Reflections on tribal fusion

The end of 2017, brought the passing of a pioneer of tribal fusion bellydance long before the term was coined –the one and only Jamila Salimour. There is a lot to say about Jamila and how she shaped American style, interpretation and presentation of bellydance over the past several decades in America.

 

In learning of her death, my mind jumped to the one and only time in 2009, that I had an opportunity to learn from her at the Salimpour School in Oakland. It was an adjunct workshop to the annual San Fransisco Mecca Immersion, a tribal fusion intensive in San Fransisco, taught by both Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. It was a zyll workshop and she played her giant saucer-sized zylls effortlessly, leading us through complex patterns. I had been playing zylls a couple of years and enjoyed the challenge, savoured the experience knowing I had a hell of a lot more work to do to feel comfortable with this instrument.

I became interested in tribal fusion bellydance around 2008 after dancing for a few years learning Arabic as well as cabaret styles from my teachers. While learning from Roula Said (the Salimpours were among her teachers in her travels to San Fransisco) at Om Laila for a few years, I had joined the student troupe  under the direction of Megan Shields. Here I was exposed me to what she used to refer to as ‘tribalesque’ –the elements of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion that she brought into a more classical bellydance foundation. Once I discovered some more about this style of dance as well as what it means to fuse dance styles, I started to get more curious about its origins. That led me to a study trip to my first SF Mecca Immersion in 2008, where I learned that tribal fusion is a branch off of American Tribal Style group improv, the codified group dance created by Caroleena Nericcio-Bolhman of Fat Chance Bellydance. I stumbled my way through her workshop, trying to wrap my head around the cueing system, but noticing all of the common ground of vocabulary that shaped tribal fusion: elements of bellydance, flamenco and classical Indian dances. The raised strong arms, floreos, rhythmic isolations and fluid hips swaying to music from traditional to electronic. I was in love and fell hard. I went back for more in 2009, this time for the extended intermediate track of SF Mecca Immersion.

Its coming up on ten years since I first set foot in San Fransisco to explore dance roots. Some of that journey has been shared through this blog.  I am fortunate to have teachers in Toronto who have learned and continue to learn from the pioneers of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion. I have now been in Serpentina North Ensemble for six years and have none other than the green haired forever goth, Orkideh to thank for the opportunity to delve so much deeper into group improv as well as fusion bellydance. Workshops, intensives, and performance has been a large focus of mine over the past decade I suppose. And we all live in the legacy of our teachers and our teachers’ teachers. So whether or not you got a chance to directly learn from Jamila Salimpour, she is an iconic figure who created the foundation of what we know as tribal fusion.

To other dancers, I love to hear about peoples influences! Please feel free to share in comments, your experiences learning directly or indirectly from the work of Jamila Salimour.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking up with glitter

I’ve used my fair share of glitter. I’ve glittered and over glittered for holiday parties,  90’s late night rave adventures,  (after all, it had to last til the break of dawn at least), pride, concerts and in more recent years as an essential part of many dance performances. As a bellydancer, glitter is just part of the preparation –a sort of show girl must, if you will. After all, who doesn’t like to sparkle? Show folk of every gender joke about finding glitter days after shows often wedged into crevices they hadn’t intended. With December upon us, many people use glittered items as part of their festive decor. And kids love glitter, that added element of dazzle on any kindergarten craft project. I mean there’s scientific research on the evolutionary underpinnings to our love of sparkly  things.

Who doesn’t like glitter, you ask? Well for one, the ocean and all of the life in its watery depths. Also the birds who starve to death because their stomachs are filled with teeny plastic particles like glitter. Glitter is made up of particles so tiny that, like microbeads (ban in Canada set to take effect mid 2018),  in many cosmetic and body products, they pass through water systems into the digestive systems of plankton and up through the food chain as well as deeper into the ocean. This short National Geographic Video breaks down how this happens:

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As someone who strives to live by her politics, these facts are unnerving to say the least. I don’t use feathers or fur in my costuming (or daily life) and am now choosing to switch to non-synthetic glitter aka ‘bio-glitter’. While the science is not yet clear on how much of the plastics showing up in the digestive systems of marine life can be attributed to glitter, I anticipate more specific research come, as the discussion has now been open about a ban vs. pressure to change industry standards (Lush Ltd has made a statement on their changes in glitter products)

As a long time vegan, its not just about products containing animals that sits at the heart of the vegan ethic –but a dedication to uphold the value of all life. Over two decades ago I opted out of participating in the system of factory farming as well as fast fashion of the consumer machine. There is no point of ‘arriving’ in this ethic, only a continuous curiosity, learning and adjusting of habits and lifestyle that promotes dignity not destruction of living beings and our natural world.

Performers take people into another world of their choosing –often filled with fantasy, illusion and mystique. I obviously love all of these aspects of performance. And glitter adds to the otherworldly beauty of a performance –or just a night out. Still, we have to live with ourselves, we have to be able to sleep at night. Once you know the ‘underbelly’ of something as whimsical as glitter, it just can’t be business as usual.

Stay tuned for glitter that everyone can live with, coming up in the new year through House of Shimmy.

Share your thoughts and continue the conversation in the comments area!

 

We are [not] the robots

20664520_10159348228720455_8960342708194455563_n The body is not a robot (PS, I love robots). Most days, people treat their bodies like robots,  like a machine that needs fixing, like a series of parts that can be replaced, improved or ‘spot’ trained. The ways we talk about our bodies matters and changing language can have a profound effect on our experience of our bodies.

We all have days that it feels like our body is a hindrance and depending on our particular age, health and ability/mobility, we each have a unique range of movement that we’re working with. This is not an ‘anyone can do it if they really try’ type of sentiment that I’m talking about here.

Across all of these differences, we can embody our physicality in ways that are appreciative of the body as a process, as a complex ecosystem that remains forever in flux. The only constant is change, a zen concept that has a lot to offer us in our movement practice. Life will add and subtract things from our bodies, gravity will always be more reliable than willpower and time will not move backwards. Within these concepts are further subtleties as bodies oscillate along the continuum of sickness and wellness, stamina and fatigue.

IMG_8017Part of a healthy movement practice as  I see it, is allowing for the fluctuation of practice while still maintaining a discipline. Pay attention to the messages you tell yourself both when you ‘do well,’ ‘see results’ as well as when you fall behind on your practice or fall short of accomplishing something you had your heart set on. This is all food for thought, these reflections on the stories we tell ourselves and how its connected to our movement.

I love watching dancers whose movement flows so seemingly effortlessly from their bodies, with a flow that gives the perception they are being moved by something the audience can’t see. I know they worked their asses off for it but the ease of their movement weaves a compelling imaginary tale.

We’re not all going to be able to do the things we admire in others. I will not be able to perform the physical feats of a professional dancer but I am serious about practices that maintain an ease of movement in walking and dancing and sitting life. All of it, bring ease to all of it. Even the uncomfortable and painful things, cultivating grace will allow the body to move in ways that brute force just wont be able to.

Yes pushing ourselves physically and mentally is healthy and necessary, that’s how we grow. Trust the process, as they say.  And, we are not robots, not machines, not broken to be fixed. We are fleshy, bony, organ-y,  casings of shifting rhythms that house emotions and nervous systems and histories –be kind to yours no matter what.

So far this summer has been filled with delicious movement!

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Katalyn Schafer (Hungary) pop-up workshop hosted by Ya Amar.

Raqs Al Saif

Serpentina North Ensemble

 

Home dance practice

 

 

 

 

108 Days of Dance: Insights from the almost halfway point

 

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108 Days of Dance

It’s day 47 of 108 Days of Dance, my own personal challenge to dance each day. For a few reasons: general enjoyment of dance and movement aka FUN!, also to up my practice game, to work on technique refinement as well as improvisation. I had intended to document at least once a week on my blog via video, and write my insights along the way. Yet here I am at almost halfway, having done the practice, foregoing the documentation. Begging the new cultural question, if it wasn’t posted online has it really happened?

This challenge for me has been a mostly solitary process, though much of my dancing is just the opposite: for and with other people. Filming oneself practicing is a strange thing. See, I practice to practice (and perform to perform)…I mean, I’m already looking at myself in the mirror which is in and of itself a type of performance. But enter the camera, recording for the purpose of sharing through social media, and another layer of awareness inserts itself into the process. Case in point: yesterday I posted a poorly-shot video of myself doing sun salutations to a favourite community radio show: Groove Concept Radio. Grainy and ill-framed, I wobbled sideways in my transition from downward dog to warrior…immediately my mind wandered to the edit, or maybe I should re-shoot that sequence? Instead, I left it as is. Yoga as any other form of dance/movement is imperfect, as we struggle through visceral experiences of this mortal coil (aka the meat suit) and the fluctuations of the mind. Not to mention the emotions that arise through movement, for better and worse!

So all of this is to say that I mostly prefer to be alone for my movement practice(s). Or at least with others who are focused internally yet also fully entrained in our collective experience (aka dance class).

In conclusion friends, I have in fact been dancing each and every day for this 108 Days of Dance. A few insights have been around the power of solitary practice, like the solitude of most creativity and innovation (at least the root of a new idea or creation, even if later collaborative, happens for most people in a solitary moment). During this time I have added a new class at Dragonfly to my schedule, tofu-ing (no beefing for this vegan!) up my home practice (mostly tribal fusion and cabaret styles) and weekly troupe rehearsals (shout out to my Serpentinis!). I guess what I’ve realized so far is that its not too far a stretch from my regular practice to dance each and every day. Though, it has created a new level of discipline, with the goal of maintaining a daily practice with this challenge, as I did with yoga in the wake of my teacher training a couple of years ago.

How about YOU? Do you prefer to practice movement alone or with others? How is it helpful (or not) to post your practice on social media?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy day dance drills

Day 16 (earlier this week) was all about small isolations. Sharing dance drills footage is a little intimidating because, well, it just doesn’t look much like dance. But dance drills are a crucial element of well rounded practice and are not as free as dancing. Working with layering upper body movements over ongoing and well timed hip shimmy can make the lips purse and the brows furrow. Maybe a little angry dancer face happening in this clip…

How could you ever talk about dance without also talking about music?! The same day I filmed this little clip, I later on had the pleasure of seeing The Specials at the Danforth Music hall and though we were waaaaay in the back, we found room to dance in the aisles.

 

 

 

 

108 Days of Dance

IMG_5921On this lucky 13th day of 108 Days of Dance, I’ve decided to share my personal practice challenge with you all: to make dance a daily practice for 108 days, with the intention of upping my dance game.

My experience of 108 days of yoga after completing my 200- hour yoga teacher training in 2015, was such a profound experience that I am giving it a whirl with dance!

Dance has been an important and regular part of my life for many years now, and often longer term practice needs a boost, whether its a new class, a new teacher, a new challenge of sorts. I’ve decided my new challenge is 108 days of dance –so yes, dance every single day! Ideally, as with the yoga challenge, it is to be at least an hour per day. But more important than the time is the consistency, and as with any physical practice there is an adjustment period.

The first week was fine, fueled by the excitement of the challenge and opting to keep it to myself in the beginning. The second week was a little less pleasant in my body as its also the week I returned to commuting by bike. From a winter of walking and transit, I began two hours of cycling per day, in addition to the usual yoga and now the daily dose of dance. Counting toward this daily practice of course are the regular classes, troupe rehearsals, performances and nights out on the dance floor. I hope to change the timing of some of my practice as well to be able to do more yoga and/or dance in the morning before work. As a not-so-morning person, this may prove the most difficult part.

Each day of dance brings a unique focus and challenge: lastnight’s practice was specific to arm and hand isolations, with a soundtrack of Bach, while today was all about tribal fusion drills including chest figure eights over hip locks and traveling hip work. Other times I freestyle to classical Arabic music, ragtime, downtempo world electronic music, broken beat, vintage reggae or classic house.

Stay tuned for more updates on my 108 Days of Dance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kensington Market Pedestrian Sundays

Spring brings the return of PS (Pedestrian Sundays) Kensington and the Serpentina North Ensemble is delighted to be back again dancing in the streets. Its been a couple of summers since we’ve graced the pavement of this event, so come on out and check out our FOUR sets over the afternoon! Event page here.

Date: Sunday May 28th

Location: Lola, 40 Kensington Ave

Set times:  3:45, 4:50, 6:00, 6:45

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