How to Be Respectful While Practicing Tribal Fusion Belly Dance
One of the exciting things about Tribal Fusion belly dance is the way it combines a rich variety of influences from other dance genres. From that tradition has sprung the continuing evolution of different types of Tribal Fusion.
Unfortunately, that creative freedom has its downsides. The video below will make many dancers cringe in recognition.
I think most Tribal belly dance teachers would agree this "belly dancer" is showing a complete lack of respect for their art. However, I do feel that sometimes, Tribal belly dance can be guilty of setting a double standard.
Ask yourself—if we expect others to show respect for Tribal belly dance, what should happen when we incorporate other dance styles to create Tribal Fusion?
Of course in Tribal Fusion, the other dance style must be the "junior partner" so to speak, because belly dance still needs to be the dominant influence. But does that mean it's OK to appropriate any other dance style to make a Fusion, without making any attempt to study or understand it properly?
If Tribal belly dancers expect their art form to be respected, don't we owe the same courtesy to the dance forms we're fusing with?
I'm going to use flamenco as an example because I'm a former flamenco dancer, and therefore I really notice it when dancers create fusion based on a vague or imperfect understanding of the genre.
The video on the right shows a bellydancer who is clearly well-trained in Tribal Style belly dance, performing a Tribal Fusion choreography. I'm not surprised she posted this video on Youtube because it's a performance she can be proud of.
I just wish she hadn't labelled it Flamenco Fusion.
I've corresponded with Kaitlyn and she tells me she often watched flamenco performances as a child and based her fusion on those memories. Unfortunately either her memories aren't accurate, or they weren't genuine flamenco dancers - because she got all these elements wrong:
- The music isn't flamenco or flamenco inspired - it's has a Latin influence, not even Spanish (for those unclear of the difference: one is South American, the other is European - literally an ocean apart!)
- Early in the routine she strikes a couple of recognisable flamenco poses, and there are a couple of barrel turns, but no other flamenco moves.
- Her floreos are all tribal.
- She finishes the routine by picking up a flamenco fan, but she doesn't use it like a flamenco dancer.
In other words, there's almost nothing flamenco about the routine.
I tried to explain to Kaitlyn why I felt the routine was somewhat disrespectful to my art form, but she couldn't see my point. Her view, if I understand it correctly, is that this is her personal impression of the dance and that makes it OK.
I'd love to know how other dancers feel on the issue so please vote in the poll below. Personally, I wish she'd done some research: watching a few flamenco clips on Youtube would've made all the difference and allowed her to check whether her recollections were correct.
What do you think?
Should Tribal Fusion dancers study other dance styles before fusing?
Tips for Flamenco Fusion
When choosing music, make sure it's either belly dance music or flamenco inspired. Not Latin, please! Tango and salsa are not flamenco—they're South American.
Hossam Ramzy has a lot to answer for - his Flamenco Arabe is a genuine fusion of flamenco and Arabic music, and it's so danceable, it's hardly surprising so many dancers are tempted to stage 'flamenco fusion' numbers with no knowledge of flamenco steps whatsoever.
Because you're missing the zapateado (foot stamping), which is the dominant feature of flamenco normally, you need to compensate by using plenty of other flamenco steps and poses. They're not difficult to master—a good beginner's DVD like the one by Puela Lunaris will give you all the steps you need.
Don't be put off by the silly title—this DVD is an ideal resource for "crossover" dancers looking to add a flamenco or gypsy flavour to their choreography
Flamenco posture is very upright. It's almost identical to ATS posture, so I'm surprised some tribal dancers lose it when they dance fusion. It's a small point, I know, but maintaining the right posture makes a big difference to the authentic flamenco look.
In belly dance, floreos are often done in one direction. In flamenco, they are always done alternating—one inward followed by one outward, and so on, in a continuous flow, as shown in the clip on the right. It takes practice to keep the hands going regardless of what your feet are doing, and it's not essential, but you'll look more authentic if you alternate them at least some of the time.
Flamenco Hand Movements (Filigranas)
Good Flamenco Fusion
The next two clips show dancers who get it right.
The first clip is of Kryss Statho from New Orleans tribal collective Sisters of Salome. Her opening is pure flamenco—the stance, the alternating floreos, the use of the shawl, the music. There isn't much flamenco in the rest of the routine (except beautiful flamenco arms and hands), but that doesn't matter—the mood has been set.
Our second example is Devi Mamak, Australia's leading ATS teacher. She's noted for her elegant style.
Her floreos are more tribal than flamenco, but that's fine, because the whole point of a fusion is to have a mixture, and she has plenty of flamenco elements to compensate - including:
- Her arm movements are very flamenco style with high elbows.
- She's using flamenco steps and poses extensively, with belly dance hip movements added.
- She uses her skirt as a prop, in the flamenco style.
- She's using flamenco music.
Overall, a nice example of a Tribal belly dancer incorporating another genre with respect and accuracy.