. Also, at one point she
carefully broke down a combination into 8 careful counts, but
never explained the transition for how to get from 8 back to
how was the photography? The initial remarks, and also a couple
of solo studio performances by Darshan, were in a warehouse
type space that had "vibe". It was OK for visibility,
but not great. However, a section of the drills and also the
choreographies were filmed as a cut out over a background that
showed her entire body outline much more clearly. You could
see what her feet were doing, too - unlike a lot of instances
where the instructor's wearing those huge flare pants, in black
of course, against a black wall, and you can't see what her
feet are doing or even which way they're pointing. In this
DVD, there were occasional foot shots added in, which were
really, really dug her musical choices. They're not "Middle
Eastern" at all for the most part. But I recognized a
lot of the music she used, from Amon Tobin to Raquy
and the Cavemen. She also used some great hip-hop/rap.
Compared to the "creepy Goth" industrial sound, which
to my ear has no musicality whatsoever, these tunes were a
welcome return to, well, to music.
In the choreographies.
There was a subtle yet clear distinction in her demonstration
of the three flavors, and a good use of the diagonal profile
to frame some of the movements and postures. She also included
signature moves from each flavor, such as the ATS arm-swim
twist front-middle-back-middle combination (I don't know the
insider name for it, but it's everywhere in ATS).
choreography is "Tribalesque" to one of my very favorite
Raquy songs, titled "Gravosko". My only objection
to this choreo was that it appeared to have NO relation at
all to the music. Maybe it's just that I would use a different
emphasis, or maybe I wouldn't even try to bellydance to "Gravosko" which
is more Balkan-influenced than Middle Eastern anyway. It seems
to call for a different sort of dance.
even remember the "Contemporary Tribal Fusion" choreography.
My notes say only, "As kata, sequencing exercises, very
useful... Do people ever go beyond this false sense of success
from quick mastery of individual moves and short combos? Very
good, useful, variety... Too many isolations, too much ooey
for those of you who have never taken karate, is a martial
arts "form" or official choreography that is a memorized
sequence of movements, often very artificially stylized. In
the days before books and DVDs, these forms were probably the
only way to encode enough information for people to take it
home with them to practice. They were never intended for use
as is, in actual combat; they were to train muscle memory in
complex ways. They were also a quick way for people from the
same school or system to gauge one another's skill.
choreography, titled "World Tribal Fusion", was my
favorite. It had a more African feel, larger movements, and
supposedly had Salsa in it (I dunno, never took Salsa dancing).
It had some hops in it, which were fun to do.
then did a performance using all three choreos, to a single
song. Some bits went very well to the music, and others,
not at all. I could see how to apply the movements to tailor
to the music, even when I didn't like how it was working
in what I was seeing on the DVD. Can you really take one
choreo (or kata) and just slap it into something else?
I think the answer is yes, as long as you change the feeling
or attitude with which you do the movements to match the
In the last
section, she does a studio performance. The quality of the
video here could have been better. I liked watching her. I
think Tribal Fusion fans will really get a lot out of it. My
issues with her musical interpretation will not be a concern
for everyone, and she is mature enough as a dancer to be worthwhile
despite these nitpicks.
good dancing demo, good warmup, good drill, and finally, a
Tribal DVD that's more than just three basic moves. Lots to
dig into and take away, but in smaller pieces.
3.5 zills for those interested in this style of dance
Lynette didn't ask me to
review this one. I got it last summer at Middle East Camp, and the only reason
to mention it here is that it's an introduction to a very, very traditional
art form, and is an interesting contrast to the contemporary invented art forms
presented as Tribal Fusion.
temple dancing is possibly thousands of years old. Colleena
has spent the last 6 or 7 years living in India, studying
this dance form full-time.
of mine, in describing a Ukranian Orthodox wedding he attended,
said, "Orthodox means LONG." I'd also add that "Traditional" often
equates to "Tedious and boring". Other traditional
arts have been re-worked, re-interpreted, some might say dumbed
down, to make them accessible to people primarily interested
in a one-hour fitness class at their local gym. Tae-Bo comes
to mind, and even most martial arts have been modernized extensively
to make them commercial (taught at gyms) or semi-commercial
(taught at dedicated schools that are part of a commercial
franchise). But what is lost in the translation?
DVD does not present a watered-down version of anything.
What Colleena shows on this DVD is primarily a series of
10 introductory stepping exercises called choka, that students
are expected to do for a year - a whole year! - before
they ever get to learn ANY choreographies. The exercises
are supposed to be done every day at sunrise.
demonstrates these drills in a beautiful temple built from
light colored stone, with her guru playing a drum and counting
in the background. She also shows the prayers and offerings
that are made before every practice, similar to some of the
chants that are done in some types of yoga classes - the prayers
acknowledge the great masters and deities of the past.
drills themselves - I shouldn't call them stepping drills,
really, they're complex movements involving the entire body,
but especially the eyes, head, hands, and feet. The challenge
in Tribal Fusion, and also in hip-hop, is the rapid-fire sequencing
of single-part isolations. The challenge in these Odissi movements
is coordinating every part of the body to make every exercise
into a single, integrated movement. No wonder it takes a year!
reason they might require a year on the basics might be to
train and condition the joints for dancing on those super-hard
stone temple floors. If you tried those drills for the first
time at an intensive weekend intensive, you'd probably damage
your knees. A third reason would be to weed out those seeking
It was interesting
to me that Darshan (in the previous video reviewed) talked
in her opening statement about diving into other cultures,
but there didn't seem to be any evidence of them in her presentation.
Another word for cultural context is, of course, "cultural
included the cultural context in her locale and in her
dress, but most importantly through the presence of her
guru. Her guru clearly endorses her project through his
participation and support.
think most Westerners understand the validity and importance
of the guru-disciple relationship, how sacred a trust it is
on both sides, possibly because that relationship has been
greatly distorted and abused in Western contexts. To most Westerners
who fancy themselves to be liberated, individualistic freethinkers,
only a terribly insecure, weak-minded or needy person would
ever choose to "submit" or "surrender" to
a guru's care - and the gurus themselves are nothing more than
greedy, licentious con artists milking a gullible public and
exploiting their followers.
Fusion, there are no gurus, no elders, no one that the dancers
have to respect to or listen to even when they don't want to.
There is no sense of the past as a whole cloth.
past can be limiting, or it can be viewed as something
that, having evolved over so many years through so many
people, has a richness and a texture that can never be
duplicated by the efforts of a relatively small and homogenous
group of people.
DVD isn't really a bellydance video, I can't rate it for bellydancers.
I don't think most of us are going to do those stepping drills
at dawn every day for a year, all on our own. The style itself
is so different from any sort of bellydance that I don't know
if it would help a bellydancer all that much. On second thought,
the detailed use of the eyes, hands, and torso might be a very
good thing, for the right dancer.
As a documentary,
it doesn't have quite enough there. However, it is a unique
document presenting a detailed but tiny slice of an art form
that I knew very little about, beautifully and clearly filmed,
and I believe accurately and faithfully represents the material.
It was a little expensive at $45, probably because it wasn't
funded by any commercial promoters. For me, at least, it's
info available here
Availabe to buy through fcbd.com. It is not currently visible
in their catalog but they do have it!
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
The Classic Style Prevails, Workshop review by Rebecca Firestone
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