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Narah ~ Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Performer and Instructor

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*Obviously, this was written some time ago, so lots of things in my life have changed since then... but, enjoy!

To me, tribal style is about community, a distinct type of dress, and attitude. I am definitely part of a community (very gypsy like) within the Society for Creative Anachronism, a historical re-creation group of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Each person develops a "persona" (someone who could have lived during this time period) and wears clothing that people of that time wore. The Middle Eastern personas are a subculture of this subculture. I started Middle Eastern dance in the S.C.A. I was at a public demonstration and some of the local dancers performed. They did not have choreography; they just got up as a group, put on some music and danced a free-for-all. I was hooked! I knew I had to learn.

We are often on the fringe of the S.C.A culture as gypsies are in modern society. The mainstream S.C.A culture is European, and some (not all) even scorn the Middle Eastern arts because they are not what the Society began re-creating thirty years ago. We strive to educate even in a counter culture. We have a historical interest in the dance, music and costume and pursue it by living it. We know how a shimmy feels in three layers of clothing, and research the history behind what we are doing.  

In the S.C.A, I have sisters and cousins my parents do not know. I even have another father. There is a connection in this community that has developed, which probably could not happen in the modern world. I love modern tribal- I have taken pilgrimages to Portland and San Francisco just to get a taste of it. But the tribal community I am a part of right now is different. I am not a part of a troupe (though I would like to be) but I do feel part of a tribe. I know dancers all along the eastern part of the country and am familiar with their styles. Even after long periods of time apart, it takes only a small amount of time to click or connect with them. I can greet them, and have a conversation through dance. We know some of the established modern cues and use some of them, but for the most part we go by instinct to follow each other when we dance. We also do not have any set repertoire, and are always striving to expand what we know.  

Pennsic is probably the S.C.A.'s largest "tribal" gathering. We pack up our lives and live in tents during the blistering August heat just to experience the magic. We are hot, our feet are dirty, and we are eating camp food, but we love that otherworldly feeling that Pennsic creates. Most of us spend most of the day at the Middle Eastern tent at Pennsic taking classes and teaching classes. I have helped teach the basic Middle Eastern dance classes for the past few years, and have started teaching additional classes on costuming, history and more advanced technique. The basics class and even a few other classes are even done in a community fashion. There are always three or four of us teaching the basics class, and people offer to help with other classes. The classes we take focus on culture, clothing, dance technique and theory, music history, theory and performance. All of this is to enrich our experience, not just to give the crowd something better to look at. Spending all day doing this is hot and exhausting, but we love it. 

I just got Fat Chance Belly Dance's - Cues and Transitions video and am learning more. I want to know how to follow that troupe format. I do not intend on this being the only format I follow, but I understand and appreciate the need for a set number of moves, the "simpler" music, etc. In the S.C.A, I am familiar with and comfortable with noticing the other dancers gaze or even feeling the energy connection in order to mirror him or her. I always dance improv around the fire, under the Orluk Oasis tent at Pennsic and even at the Middle Eastern dance Exposition at Pennsic. Last year, my friend Sahira and I did a duet in this Exposition. We talked about what we would do for about a half an hour the day before the show. We decided on the song, found musicians to play it, discussed what kind of moves we would do and agreed that I would lead. I cued the musicians when to stop and it turned out great. It was so much fun. Maria from Ghawazee was visiting Morgantown (where I go to college) last October and we performed in the West Virginia University Med School talent show. We used this same technique for the performance. We discussed what we would do and then let instinct take over. I remember two Pennsics ago when Seabac, Tshaya, and I formed a circle under the Orluk Oasis tent. (Orluk Oasis is the Middle Eastern camp at Pennsic.) We created our own little world by dancing together and teaching new moves through demonstration. We moved from shekat dancing to floor work to harvest dances. This year at Pennsic, there was a night Turku was playing in the marketplace. Kameelah and I danced together a few times, and most of the time I followed her. It was incredible! People said we were totally in sync, almost beginning each new move simultaneously. And Asim and I can mirror each other from across the room without losing the connection. There are numerous other dancers I can connect with in this way: Valizan, Nicole, all of Ghawazee, Isabetta, Khalilla, and many more. There is something in their spirit open enough to let me in. This is the best high!  

Many S.C.A dancers are attracted to the American Tribal Style. Its philosophy is quite similar to what we love and already believe. One of the big clues that an S.C.A dancer is of the American Tribal Style persuasion is the presence of a tassel belt. It is quite possible that dancers during the Middle Ages and Renaissance could have worn tassel belts (they put tassels on everything else), I just have not found any documentation for it. The choli, skirt and turban combination has circumstantial possibility also. The Indian gypsies came to Persia, Turkey, etc. and would have kept their native dress while picking up new pieces from the new culture. Often, though, you will see S.C.A/tribal dancers in Beladi dresses or yeliks. Quite often, the facial tattoos are there and most often the big Afghani and Pakistani jewelry is present.  

Not all ME dancers who play in the S.C.A are interested in historical accuracy. There are some cabaret dancers who see the S.C.A as just another place to perform. They wear their coin bras and split skirts, and make no qualms about trying to be historically accurate. Since this is a historical re-creation group, there are quite a few who are vexed by those who do not meet the standards for a "reasonable attempt at period garb". It is not that we believe that cabaret does not have its place and is not valued elsewhere. It is just not generally how we play our game. This makes it seem as if sometimes there are two communities within the ME community in the S.C.A. It seems to me that the S.C.A dancers who are attracted to American Tribal Style are also attracted to creating an atmosphere conducive to the standards of the S.C.A. However, this does not mean that all cabaret dancers who are also in the S.C.A wear their cabaret costumes at events or are not interested in the history of the dance. In fact, Mistress Elitha dances cabaret in the modern world, and her advanced Middle Eastern technique classes at Pennsic have quite a following by cabaret and American Tribal Style influenced alike. I personally have learned a tremendous amount from her. She has amazing skill and wears some very nice traditional garb. (The title “mistress” indicates that someone has been awarded a Laurel in his or her particular area of arts and sciences. This is the highest award available in the arts and sciences.) There are also those who are simply uneducated and do not know that cabaret costuming is historically inaccurate for our time period. However, we are such a group of teachers that we generally scoop those people up and show them how to make a yelik. :) American Tribal Style also fits well into the S.C.A scope without trying much. The costuming looks more ethnic and therefore looks more like what someone during this time period could have worn… minus a few things. ;-) 

I teach a Middle Eastern dance class outside of the S.C.A. Several S.C.A.dians take my class. The only two choreographies I have ever made up were for this class. I did this in order to help them "put it all together". Also for this reason, I have adopted Christine's (Ghawazee) method of creating a circle at the end of each class and having each dancer take a turn in the middle while the rest accompany her freestyle and encourage her with the zahgareet. To practice technique, I encourage my students to mirror each other. I use these techniques because it creates community and a deeper sense of feeling. I am particularly proud because some have agreed to perform with me in an upcoming variety show. Soon, though, I will be moving back home to Charleston and will be leaving my dancers. I will be glad to be home, but this means “building” more dancers.  Once I went to college, the dance community in my hometown seriously diminished. I am glad to share the art and bring it into more lives, but it is a bit disheartening to leave the community I just had, even as small as it was. I will visit and see them occasionally, though.  

I am glad to have found American Tribal Style. It gave me something to follow in the modern world, and outside of the S.C.A. It gave me more opportunities to learn about my obsession. I am fairly isolated, and appreciate all the opportunity I can get, even if I have to fly across the country to get it. I was never attracted to cabaret in the sense that I never wanted to dance in a beaded push up bra to electronic music. I wanted to dance because the energy exchanged among dancers, drummers and musicians and onlookers was amazing. Our tribal dance is not only about performance, which is consistent with American Tribal Style. We are performers and interact with the audience as performers, but our first priority is to have fun with each other. This is usually quite entertaining, having viewed it myself. 

I remember putting in a search for "bellydance" for the first time on the Internet years ago and Fat Chance Bellydance was the first site that came up. I was awestruck. The costuming was beautiful and elegant. I ordered Tattooed one soon after. When I watched it for the first time I kept saying, "I knew they would be good!"   This video even encouraged one of my roommates to take dance lessons from me. Quite often after that the other roommates would say to us "Are you watching that again?" Soon after that I bought "The Complete Student" package and learned American Tribal Style from videos.  

During further searches I found Gypsy Caravan on the Internet. Two summers ago I finally decided to get some personal lessons. So I bought a plane ticket and took off, alone but excited. I spent a week in Portland and took lessons from Gypsy Caravan and saw Sister Caravan perform. Then I flew down to San Francisco to take lessons from Fat Chance Belly Dance and see them perform. It was amazing and intense. I came back a new dancer. I recently took another trip to San Francisco. I was able to attend an S.C.A Middle Eastern dance practice, take some lessons from Fat Chance Bellydance and see Ultra Gypsy perform. I am again inspired. 

I have an individual style that is tribal. I am a tribal dancer of a different type of tribe. Kimberly Arrington, AKA Narah 

Also read Amira Jamal's article on American Tribal Style (ATS, which is a very specific type of Tribal Bellydance, but under the Tribal umbrella)

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