What is TFB – Tribal Fusion Bellydance

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Tribal Fusion Dance is a branch of the American Tribal Style Belly Dance movement, which began in the early 90’s by Carolena Nericcio, the director of Fat Chance Belly Dance.

The first Tribal Fusion dance company (although there was no name for it at the time, they simply called it Belly Dance Theatre) was Jill Parker’s Ultra Gypsy. (June, 2010;[1] Stants, 2008;[2][3][4]) Jill Parker is often referred to as the “mama of Tribal Fusion”. (June, 2010) [1] Ultra Gypsy expanded on the American Tribal Style repertoire of movement, costuming, and music. “In the late 1990s Jill and her dance company, Ultra Gypsy, began to scale down the tribal costume, expand the movement vocabulary, work with modern DJ mixed music and play with theatrical themes in their performances. This had a significant impact on tribal dancers and opened up the floodgates of Tribal Fusion innovation.” (Stants, 2008[2]) An early example of Ultra Gypsy’s work was filmed by the cable TV program “The Cutting Edge”, produced by Jerry B in Berkeley, CA in 2001; directed and edited by D. Sosnoski.[5]

Stephanie Barto, a student of Nericcio, brought ATS to the Midwest with a group called Read My Hips, founded in Chicago with Heather Stants. Later, during the early development of Tribal Fusion, Heather Stants worked to introduce new elements to Tribal Style bellydance, including a minimalist aesthetic, underground electronica music and elements of modern dance. In 1999, she formed Urban Tribal Dance Company in San Diego, largely influenced by hip hop and street dance styles. In contrast to many other tribal fusion performers, Urban Tribal Dance Company was known for their minimalist costuming more traditional to modern dance than to Tribal Style.

Tribal Fusion was named and largely popularized by Rachel Brice, who was the first to fuse American Cabaret technique with American Tribal Style, and the first to perform as a soloist. In the early days, she referred to herself as “Cabaret with a Tribal aesthetic.” When discussing this with her teacher via email, Carolena wrote that Rachel was “Fusion.” Rachel decided to refer to herself as “Tribal Fusion,” to reflect that she was fusing the style of Fat Chance Belly Dance with other styles. This term stuck, and its definition has morphed as dancers have pursued it as a style of its own.

“Most people can agree that the poster girl of Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is Rachel Brice. Yet she herself writes, ‘The real dance heroes that created and fed my personal dance lineage: Jamila Salimpour taught John Compton and Masha Archer, who taught Carolena Nericcio, who taught Jill Parker, who taught Heather Stants, who taught Mardi Love, who all taught me.’

It is this lineage of teachers that has created Tribal Fusion Belly Dance. In the 1960s, the belly dancer Jamila Salimpour created the company “Bal Anat” and performed with her dancers at California Renaissance fairs. The need to fit belly dance into a renaissance style led to a show that drew from the tribal dances and costuming of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. Props such as masks, snakes, and swords added a theatrical element to the dancing.

Jamila Salimpour taught Masha Archer, who formed the “San Francisco Classic Dance Troupe”. As a trained painter and sculptor, a core part of Masha’s teachings was the goal of creating art through dance. One of her students, Carolena Nericcio, took this goal to a new level by creating an original dance form, which is called “American Tribal Style” belly dance or “ATS”. It is from ATS that Tribal Fusion set its foundation.” [1]

Mardi Love, a pioneer in Tribal Fusion, was an early member of Urban Tribal with Heather Stants, later joining The Indigo with Rachel Brice. Zoe Jakes was a long time and contributing member of The Indigo, going on to create her own form of Avant Garde belly dance with Beats Antique. Rachel Brice also greatly contributed to the popularity of movements similar to popping, though she credits Suhaila Salimpour and former troupe mate Ariellah Aflalo as the sources. Initial members of The Indigo performance group were Mardi Love, Rachel Brice, Michelle Campbell, Sharon Kihara, Shawna Rai, Janice Solimeno, and Ariellah Aflalo. Sharon Kihara also studied with Frederique (The Lady Fred) and performed with Ultra Gypsy.

Today, Tribal Fusion is a rapidly growing and evolving dance form. Some feel it is moving away from its American Tribal Style Belly Dance Roots, and some newer Tribal Fusion Dancers have never studied American Tribal Style Belly Dance. For the founders of the form, however, the connection with American Tribal Style Belly Dance is what makes it considered “Tribal Fusion Belly Dance,” rather than simply “Fusion Belly Dance.”

 

 

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