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Tribal Fusion in Mexico

Its Phenomenal Growth

Shasmsia Yarahum

by Martha Duran
posted August 30, 2011

To dance Tribal Fusion in Mexico is to dance beyond tradition and criticism; there are Oriental dancers who consider “technique” a form of folklore and “stylization” as a boundary. Despite their lack of dance education, most Tribal Fusion Belly dancers grow on passion, dedication, and their love for Middle Eastern music.Tribal dancers in Mexico carry their colorful, heavy skirts and their abundant jewelry proudly; turbans and tassels adorn their hips–just as any other “Tribal Fusionista” from around the world!

Nevertheless, how did Tribal Belly dancers in Mexico become educated in their style? Who was the first Tribal Fusion dancer? With whom did she study? Where and how do “Fusionistas” arrive there? It has been about a year since I have started traveling around, interviewing several Tribal Belly dancers in my country (Mexico) on a research journey to give to you the history of Tribal Fusion Belly dance here in Mexico.  We dancers who live just a few minutes across the border from the US, have found it easy to travel to workshops given by wonderful masters in Tribal and ATS such as Jamila Salimpour (back in the 1980s), Jill Parker or Carolena Nericcio (during the 1990s) but how do dancers even further south of Mexico reach out to learn Tribal Fusion?

Shamsia Yarahum

One of my first Interviews was with Shamsia Yarahum who is considered one of the pioneers of Tribal Bellydance in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico.  In her country, she has studied at seminars and conventions, as well as regular classes and workshops with Belly dancers like Amar Gamal, Yazmina Zarod, Bahira from USA. She enrolled in a workshop with Sharon Kerr and studied rhythms with Fadii el Saadi from Lebanon just to name a few of the contributing  teachers  (as she stated during our Interview).

  • Martha: What  dance education have you acquired outside of Mexico?
    Shamsia answered: I danced in regular classes with Carolena Nericcio in San Francisco California, workshops on African fusion with Judeen in San Diego, California, Jillina and Angelika Nemeth’s workshops on choreography, Moorish Gypsy dance with Titanya, and also with Mariana from San Francisco, California, Tribal Style workshop with Rachel Brice, and on-going classes with Melhea.

  • M: What international dance teacher and artist has defined you as a Tribal Fusion Belly dancer?
    Shamsia said,  “Definitely, Carolena and Bahira grounded my fundamentals based on their discipline,  dedication to the dance, and respect for my colleagues, and the culture of the origins of our dance.”

  • What has Tribal dance given to you as a performer and teacher?
    Shamsia: At the end of each day, I am grateful to God for giving me the talent to dance as well as all of the tools to share with others the power of dancing throughout my life. Prestige, applause, and awards are just the results of hard work and dedication throughout the years.

Araceli de AndaAraceli de Anda
Another Tribal Fusion Belly dancer in Mexico I Interviewed is Araceli de Anda. She is considered one of the most skilled Tribal Fusion Belly dancers in the country; she has studied with masters of Belly dance from The Pineapple Studios in  London,  to Washington, and then, on to San Francisco´s Shoebox Studios. Araceli has received training from Cera Byer, Nourhan Sharif, Jamila Salimpour, Suhaila Salimpour, Rose Harden, Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes, Mardi Love, Sharon Kihara, Amar Gamal, Petite Jamilla, Maraia, Mayada, Aziza, Sandra, Blanca, Zoe Anwar, Carolena Nericcio, Deb Rubin, Ariellah Aflalo, and Amy Sigil–among others.

She has shared the stage with world-renown dancers like Petite Jamilla (Birmingham Alabama), Sharon Kihara (San Francisco), Sandra (San Francisco), Aziza, Maraia (Argentina), Georgina Distazo (Argentina), Mardi Love, Gayathri Arumugham, Ariellah, and Blanca (New York).

Co-founder of Mexico’s first Arabic-contemporary duet, Viceversa, and founder  of the Black Velvet Troupe. She started her dance education in Jazz dance, then progressed on to Classical Ballet, Contemporary, Hip-hop, Burlesque, and Yoga training, and still continues to increase her educational level as a dancer as she travels from country to country–despite all the cultural barriers a Mexican dancer encounters when she attends workshops or ongoing classes outside of her own country.

  • How does a Mexican Tribal Fusion Belly dancer fit into a North American lifestyle when she attends workshops in the USA?
    Araceli: Cultural differences are obvious, but they are not something that shocks anyone. In London, I had the same experience. I think it’s something  normal in my life, since I suffer from “social phobias”, and it takes a lot of work for me to Interact with groups of people.  I prefer to work with only one or two people at a time. I concentrate on what I like, and I realize what bothers me about people and situations. However,  the question of culture, race, or modus vivendi is not something that I have because, in San Francisco, I am surrounded by dancers (especially Tribal Fusion dancers) and that makes it much easier for me to see the similarities between Mexican and North American dancers.  It is wonderful to share all the experiences  we go through, as Tribal Fusion dancers, with all the dancers I chance to meet, and I see how everyone deals with similar problems. Suddenly, the only thing that’s missing for me is that they do not speak my language, Spanish.

Xiaron Kerr and Elsanne Barrows

In my 2009 search to give Tribal Fusion Bellydance a sense of history in Mexico, I got to meet in a workshop at the Divine Dance Bellydance Convention in Tijuana  Baja California , Mexico, the dancer -teacher Xiaron Kerr, US born who learned Belly dance in Cuernavaca , Mexico, with Masha Hojjati.  Kerr continued her studies for several summers in San Francisco California with Fat Chance Bellydance Troupe and now is one of the most renowned Tribal Belly dancers and gifted teachers here in Mexico!

  • I asked her what the difference was between a Tribal Belly dancer in Mexico and one in the USA and she answered:
    ¨I have the impression that Tribal in Mexico is still in the idealistic stage of ‘we’re-all-one-big-happy-family-sisterhood-Tribal-love and all that’. We have our moments, difficulties and clashes, but in general, we’re all still united and supportive of each other. I’ve heard from US dancers that it’s not that way for them; there is a lot of envy, competition, and ugliness between Tribal dancers. That makes me sad; I thought Tribal would be different.¨

  • How has Tribal Fusion evolved here in Mexico?
    Xiaron answered: It is pretty chaotic, but it seems to be following the same path as it did in the US.  At first there were very few of us doing Tribal here. Actually, at first, there were only two of us: Elsanne Barrows from San Miguel de Allende and me, Xiaron Kerr, both of us gringas (US citizens). We were looked down upon by the Belly dance community. Belly dancers snubbed us, saying what we did wasn’t "real" Belly dance (as if ‘real’ Belly dance even exists), that it was simplistic, and unsophisticated. You name it; they said it!”Elsanne Barrows

    Then in 2003, the Bellydance Superstars came on the scene and everybody wanted to become Rachel Brice! So, we started seeing "Tribal Style" Belly dancers popping up on every corner, but what they were doing at first had nothing to do with real Tribal Style Belly dance. They just made imitation Rachel Brice costumes and put a few isolation movements and pops into their regular Belly dance choreography and called it “Tribal”. It was a mess! Once the Bellydance Superstars came into existence, they started doing workshops all over the globe, and that brought the fusion dancers into the country. Many, many Belly dancers started taking every Tribal fusion workshop they could and soon started teaching Tribal fusion classes. That’s when it sort of all got out of control and anything and everything was called "Tribal."

    Then Elsanne started her "Teachers of Tribal Certification Program”. She’s now on her seventh generation of a two-year long program of training Tribal Style Belly dance teachers, still spreading the Tribal love…

Elsanne Barrows and Xiaron Kerr have been advocating Tribal love in the Mexican Belly dance community for over 10 years now, and she is considered one of the pioneers of “true” Tribal Style in Mexico, both of them are sending the same message that Carolena Nericcio and Rachel Brice have been sending for years:

If you want to call what you do Tribal or Tribal Fusion, or anything Tribal, you should study ATS (American Tribal Style Belly Dance) and know what true Tribal is before you fuse it with something else.

Elsanne Barrows studied with Troupe Salamat in Arizona and is also considered one of the first Tribal dancers and teachers in Mexico.

  • Xiaron Kerr:¨Improvisational Tribal style Belly dance is growing in Mexico.” she said,  “Many dancers perform Raqs Sharqi, Tribal, Tribal Fusion, the whole gamut! Tribal has gained a lot more respect in the general Belly dance community. Nowadays, many of those teachers and dancers who at first dismissed Tribal are now offering it in their studios. There are still a lot of charlatans out there, as there are in Belly dance, Yoga, Ballet, Karate, or anything else. There will always be those who take 3 months’ worth of classes and then start teaching. It’s a shame. It cheapens everything, but I can’t do anything about them.  I just teach my classes and workshops and  keep spreading our Tribal love.

In Summary:

I remember the first day of one of my Tribal classes in 2003 that I taught in Danceme Academy; it was hard because of the lack of information the students had back then. As a teacher, I had to teach bits of historical background between teaching technique, drills, and step-combinations. Today, it is easier to teach, thanks to all the beautiful, famous Tribal dancers around the globe as well as the many videos on web sites.  Still, our history of Tribal Fusion Belly dance in Mexico is still in the making because it keeps evolving (side-by-side) with the growing dance community. It is still difficult to perform Tribal Fusion in some places here in Mexico because some people still say that  it looks like a Halloween-ish, spooky-fied, Break dance!

DanceMe Academy of Mexicali

Lorena Rojas

Mem Tribe

Shamina Tribe of Mexicali

Xiaron Kerr

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  1. Elsanne

    Sep 1, 2011 - 05:09:42

    This is a great summary of what’s going on in Mexico with regard to fusion and Tribal!  Thanks for a great article.

  2. Sadira

    Sep 4, 2011 - 01:09:54

    I hate to burst your historical bubble; but Jamilla Salimpour is not the originator of the current American Tribal Style.  Jamilla taught a combination of Arabic, Egyptian, and Turkish movements.  She put together a dance troupe called Bal Anat that was her own creation in costuming , styling and affect.
    American Tribal started (before it was called that) with Masha Archer in San Francisco.  An original student of Jamilla, with a very creative streak who developed the costuming look and the type of movements that were more dramatic in look and revolved around highlighting a dancer with others in the background copying the movements.
     Caroleena Norecchio was the first dancer in the Bay Area, I saw her took Masha Archer’s style and look and developed a strong troupe that drew people because of it’s unique choreography and “Orientalist” look of costuming and design.  Caroleena auditioned for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.  At her first audition she categorized her dance as North African.  There was a lot of controversy from judges and other established dancers due to the fact that neither she nor her dancers did real North African dancing.  So she was not accepted.  She was told to explain her style of dance in her next audition application and that is when she developed the term American Tribal bellydance and it’s referencing.
      Fat Chance Bellydance were the trailblazers of establishing it as such and off it took.
      It’s origins never developed from a feminism outlook or rebellion against the traditional dance.  Masha Archer was a creative artist who took her interpretation to a level that Americans really seemed to love because it enhanced the exotic fantasy of what belly dance “should look like”.

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