Reflections on tribal fusion

The end of 2017, brought the passing of a pioneer of tribal fusion bellydance long before the term was coined –the one and only Jamila Salimour. There is a lot to say about Jamila and how she shaped American style, interpretation and presentation of bellydance over the past several decades in America.

 

In learning of her death, my mind jumped to the one and only time in 2009, that I had an opportunity to learn from her at the Salimpour School in Oakland. It was an adjunct workshop to the annual San Fransisco Mecca Immersion, a tribal fusion intensive in San Fransisco, taught by both Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. It was a zyll workshop and she played her giant saucer-sized zylls effortlessly, leading us through complex patterns. I had been playing zylls a couple of years and enjoyed the challenge, savoured the experience knowing I had a hell of a lot more work to do to feel comfortable with this instrument.

I became interested in tribal fusion bellydance around 2008 after dancing for a few years learning Arabic as well as cabaret styles from my teachers. While learning from Roula Said (the Salimpours were among her teachers in her travels to San Fransisco) at Om Laila for a few years, I had joined the student troupe  under the direction of Megan Shields. Here I was exposed me to what she used to refer to as ‘tribalesque’ –the elements of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion that she brought into a more classical bellydance foundation. Once I discovered some more about this style of dance as well as what it means to fuse dance styles, I started to get more curious about its origins. That led me to a study trip to my first SF Mecca Immersion in 2008, where I learned that tribal fusion is a branch off of American Tribal Style group improv, the codified group dance created by Caroleena Nericcio-Bolhman of Fat Chance Bellydance. I stumbled my way through her workshop, trying to wrap my head around the cueing system, but noticing all of the common ground of vocabulary that shaped tribal fusion: elements of bellydance, flamenco and classical Indian dances. The raised strong arms, floreos, rhythmic isolations and fluid hips swaying to music from traditional to electronic. I was in love and fell hard. I went back for more in 2009, this time for the extended intermediate track of SF Mecca Immersion.

Its coming up on ten years since I first set foot in San Fransisco to explore dance roots. Some of that journey has been shared through this blog.  I am fortunate to have teachers in Toronto who have learned and continue to learn from the pioneers of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion. I have now been in Serpentina North Ensemble for six years and have none other than the green haired forever goth, Orkideh to thank for the opportunity to delve so much deeper into group improv as well as fusion bellydance. Workshops, intensives, and performance has been a large focus of mine over the past decade I suppose. And we all live in the legacy of our teachers and our teachers’ teachers. So whether or not you got a chance to directly learn from Jamila Salimpour, she is an iconic figure who created the foundation of what we know as tribal fusion.

To other dancers, I love to hear about peoples influences! Please feel free to share in comments, your experiences learning directly or indirectly from the work of Jamila Salimour.

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking up with glitter

I’ve used my fair share of glitter. I’ve glittered and over glittered for holiday parties,  90’s late night rave adventures,  (after all, it had to last til the break of dawn at least), pride, concerts and in more recent years as an essential part of many dance performances. As a bellydancer, glitter is just part of the preparation –a sort of show girl must, if you will. After all, who doesn’t like to sparkle? Show folk of every gender joke about finding glitter days after shows often wedged into crevices they hadn’t intended. With December upon us, many people use glittered items as part of their festive decor. And kids love glitter, that added element of dazzle on any kindergarten craft project. I mean there’s scientific research on the evolutionary underpinnings to our love of sparkly  things.

Who doesn’t like glitter, you ask? Well for one, the ocean and all of the life in its watery depths. Also the birds who starve to death because their stomachs are filled with teeny plastic particles like glitter. Glitter is made up of particles so tiny that, like microbeads (ban in Canada set to take effect mid 2018),  in many cosmetic and body products, they pass through water systems into the digestive systems of plankton and up through the food chain as well as deeper into the ocean. This short National Geographic Video breaks down how this happens:

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As someone who strives to live by her politics, these facts are unnerving to say the least. I don’t use feathers or fur in my costuming (or daily life) and am now choosing to switch to non-synthetic glitter aka ‘bio-glitter’. While the science is not yet clear on how much of the plastics showing up in the digestive systems of marine life can be attributed to glitter, I anticipate more specific research come, as the discussion has now been open about a ban vs. pressure to change industry standards (Lush Ltd has made a statement on their changes in glitter products)

As a long time vegan, its not just about products containing animals that sits at the heart of the vegan ethic –but a dedication to uphold the value of all life. Over two decades ago I opted out of participating in the system of factory farming as well as fast fashion of the consumer machine. There is no point of ‘arriving’ in this ethic, only a continuous curiosity, learning and adjusting of habits and lifestyle that promotes dignity not destruction of living beings and our natural world.

Performers take people into another world of their choosing –often filled with fantasy, illusion and mystique. I obviously love all of these aspects of performance. And glitter adds to the otherworldly beauty of a performance –or just a night out. Still, we have to live with ourselves, we have to be able to sleep at night. Once you know the ‘underbelly’ of something as whimsical as glitter, it just can’t be business as usual.

Stay tuned for glitter that everyone can live with, coming up in the new year through House of Shimmy.

Share your thoughts and continue the conversation in the comments area!

 

 

Summers end and 108 days of dance

 

 

Well it seems I was too busy dancing, to write about dancing! So here is the post I started writing and left unfinished on in September:

Without much fanfare, yesterday was the 108th day of my 108 Days of Dance journey. I had my usual Tuesday evening rehearsal with Serpentina, working on a kathak bellydance fusion choreography we have been developing.

I told one person yesterday that it was day 108. Because practice mostly is a solitary thing and most certainly discipline is an internal experience. Knowing that each day you will practice, no matter the weather or your mood, with or without Instagram, with or without telling anyone…

I used this personal challenge to take my practice to a new level. Though I’ve been practicing a few days a week for several years now between classes and rehearsals, now its daily. The point for me of a challenge like this, as I did with yoga practice as well, is not just to complete the said amount of days, but to continue with daily dance.

Last weekend, I had a House of Shimmy show at Music in the Park, then the next day hit a dancefloor at a soul night. As the summer comes to a wrap, here are a few pics from shows around town. As usual Pedestrian Sunday was a chance to dance in the streets on a car-free day in Kensington Market.

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We are [not] the robots

20664520_10159348228720455_8960342708194455563_n The body is not a robot (PS, I love robots). Most days, people treat their bodies like robots,  like a machine that needs fixing, like a series of parts that can be replaced, improved or ‘spot’ trained. The ways we talk about our bodies matters and changing language can have a profound effect on our experience of our bodies.

We all have days that it feels like our body is a hindrance and depending on our particular age, health and ability/mobility, we each have a unique range of movement that we’re working with. This is not an ‘anyone can do it if they really try’ type of sentiment that I’m talking about here.

Across all of these differences, we can embody our physicality in ways that are appreciative of the body as a process, as a complex ecosystem that remains forever in flux. The only constant is change, a zen concept that has a lot to offer us in our movement practice. Life will add and subtract things from our bodies, gravity will always be more reliable than willpower and time will not move backwards. Within these concepts are further subtleties as bodies oscillate along the continuum of sickness and wellness, stamina and fatigue.

IMG_8017Part of a healthy movement practice as  I see it, is allowing for the fluctuation of practice while still maintaining a discipline. Pay attention to the messages you tell yourself both when you ‘do well,’ ‘see results’ as well as when you fall behind on your practice or fall short of accomplishing something you had your heart set on. This is all food for thought, these reflections on the stories we tell ourselves and how its connected to our movement.

I love watching dancers whose movement flows so seemingly effortlessly from their bodies, with a flow that gives the perception they are being moved by something the audience can’t see. I know they worked their asses off for it but the ease of their movement weaves a compelling imaginary tale.

We’re not all going to be able to do the things we admire in others. I will not be able to perform the physical feats of a professional dancer but I am serious about practices that maintain an ease of movement in walking and dancing and sitting life. All of it, bring ease to all of it. Even the uncomfortable and painful things, cultivating grace will allow the body to move in ways that brute force just wont be able to.

Yes pushing ourselves physically and mentally is healthy and necessary, that’s how we grow. Trust the process, as they say.  And, we are not robots, not machines, not broken to be fixed. We are fleshy, bony, organ-y,  casings of shifting rhythms that house emotions and nervous systems and histories –be kind to yours no matter what.

So far this summer has been filled with delicious movement!

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Katalyn Schafer (Hungary) pop-up workshop hosted by Ya Amar.

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Serpentina North Ensemble

 

Home dance practice

 

 

 

 

Rainy day dance drills

Day 16 (earlier this week) was all about small isolations. Sharing dance drills footage is a little intimidating because, well, it just doesn’t look much like dance. But dance drills are a crucial element of well rounded practice and are not as free as dancing. Working with layering upper body movements over ongoing and well timed hip shimmy can make the lips purse and the brows furrow. Maybe a little angry dancer face happening in this clip…

How could you ever talk about dance without also talking about music?! The same day I filmed this little clip, I later on had the pleasure of seeing The Specials at the Danforth Music hall and though we were waaaaay in the back, we found room to dance in the aisles.

 

 

 

 

Harem 21

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Tomorrow Serpentina North Ensemble returns to Hamilton’s monthly bellydance event, Harem. Each month features an incredible variety of local(ish) dance artist, showcasing the many genres, styles and aritstic flare under what we know as ‘bellydance.’

The photo of our troupe in this flyer captures a silly moment after our performance the Halloween show at Dragonfly this past October. Sorry if you were expecting horns and blood this Saturday, there will be none :p

As always, we look forward to dancing for you all on Saturday!

Cues and Tattoos 2017

 

logo_2017Another great trip to Seattle for Cues and Tattoos has come and gone! This was my 5th year attending Cues and Tattoos in Seattle. And the event celebrated their 10 year anniversary. Ten years of providing a well curated lineup of instructors on improvisational fusion bellydance! Serpentina North Ensemble has performed three times at the Serpent’s Muse stage –this year an homage to Prince with our improv number to Raspberry Beret! This was the year of the intensive: Zoe Jakes, Amy Sigil and Caroleena Nerricio-Bohlman all had two day intensives before the weekend of workshops. I arrived on Thursday for the workshops starting on the Friday and as usual the weekend was a wonderful whirlwind of dance.

 

For the second year in a row, all of Serpentina North Ensemble attended and between us all, we have a whole lot of new material to work into our improv sets. This was my itinerary:

Rachel Brice – ‘Shake it up and break it down’

Zoe Jakes – ‘The Divine Muse’

Moria Chappell – ‘Odissi Fusion’

Ashley Lopez – ‘Oddity: Unconventional time signatures and an odd choreography’

Donna Mejia – ‘Core-ography’

Mardi Love – ‘New Choreography’

Over three days I got to study with some of the dancers I greatly admire: Mardi Love, Donna Mejia, Ashley Lopez, Rachel Brice, Moria Chappell and Zoe Jakes. Rachel is a generous and grounded teachers and I enjoyed working on a bunch of different shimmies and putting them into combos. Zoe led us through some basics of Odissi and Balinese dance. Moria taught an Odissi fusion choreography and lectured on some of the origins of Odissi dance before and after it was codified into a national dance of India. Ashley led us through a fast moving choreography with a 13 count time signature that was a lot of fun, rolling, jumping and partner interaction. Donna schooled us in anatomy, core strength, breath and creating longevity in a dance/movement practice.

The last , but certainly not least, workshop of the weekend was the three hour Mardi Love choreography to a sweet little vintage jazz song. Mardi is cream of the crop in terms of tribal fusion dance aesthetic, and continues to be humble in her influence on the art form. Since seeing her dance live in San Francisco in 2009, she remains one of my most significant dance role models. I’m pretty sure I smiled through the entire workshop, despite my end-of-weekend fatigue and missing a few of the quick time isolations in the number.

The troupe got a chance to visit the Bruce Lee exhibit at the Wing Museum. Below was the only photo op.

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Recreation of the hall of mirrors in Enter the Dragon.

The Seattle weather was perfect, especially leaving the Toronto snowfall (though short-lived) behind. Parting ways after Cues and Tattoos, I made my way to San Francisco for a few days, where the temperature was higher.

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Post-class with Jill Parker

 

 

Though it was a non-dance trip, I managed to squeeze in a conditioning class with the one and only Jill Parker at ODC studios after a long day of hiking the Muir Woods.

Til we meet again west coast, its always a pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Sunday! House of Shimmy returns to Bazaar of the Bizarre

House of Shimmy is coming back to the Bazaar of the Bizarre once again –this time for the circus side show edition. This Sunday, don’t miss it! There is no other artisan fair quite like it!

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From the event fb page:

Listen up and come and see this marvel!

Toronto-based House of Shimmy has a flare for animating spaces and stages with their unique flavour of fusion bellydance. Bound by no genre, House of Shimmy has cooked up some circusy weirdness for this Sunday! Performing at 2pm and 5pm

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Yawning on Purpose –and other adventures in movement.

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My word of the month: pandiculation. Do you know what it means? Its a truly delicious way to move. You’ve seen dogs and cats do it when they wake up and we do it too, often  unconsciously as we arise. Its the most natural movement and to bring it consciously and overtly into the start of a movement practice can really contribute to an ease of movement for anything that follows.

In my training over the years with Roula Said we have done a lot of intentional yawning as a way to release tension in the face and jaw before and during our movement. So learning this word, as it were in a Tensegrity workshop with Trudy Austin, who was a recent guest teacher at Karma Teachers Toronto, peaked my interest even more in bringing this element to my yoga and dance practice. When we pandiculate, the brain and therefore the muscles reacts differently than in a static stretch, allowing more length with less effort. Lucky for Toronto, Trudy will be back in the spring with a Tensegrity series teacher training!

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Serpentina North Ensemble enjoyed a flurry of shows this past fall, including the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exhibition and some Halloween shows. With no performances booked until the new year, we have some time to work on new combos in the studio, re-visiting some stuff we learned at Cues & Tattoos last spring to incorporate into our group improv.

 

A private corporate event I performed through Om Laila brought the opportunity to dance shamadan. We followed an incredible group of Chinese dragon dancers  and we had quite a spectacle of a procession ourselves with drumming by Roula Said, dancers with sword, isis wings and of course the shamadan. It was a truly fun gig! Some other Halloween party and gig photos…favourite costume has to be Shaila’s DIY jellyfish, love it!

As 2016 comes toward its end, I am re-visiting some of the movement experiences I’ve had over the past year and thinking of ways I have –and have yet to– integrate the material that spoke to me. For the things that did not come to fruition, its a good time to re-evaluate if they still belong on the ‘to do’ for 2017 or if just no longer fits.

I would be remiss not to mention the music world recently lost a serious light with the passing of Sharon Jones. Even with her killer voice, this woman was told by the music labels initially that she was too old, too fat and too black. Imagine she had believed them, oh my goddess! The world may not have heard that timeless voice! Luckily she didn’t take that shit and started her own label. I saw her perform with the Dap Kings maybe 15 years ago at Lula Lounge and my partner got to get up on stage to dance with her (she was known to pull people out of the crowd). It was a truly special night of live music that went down in history as one of our favourite dates! I regret to say I haven’t seen her perform since but have continued to listen to and treasure the music she put out into the world. Rest in peace, Miss Sharon Jones.

 

 

 

Halloween Bazaar of the Bizarre, this time in Hamilton!

While the Toronto edition of the Halloween Bazaar of the Bizarre has come and gone, you can catch this unique artisan fair again in Hamilton tomorrow.

Serpentina North Ensemble will be doing two sets over the day and have cooked up some special costumes for the occasion.  Come by our merch booth and say hi! We have some new shirts printed up with our troupe image, designed by Marion Greene. You can check out more of her designs too, she’s also vending at the bazaar.

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