The Tribal Gathering

Performing with Tanzhexen at Jewel of Yorkshire. Photo by Violet Ann.
Performing with Tanzhexen at Jewel of Yorkshire. Photo by Violet Ann.

In my other life, I am a tribal belly dancer.  Originally it was something I did as a dare to myself and then it was something I did so I could socialise in a new place where I knew few people and now it has taken over most aspects of my life that are not already occupied by making pretty things.

There’s a wonderful tribal belly dance festival in York this weekend called the Tribal Gathering. I’ll be selling my wares in the souk.

I make most of my costuming.  Though my designs I sell are not necessarily performance ware– they are intended everyday or special occasion pieces, but the designs are all influenced by dance, and tribal belly dance in particular.

Currently the tumble polisher is tumbling, I’ve been hammering away and working away with the callouses and cuts to show for it! I reek of sulphur. Making pretty things is not unlike dance.  I think of all the sweat and tears to bring something beautiful out of nothing– it is the same struggle, and a joyful one. I hope to see some of you at the tribal gathering.

If you’re not sure what tribal belly dance is, this short documentary is a nice introduction:

Tribal Hoops available in My Etsy shop.
Tribal Hoops available in My Etsy shop.

Adventures in Tribal Fusion

Performing with Renegade Tribal. That's me on the left. Photo by Jennifer Bombardiere-Lippit

Perhaps my best kept secret is that I am a dancer.  The fact that I am a dancer is proof that sheer force of will can make almost anything happen.  I do not have what this culture considers a dancer’s body.  Since childhood I have been known as “the klutz”, and in high school theatre my inability to dance was used to comic effect, if it was used at all.

In hindsight we see our missed chances, places where we blew it.  I don’t have many, but the one that is most glaring is my refusal to dance, seriously, earlier in my life. In the late 80s I lived in San Francisco, just when Carolena Nericcio was inventing American Tribal Style dance and founding Fat Chance Belly Dance. I was hanging out at Cafe Istanbul in the Mission and there were women dancing.  Not the sequinned, chiffon veil bellydance I’d seen before (which I thought cheezy) but something else totally mesmerizing and earthy, and something I really, really wanted to do.  At the end, one of the dancers tried to pull me up to join them and…I refused!  I refused to dance because I was too ashamed of my body, and certain I would make a fool of myself.

One blessing about getting older is you no longer listen to those voices. Belly dance is a haven for women who have stopped listening to those voices and just want to move, and move well.

For a few years I have been dancing seriously– in my own living room. I have had world class teachers.   Kimberly MacKoy  gave me the gift of muscle memory training– “welcome to the labyrinth of your body” she would say.  Jesse and Philippa of Morai Tribal were the ones who taught me American Tribal Style, though I am still a beginner and would sometimes come home from that class in tears, it was so hard for me.  Jesse was the first teacher to help me understand that it wasn’t hopeless and it was dancing with her that I first realized that mastering even the most basic of ATS could feel like flying.

I now study with Samantha MacLaren in Selby and perform with Renegade Tribal, and my first performance in front of other people was this weekend– something I thought I would never do.  Life surprises you sometimes. With Samantha I have continued to hone my muscle memory and choreography skills.  Samantha not only believes everyone can dance, she makes it happen. She is a powerful dancer and I’m lucky to have her as a teacher.

Along with Tribal Fusion comes exciting possibilities in costuming– the photo below is of Samantha wearing her belt and headdress I made for her Lady of the Lake solo piece.

Samantha MacLaren wearing the Lady of the Lake belt and headpiece by Feral Strumpet on Etsy, photo by Mark Zuza.