GIlded Serpent presents...
The Sacred Surprise of Tribal Fest 3
Shahana Cartahi

Just walking into Tribal Fest 3 was an exotic experience in itself. Outside it was a typically sunny California day, but as I passed through the doorway, I found myself transported into the strange but alluring world of the Casbah! My first impression was of the sweet Eastern smell of incense, I believe it was frankincense.

As my eyes adjusted to the soft golden lighting, I saw the huge life-sized wall-hanging of an ancient pillared temple, the very realistic backdrop for the large stage. Surrounding me were table after table filled with unique and authentic Middle-Eastern merchandise.

There were Persian rugs, gold-trimmed veils, brass and jewel-handled scimitars and daggers, intricately exotic clothing and costumes of every description. In almost every sense it was an Eastern bazaar, with fascinating merchandise too numerous to mention.

Impressive as it was, all of the above seemed to suddenly melt away as the sound of doumbeks and ouds filled the air, and a procession of red and gold clad dancers moved onto the stage. Practically in a trance, I found myself drawn to the seating area and was fortunate enough to find an empty chair. At last I was finally here, at Tribal Fest 3!

My husband and I had traveled all the way down from Portland, Oregon to attend Tribal Fest 3 (in Sebastopol, just north of the San Francisco Bay Area). We had come mostly because I am a big fan of Gypsy Caravan. I, of course, experienced no disappointment on that account. Gypsy Caravan performed as the grand finale later that Saturday afternoon, and as usual, their performance was fun and energizing, in every way it was a pleasure to watch.

We enjoyed a wide variety of outstanding entertainment that day. I got to see performers I had only read about or seen in videos up until now: Eowyn and her dance of the three swords, Tribal Feat, Fat Chance, Urban Tribal, the gracefully undulating Rachel Brice, and dozens more! Tribal Fest co-host, Kajira Djoumahna, danced with her troupe, United We Dance.

It was unquestionably a well-planned, fast-paced show, drawing on some of the top talent in contemporary dance.

However, I now understand, in retrospect, that I had been really drawn to Tribal Fest 3 for another reason.

I know the entire week-end was fabulous. Sadly, due to other demands, we were only there on Saturday. But Sunday promised to be just as exciting, with big-name performers including the legendary John Compton, Amara, Troupe Salamat, La Linda, and (the other Tribal Fest co-host) Ellen Cruz and her Dance Journey.

I’ve been a dancer for many years, and of course I’ve have been to Middle Eastern dance festivals before. I can recall none better than Tribal Fest 3, but still I pretty much knew what to expect. I wasn’t expecting any surprises, but Fate, or more likely the Goddess, had a real surprise in store for me that Saturday, Monique Monet!

She was the only entry in the Sacred Dance category. Dressed kind of Turkish and kind of like an old-fashioned traditional Catholic nun, she came slowly and prayerfully on stage (in front of the beautiful back-drop of the ancient temple) a short sword in each hand.

I couldn’t hear all of what the announcer said when introducing her performance, but I heard enough to know that Monique Monet was portraying the ancient Goddess, Inanna. The time was 7,000 years ago, and she was about to battle the army of the barbarian patriarchs. All of this really grabbed my attention because I’ve long been a student of the Mother Goddess beliefs and the mythical and historical matriarchal societies.

From the very onset, I thought Monique Monet’s concept alone was entertainingly innovative. However, concept proved to be only a shadow of her vibrant reality!

At first she danced without the swords, slowly and gracefully, until men’s chanting voices over-powered and silenced her music, and she curled fetus-like on the floor. Then, after a few seconds of silence, the music came back, hard and fast! Monique Monet/Inanna popped up like a kind of spooky jack-in-the-box, a sword twirling in each hand. The battle had begun!

Her choreography and movements were excellent, but I have to say she was much more attitude than mere technique. Her eyes and expression, her energy gave me goose bumps. I truly felt I was witnessing the prehistoric matriarchal deity, Inanna, fighting heart and divine soul against the barbarian hordes that would destroy her world of peace and beauty.

My husband leaned close to me and said, “I’d hate to get in her way. It looks like she really knows how to use those knives.” He was as awed with Monique Monet’s dance as I was.

Later he said, “She wasn’t just playing a role. Whether she knows it or not, she is a real priestess.”

Rather than launch into a page and a half of metaphysics, I’ll simply say that I think my husband was right. Monique Monet’s performance was definitely in the correct category. It was truly, and almost frighteningly, a sacred dance. I’ve often read of the Goddess Inanna, I’ve seen photos and small statues representing her, but that Saturday, at Tribal Fest 3, I feel I experienced the reality, the living presence and incredible power of the Divine Feminine. It was a real surprise: an encounter I didn’t expect at a Belly Dance show.

Tribal Fest 3 was, as the program states, “a celebration of American Tribal Style, Fusion, Folkloric and the Sacred Aspects of the Belly Dance Genre”. It was an outstandingly beautiful and well-organized festival, and I look forward to this October’s Festival Fantasia (also produced by Ellen Cruz and Kajira Djoumahna).

Entertainment and self-expression are important and enjoyable facets of Middle Eastern Dance, but beyond that, I feel good to be associated with a dance form that, among many other aspects, actually acknowledges the sacred. Perhaps someday at some other festival, I look forward to another sacred surprise.

(Shahana's bio: I am not a dance teacher or vender so I have nothing to promote except my love of dance. I’m a public school teacher in the Portland, Oregon area who has been fortunate enough to have enjoyed the many facets of Middle Eastern Dance for nearly ten years.)

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