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A Refuge for Innovation

Tribal Fest 2014


by Barbara Sellers-Young Ph.D
photos by Lynette Harris
posted July 14, 2014

Sitting in the main auditorium watching three days of performances at Tribal Fest 14: From the Root to the Fruit, I was reminded of the history of belly dance in the twentieth century from its arrival at the Chicago World’s Faire in 1893 to the evolution of the form as it exists today in global popular culture. Visually and aurally, the festival is a convergence of images of bright colors, flowers, heavy jewelry, tattoos, electronic music with its pulsing rhythms, and testaments to the impact of the dance, specifically Tribal Fest, on individual lives. The individual dance performances seem to span the history of the dance itself with a nod to the dances from North Africa and the Middle East to those that tie their roots to the movement vocabulary and choreographic style of American Tribal Style’s founder Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, as well as extensions of this movement vocabulary into Fusion and Dark Fusion performances.

As someone whose personal dance roots go back to belly dance in the 1970s, it was fascinating to reflect on how the history of belly dance since the Chicago World’s Faire was reflected in these performances. The 1970s was evident in the incorporation of the rituals and the calling on of the earth’s forces that started and ended the performances. This was also reframed in dances that called up the spirit of the dance to the mother goddess of Jamila Salimpour, or to other ancient goddesses as Daniella Gioseffi did with her 1970s performances for feminist groups across the United States, documented in her book, Earth Dancing. This celebration of the earth and our life on it was reflected in costumes that included earth elements of feathers, flowers, antlers, leather, and natural fibers.

Africa, India, Bollywood, Urban Dance, Modern Dance, Ballet are just some of the many movement vocabularies and related moving images incorporated into Tribal Fest performances. In watching them, I was reminded of Ruth St. Denis whose company, Denishawn, traveled the globe and integrated the movement styles of India and elsewhere into their performances. The new twist is that the world’s dancers come to Tribal Fest from Japan, Italy, India, Latin America, and elsewhere. They bring with them new versions of Tribal, Fusion and Dark Fusion that are a consequence of the cultural contexts and aesthetics of their distinctive communities.

More than any other dance form I am aware of, belly dance and its related community, has served as a place of refuge and transformation for personal life challenges and a place, through improvisation, for movement experimentation and creativity; with specific reference to forms from popular culture.

I would argue that this is because its underlying movement philosophy is improvisation. This improvisational mode is found in the versions of the form that take place in ethnic communities in North Africa and the Middle East and related diaspora. A version of improvisation is encouraged in belly dance classes when a dancer is given the opportunity to take the movement vocabulary and make it their own. Another version takes place in the hig hly visual and kinesthetic reliant improvisational stage choreography developed by Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman and incorporated into dance companies that are its derivative. And, there is the improvisation that takes place when a dancer plays with the integration of the belly dance vocabulary and other movement forms.

Although Tribal Fest is a live on stage, face-to-face event, it is the danced realization of a world in which the technological flows of transportation and communication bring images and bodies into correspondence with each other, and through the form create new images that move a global popular culture dialogue forward.

Within the framework of history, Tribal Fest is 14 years old, having started in 2000. The moving global dialogue that it represents is over a hundred years old and somewhere in the process, belly dance, of which the belly features so predominantly in the movement and the costuming, is no longer a dance of North Africa and the Middle East but a dance of popular culture shared by men and women across the globe. As such, it is an example of the potential and impact of dance in popular culture. People who have found joy, creativity, meaning and identity within the improvising possibilities of belly dance have followed it on a personal integration of self and dancing body to evolve new movement images. Sitting in the audience I wondered what new integrations of movement will evolve in the rest of the twenty-first century.


Pirate of Reno
Kraken Hunters Bound by Ship Ahoy of Nevada

Salome Duet

A Salome Duet by Yvonne Michelle and Marci Ann of CA


Red Moon Dance Company of CA

Jamila Honeybear

Jamila Honeybear performs her dance to a poem she wrote and spoke.


Lynette Day of Hawaii


Liora of Texas

Hannah R

Hannah Romanowsky of CA

Kim of the UK

Kimberly Mackay of CA and UK


Mayuri of CA

Tree of the UK

Tree Russel of UK

Paige reads his future

Paige Lawrence of Oregon



Artemis Mourat of Maryland


Who is this hooded troupe? This dancer has a snake dancer tattoo!

Hot pot

Amy Sigil, Unmata and Hot Pot Studios fill the stage.


Apsara of Oregon, Moria Chappell in back.


Steve Eggers and April Rose

Steven Eggers of Mexico and April Rose of Texas

Korean Troupe

Jewelry Movement of South Korea

Korean troupe packstage

Jewelry Movement backstage

Ginger dreads

Michelle Sorensen of Salt Lake City, UT

Alaska Healing the world

Alaska sends healing energy to the world!

April and Steve

Steven and April discuss their introduction for the MC

Barbara and Karen

Author Barbara Sellers-Young PhD and Karen Proehl

Geisha Balloon Toss

Geisha Moth leads a water balloon game outside, including: Amy, Mher, Frank, Raven, among others.

Ling SIngs

Ling sings

Men Compare Equipment

Men compare equipment,
Emil of Diamond Pyramid and customer.

Rapt Audience

A Rapt Audience. Lower right: Colleen, Karen, Barbara.




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  1. wendy

    Jul 14, 2014 - 11:07:16

    Thank you so much for such a delightful&fun article review about Tribal Fest~
    Even thought the incredible experience is hard to put into words!~
    Inspiration,Art,Treasure&Love~Kajira&Chuck work so hard to make this our Mecca.
    Truly an amazing&Life altering week for anyone!~Blessings~

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