Cultural Appropriation & Artistic Freedom
Videos Interviews by Lynette Harris
posted October 14, 2012
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Kajira and her husband, Chuck, are well-known individuals in our community. Kajira started the first festival for tribal style belly dance called "Tribal Fest". She also wrote a book called "Tribal Bible". We have a review of this book by Shelley "Yasmela" Muzzy here. One of the common issues that the community has had with Kajira’s philosophy and with tribal dance in general is with the issue of cultural appropriation. In this series of videos we discuss different issues and how Kajira feels about them. This is the passage from her book that I asked her to read on camera, and then we discussed different points.
"Remember that this is a dance of OURS. Our very own American Style Bellydance! Even though this style is not the first American style of bellydance, this is perhaps the first one that is unapologetic about that fact. We celebrate this fact. We love this aspect of our dance! This makes it a form that we can relate to in every way as American people. We don’t have to adopt or support another culture’s moral or religious standards if they are not comfortable for us personally. We don’t have to buy into any political agenda. We don’t have to feel bad because we’re not of Mediterranean descent, olive skinned, or don’t speak another language. We don’t need to feel as if we should hide our tattoos or body art for fear of offending someone else. We can choose our reasons for dancing and our venues and occasions. In short, we get to make up the rules as we go."
The first video here is an introduction to what Kajira and Chuck are doing now and their recent move back from Maui. The next videos will begin the discussion. Please add your thoughts and questions below in the comments section. It maybe helpful to reference which video or even the time stampof the video you are discussing in your comment.
Part 2: We begin our discussion by reading the above quote and discussing using the term belly dance and American Tribal Style. Kajira describes being ostracized because of her tattoos and the artistic freedom of not having to be tied to Middle Eastern traditions.
Part 3: Not MED, Misappropriation of the Rom culture, Ostracizing of Tribal. Find reference in Tribal Bible for time stamp 2:30. We found it- Page 215 at the top, "The parallels between the struggle of the Roma and that of bellydancers is undeniable. Both groups are fighting to gain respect and move away from social prejudice." This point is addressed in the review of the book here.
Part 4: The Rise of Tribal Fusion. New terms- Spontaneous Group Improvisation, International or Improvisation Tribal Style. "Tribal Fest chronicles the rise of Tribal Fusion." Tribaret. No codification in our dances. Big difference betweem Tribal Fusion and Cabaret– Isolations, torso, arm movements. Kajira became certified in Rachel Brice’s format. ATS is a subset of Spontanteous Group Improv.
Part 5: Using the Term “Tribal”, The Modern Primitive Movement. Artists will fuse anything which is ok. What if we said “American Style Flamenco”? Morocco made this name up. Middle Eastern people get a feeling of “home” when they see tribal style. This is because we use authentic textiles and don’t use Hollywood fantasy. Doesn’t American Tribal sound like Native American? Modern Primitive Movement included tattoos, piercings, colored hair, alternative lifestyles. The hippy movement started the look of anything exotic being cool. Salimpour…
Part 6: Creating a Separate Community, Burlesque?
Kajira believes that the Tribal community is bigger and more successful than the rest of the belly dance community. “We wish we could be accepted as a sister dancer form… As Artemis said, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look.” Burlesque is a separate art form.
Part 7: Belly Dance and Islam
Author’s bio page
Ready for more?
- 5-21-03 Tribal Bible Reviewed
And I suppose to some dancers, it is a way of life. There is repeated emphasis placed on the concepts of bonding, healing, empowering, and connecting throughout the book. From the sound of it, American women are desperate to connect, to be part of a tribe, to belong.
- 6-18-12 Drawing Together: Discussion, Discoveries, Diversity, IBCC 2012: International Bellydance Conference of Canada
I made some unexpected discoveries about our dance and my place in it. I was aware of how far the dance has come since I started out in 1972, how much it has changed and how much it is changing still. I finally put the whole tribal/fusion dilemma into a place in which I feel comfortable. So much of what holds me back from accepting change is fear, fear that what I know will change and will no longer be acceptable.
- 6-13-07 Le Serpent Rouge Reviewed
The blending of theater and dance was really outstanding with broad comedy moving seamlessly into dance.
- 6-28-08 Tribal Fest 2008, Saturday May,17 2008, Sebastopol, CA
Event Produced by BlackSheep BellyDance and held in the Sebastolpol Community Center, photos and performance clips of Hahbi’Ru, Unmata, Sexy Scallywags, Romka, Tempest, Clandestine, Titanya, RockRose, Natium, Sabrina
- 6-2-06 Tribal Fest 2006, May 19 in Sebastopol
Performances from Saturday late afternoon including: BlackSheep, Sashi, InFusion…
- 6-10-03 Tribal Fest 3 photos
Event produced by Ellen Cruz and Kajira, held May 17 and 18, 2003, in Sebastopol, CA
- 7-18-03 The Sacred Surprise of Tribal Fest 3
However, I now understand, in retrospect, that I had been really drawn to Tribal Fest 3 for another reason.
- 1-18-11 Europe’s Newest Dance Destinataion, Split Tribal Festival in Croatia
It’s like an Italy that one can actually afford, due to the fact that it is not yet an European Union country, and therefore not subject to the massive cost of living spikes of EU member nations.
- 5-26-06 Sashi – Kabob
The punctures appear to go under the skin into the subcutaneous fat layer and not through muscle tissue.
- 6-26-06 The Spirit of the Dance: A Response to the Criticism of my Tribal Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings” Performance
I was originally hesitant to write this article regarding my Tribal Fest 2006 “Pierced Wings” performance as I personally believe that a performance should not have to be explained by the artist, rather it should rely on what it evokes in others.
- 6-9-06 Weird Rituals and Beyond: Exploring Current Controversies in Middle Eastern Dance
If you are like me, (I know that many are not) you first responded viscerally and negatively to both situations. Then, as the shock wore off, perhaps you tried to make sense of it all.
- 8-7-12 Balkanic Eruption, Fiery Fusion Flavors for Oriental, Tribal, and Gypsy Dance!
The Balkan spirit brings Mediterranean fire to Slavic earthiness to Byzantine mystery. Balkan music and dance weaves these elements together in the strong and purposeful rhythms and steps of the circles
- 6-26-12 Video Interview with Princess Farhana and Surreyya, Part 2
This series of interviews was filmed April 26, 2012. Surreyya and Princess Farhana came to the Gilded Serpent office for a visit. This part discusses current trends in our community involving the crossover between cabaret and tribal.
- 4-16-10 Tribal Belly Dance Matures into its Prime, It All Unfolds at L’Amour de la Danse
Although the show was not intended to be a Tribal show, because the Bay Area is the cradle of Tribal style, the line-up did a marvelous job of presenting this genre’s rich variety.
- 5-18-07 An Evening with The American Bellydance Superstars,
Marin Civic Auditorium, March 3, 2007. "Even though the dancing from Egyptian cabaret to tribal and venues in between is incredibly bold, excellent in stylizing and format… it truly is an American tableau of how we represent this art."
- 5-15-07 Tribal Throwdown Photos and Workshop Review for Heather Stants’ “Appetite for Deconstruction: Urban Tribal Style”
March 17, 2007 Live Oak Center in Berkeley. Heather’s task was to transmit that fusion thought in the workshop. She did an excellent job.
- 8-17-10 Tribal Videos Today, Tribal Fusions, Volume 2 from Bellydance Superstars Tales of Desire from Hollywood Music
It’s my belief, that as dancers, it’s good to keep up with what’s happening within the greater dance community, even if it doesn’t suit our taste or style. It’s especially important for dance instructors to recognize who the industry leaders are. It doesn’t matter if it’s Egyptian Raks Sharki or Flamenco/Gypsy/Zambra Mora or in this case, Tribal Fusion–knowing who is the current crème-de-la-crème will give you a stronger knowledge base from which to teach your students. Investing in one or two high-quality professionally made Tribal DVDs will add breadth to a dancers video collection.
- 4-3-06 Rachel Brice Goes Balkan: Pogonometric Revue Reviewed
Sunday, March 12, 2006, CELLspace, 2050 Bryant St., San Francisco, Cost: $15 and worth every penny
- 5-30-08 Welcome to the Gothla! Dancing Along the Sulk Road Review of 3 DVDs
The costumes are fabulous. It’s almost like—who needs all that dance technique if you’re wearing an enormous leather headdress that makes you look like an alien refugee from Star Wars? Tempest’s approach in particular is a painterly one, not surprising from a student of the Rhode Island School of Design.
- 11-29-07 Tribal: Fusion, Bedouin, What’s the Difference? 4 DVDs reviewed and compared
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.