The Tribal Bible by Khajira Djoumahna

5 September, 2009

The Tribal Bible

I’m not sure whether you are aware that bellydancing is sweeping the global dance scene. Classes are springing up all over the place. I only know about it because my sister dragged me to classes several years ago including a stunning show by The Bellydance Superstars. She’s now a teacher as she is brilliant, but I’m still a student with two left hips. What was eye-opening for me was that up until I started lessons, I had assumed, as I know the large majority of people would, that bellydance was for men and was a little er … sexy. But boy was I wrong. It’s a woman’s dance for other women and celebrates the female body. Whether you are fat, thin, tall or short, dancer or novice it is an inclusive dance form which strengthens women inside and out. It truly is, and I’m a total convert. And it’s really, really difficult. You think you only need to shake your hips and you’re dancing, but you need to isolate each movement keeping the rest of your body still while moving only one part. I confess it took me months to learn how to shimmy.

One of the interesting offshoots of traditional Egyptian bellydance which developed in the States in the seventies is tribal bellydance. The basic form and movements are essentially the same, but you dance in a group and improvise (although it looks choreographed). The costumes and music take inspiration from tribal sources such as the bedouins and the Roma, and the movements are slowed right down. The jewellery is different, the look darker. The colours are more sombre and you start to notice that a lot of these dancers are tattooed. This particular dance style and aesthetic is called American Tribal Style or ATS.

ATS’ most famous proponent is Carolena Nericcio, director of Fat Chance Belly Dance in San Francisco. Her student and colleague Kajira Djoumahna formed Black Sheep Belly Dance when she moved away from SF, and has written The Tribal Bible, a book about the origins and aesthetic of ATS which has slowly evolved and branched off to become Tribal Fusion made famous by the lovely Rachel Brice, Sharon Kihara and The Indigo Belly Dance Company.

Rachel Brice Sharon Kihara

The Tribal Bible is a solid book, very well written and packed full of interesting information: the history, the evolution, inspiration and the major dancers and teachers in this exciting dance form. Although the title is hard to get hold of, I’ve heard rumours that there will be a third printing. If you can, and are interested in tribal belly dance, try and get hold of of this book. It will keep you entertained and will inspire you.

More locally there is the FireWater Dance Collective in London featuring Hannah Mi, Lily Tsai and Moirai Tribal. I can’t wait to go to their workshop!

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