American Tribal Style® Bellydance (ATS®) is a modern style of dance, created by Fatchance Bellydance director, Carolena Nericcio.
In 1974, Carolena began bellydancing with Masha Archer and the San Fransisco Classic Dance Troupe. Masha's style was an eclectic blend of classic Egyptian, Folkloric, and any other influence she found enticing. Masha, a trained painter and sculptor, taught her dancers to create art through dance. In 1987, after the SF Classic Dance Troupe disbanded, Carolena began teaching in a small studio in the Noe Valley Ministry. Her only goal was to teach people to dance so she could have dance partners.
Being young and tattooed, Carolena attracted other young people living alternative lifestyles. The Modern Primitive movement was also underway. Tattoos and primitive styles of body adornment were the vogue. Carolena and her students performed at tattoo shows and conventions and became well known in the City by the Bay.
When the name for the dance troupe arose, a friend suggested the playful rhyme FatChanceBellydance®, based on the silly question dancers often get from onlookers who think that beautiful, feminine bellydance is merely an exotic entertainment for their personal pleasure. In other words, the answer is: "Fat chance you can have a private show."
As Carolena and FatChanceBellyDance® expanded horizons, they received a mixed response. Some people loved the new style. Others, abhorred it's departure from tradition. Finally, the style was named "American Tribal Style® Bellydance", a name that distanced ATS® from classical beledi styles. The word "American" made it clear that ATS® was distinctly an American invention, not a traditional dance style. "Tribal Style" described the dancers, working together as a group, with a tribal look.
Back at the studio, a system, was evolving. Because of the casual nature of FCBD®'s performance opportunities, the dance was largely improvisational. There simply wasn't a way or a need to choreograph because the dance space often changed at the last minute, and the dancers had to perform without rehearsal or any information about the performance space.
Duets, trio and quartets worked in set formations. If they stage was two-sided, or if the dance space was in the round, the dancers could flip the lead by facing the opposite direction. In other words, as long as the dancers stayed in formation, the group could change, depending on the audience's location. Carolena developed cues for each step or combination, usually an arm or head movement that could easily be seen. She found that because all the steps began with a gesture to the right, dancers tended to angel to the left. This angle allowed following dancers to clearly see the lead dancer.
Cues and formations are the brilliance of ATS®. Often unnoticed because of the elaborate costumes, dance steps, exciting music and sheer beauty of women dancing together, formations and cues are the anchor of improvisational choreography. Even occasional formal choreography is created around the logic of the formations and cues.
The core concept remains in place: leader to the left, followers to the right. Watch for interaction among dancers, who always have their attention trained on the lead position, looking for the cue for the next step. When the dancers face each other and make eye contact, th lead is neutral, falling to the dance who presents the next cue. But don't think too hard! Allow yourself to see the whole picture: women working together in cooperation: a group focused on presenting the dance as one entity!
~ Carolena Nericco