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Gilded Serpent presents...
Tribal Throwdown Photos &
Workshop Review for Heather Stants’

“Appetite for Deconstruction: Urban Tribal Style”
Review by Eleyda 
Photos by Brad

March 17, 2007 Live Oak Center in Berkeley

This was a very busy week for me.  I had a 51 hours work week, three rehearsals for two belly dance performances: one at the Rakkasah Festival and another at Tribal Throwdown (TTD), and I was wondering if enrolling at that 4:30 pm workshop was actually a good idea.  At some point, your body and mind start to shut down and I thought that maybe I was just a little too harsh on myself.  Suddenly the idea of just asking for a refund and going back home to take a shower and sleep was very tempting.  Instead, I had lunch and after chilling for a little while I decided to go with it and I walked to my workshop at Live Oak Center in Berkeley, CA, where Tribal Throwdown was offering the workshops.  Heather was waiting there to offer her “Appetite for Deconstruction: Urban Tribal Style” workshop.  I was very happy about my decision.

Heather Stants started belly dancing back in 1994 in Chicago, Illinois.  By 1999, when she was relocated in San Diego, she founded Urban Tribal Dance Company (UTDC), combining Tribal Style belly dance with contemporary moves.  UTDC costume is elegant and simple, far from the extravagant and busy costumes of either Cabaret or American Tribal Style can have in their very own way, so the moves are enhanced by clothing but not helped by them. 

Their dancing style is fresh and smooth, with sharp transitions and fluid rhythms, taking traditional belly dance moves beyond their time into a post modern state of mind. Heather’s task was to transmit that fusion thought in the workshop.  She did an excellent job.

Heather started the session with different stretches, especially hips, legs and back.   She also combined some stretches with crunches as well.  Her teaching style is by example: she showed the move, and then repeated it with us.  Then eventually she watched us doing it by ourselves.  I appreciated the fact she asked the students if they had any injuries or health problems she had to be aware off, especially knees considering the choreography.  She gave move options that were low impact and she exchanged low impact moves with the “regular” ones while teaching, so everybody had an idea how to do it.  The workshop had around a 10-12 student size, which was excellent for her to have visual interaction with everybody.  She didn’t walk around the room while teaching but made eye contact with everybody and followed your moves.  She made corrections, explained in detail and gave plenty of opportunities for questions. 

From what I saw around the room, all of us students were in an advanced level, even the workshop description provided doesn’t specifies if this was a multilevel or advanced class. Not everybody was exactly on the same level but we were fairly close and grasped the basic idea of the moves quite fast, which was a coincidence that worked perfectly.  One little inconvenience was the location itself.  The rooms are not sound proof and there was a drum workshop fairly close. Heather had to speak over the hip hop drum rhythm.  I was very glad TTD decided to move the performances to the Jewish Community Center because I can’t imagine Heather fighting so much noise.  But indeed, she managed to speak over all the commotion and make herself audible to everybody.  I was at the last row.

For some unknown reason I expected a little more talk about how to “Deconstruct” and get into “Urban” moves.  For people like me, who are not very into that particular style of dancing, it is a difficult concept to grasp.  I liked that, even though she didn’t give us a formula to do something; she gave us the concept of freedom. Even though it was a choreography designed according to UTDC dance style, Heather emphasized having freedom to choose which style to use and how to “personalize” the dance.  In some moves, she gave examples how a rounded back, or sharper chest pop, or static hands, give a whole new dimension to your dance step.

At the end, when performing the choreography, the final product is impressive.  The piece was not full of back bends, or one zillion steps.  The choreography was a smooth combination of sharp moves, and many possibilities.  One of their trademark moves were the hands and arms, which where far from traditional, most of the time they were straight and rigid, not curved and smooth. "Spatula hands", she called them.  This was an interesting concept. It is not my cup of tea for a whole piece, however, it is something I have never seen and would like to play around with it in the future.  I think Heather’s photographic mind (she has a degree in photography) allows her to create a highly esthetic, interesting style from an angle nobody ever tried before.

I recommend this workshop for any dancer that wants to think outside the shimmie. As a teacher, Heather is very clear, considerate, and patient.  She is very well prepared and balanced, and just a delight.  I hope to have more workshops with her in the near future and see her performing along with Urban Tribal Dance Company.

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More of Brad's beautiful photos from the weekend event...

Devin McBain from Parvati out of Chico, the youngest dancer in the Throwdown competition


Annar performs an intimately poignant piece

A performer’s view of Tribal Throwdown during the BlackSheep set

Meliza Wells, one of the Tribal Throwdown organizers

One of the Tribal Throwdown organizers, Amy Sigil from Unmata, crowns
Cera Byers of Damage Control Dance Theatre, the winner of the Throwdown dance contest

Tempest vends
TTD had over 35 tables and racks of wares on sale

Seba (?) of BlackSheep BellyDance performs

a shot of the crowd at the stage

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