ATS Charm in Taipei:
I feel a common
connection with the American Tribal Style of Belly dance!
I met Devi Mamak, one of the most active
and outstanding ATS instructors and choreographers in Australia,
through Carolena Nericcio’s referral. Before
meeting with Devi personally, I had only learned about her
through the Internet: She went to San Francisco to learn
and founded, back in Australia, her
own troupe, Ghawazi Caravan.
(Devi conducted the first Tribal & Trance
Festival in 2006 and it became an instant phenomenon.) My
impression is that Devi is a simply a beautiful dancer with
an impressive performance style!
On my 2007 trip
to visit Devi and her troupe, I was deeply inspired by her
elegant, relaxed, and warm personality. Generously, Devi
shared her ATS-learning experience and her thoughts about
Belly dance, which inspired and encouraged my dancing. I
went home with her encouragement and great ideas for pursuing
my own ATS journey.
Since both of
us are not based in San Francisco, we share many common factors
in terms of learning ATS and developing our own visions for
it back in our own home venues.
a developing organic form of Belly dance, some updates
or changes should be expected in ATS. However, local
dancers and students sometimes feel uncomfortable with
this continuing update.
They feel insecure
about being an ATS dancer, feeling that they will need to
“keep up” continuously. Additionally, dancers sometimes will
wonder if they want to be exactly like Fat Chance Belly Dance
(FCBD) or might they put something new or unique into this
format and develop into their own style?
As Devi shared
her ATS experiences with me, she gave me wonderful insider’s
points. She told me to remain open to updates, and yet, stay
true to a certain fundamental guideline: posture, posture,
and again, posture! I felt honored to dance with her at her
lovely home. This is truly the unique charm of ATS: we don’t
really know each other because we are from different countries,
and yet, happily, we could dance together without much difficulty.
pleasant experience compelled me to invite Devi to travel
to Taipei. I dreamed that other local dancers and students
could learn and be inspired by her, just as I had been.
During our discussion
of the proposed workshop, Devi offered me a wonderful workshop
menu from which it was very difficult to choose! We decide
to have a weekend workshop offering four classes. Some classes
were to relate more to fundamental concepts or application
of ATS while other classes could provide fun with the dancing
experience. We made it become a sampler for local dancers
and students to promote the understanding that ATS is not
merely a bridge toward tribal fusion Belly dance, which has
been quite a common misconception here in Taipei.
as a seriously developed and organic dance form, has
much more to offer dancers than just going through its
In short, on
a beautiful weekend in April, we had Devi here in Taipei
with us. April is one of the best months in Taiwan, and it
is also springtime, which traditionally we believe to be
a good time to renew all things. Because ATS is still young
here, we had a small, but cozy, class. Students stayed well
focused, and they enjoyed what Devi had prepared for them.
On Saturday morning,
we held a tribal combo session in which Devi demonstrated
some ATS movements and combos that she learned from FCBD
and other ATS masters. She also taught us some Ghawazi Caravan
movements that have been accepted by Carolena as new movements
within the FCBD format: Loco Camel, Triangle Step, and the
Arabic-with-turn. It is quite fun to watch other ATS dancers
adopt the same movements but obtain quite different results
with them. Students feel this is a great reference source
for developing their own understanding and interpretation
of ATS movements.
Later in the
afternoon, we studied Flamenco/ATS fusion. We learned Flamenco
styling through a cute choreography. Almost all of the new
movements and combos that we learned in the morning were
presented within this choreography! We students felt a great
sense of achievement since we were able to do those movements
much easier after learning them in application. This beautiful
choreography can be danced as solo, duet, or even in a group!
You only need
to follow the ATS formation rule, and you can enjoy it in
Sunday morning, Devi taught improvisation choreography
in a session during which she shared her experience putting
all movements into several groups so that dancers could
use those movements more fully and systematically.This step was
important for us local Taiwan ATS dancers—since we did not
have much experience yet—and Devi’s sharing her experience
helped us to fill in the gap. We learned a new formation
for slow movements, and it was absolutely fun to play with
we delved into sword and veil for Tribal Belly dance. Even
though local dancers are very fond of props, we were not
yet masterful with those particular stage props. Devi told
us how to choose a good sword for Belly dancing and how to
dance with it in an impressive way: you don’t just take a
sword out there and put it on your head because your audience
won’t appreciate the difficulty of dancing with it! We learned
to balance the sword on our head while dancing in ATS movements
and formations. It was very new experience to us since, here
in Taiwan. ATS used to be pure body movements without any
choice of props or stage arrangement. A condition that often
makes both dancers and audiences bored. Next, we learned
to use a veil while dancing. Devi showed us a “flower formation”
that Carolena taught her with veil, and it was beautiful
Later, we held
a hafla, inviting Devi and all the students to join in the
dancing. Al Maha, the only Middle
Eastern music ensemble and dance troupe here in Taipei, also
joined in the hafla with us. Devi and I danced to live music
by Al Maha, and it was my first experience working with live
musicians! I must say that Devi was a good advisor and companion
for my first live music performance, and because of her,
I had a good time with this experience. Students performed
Flamenco fusion choreography for duets that we just learned
and this was simply beautiful. We also had the Texas-based
Taiwanese Belly dancer, Lily Tsai, join
us and she gave us a spectacular Oriental dancer performance.
To sum it all up, everyone had good time, and we witnessed
outstanding performances by Devi and Lily.
Devi is an experienced
teacher, and she is inspirational. Workshop students learned
new things and reviewed what they had learned previously
for better development. All of us enjoyed Devi’s classes
as well as her presence. She brought her Australian ATS charm
to Taipei, enriched our viewpoint of the global community
of Belly dance, and we anticipate her return.
about Devi Mamak and her troupe Ghawazi Caravan, please
check this website: www.ghawazicaravan.com
with workshop students
(L to R of the standing row: Lily Tsai, Carol Hung, Devi Mamak,
Sophie Chiu, Cheer Chang,
Vanessa Chang, Ling Huang/ L to R in the front: Lisa
Chen & Zuoer)
After the fun Hafla,
local dancers, audiences and Al Maha
(the first local Middle East Drum & Dance Ensemble at Taipei) took
photo with Devi
(L to R of the second line: Vanessa Chang, Lisa Chen, Wanya Liao,
Devi Mamak, Mingna Lin, Eason Lin, Kai-ting Yang, Grace Liao/
L to R of the first line: Ling Huang, Kira Deng, Texas-based
Lily Tsai, Christine Du and Zuoer)
Devi with her troupe, Ghawazi Caravan
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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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