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Gilded Serpent presents...
Aussie ATS Charm in Taipei:
Devi Mamak
by Lisa Chen

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 with Carolena 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.

As 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.

That 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. 

ATS, as a seriously developed and organic dance form, has much more to offer dancers than just going through its movements.

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 different ways.

On 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 other dancers!

Sunday afternoon, 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 and fun.

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.

For more about Devi Mamak and her troupe Ghawazi Caravan, please check this website:

Devi 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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