Saturday, November 9, 2013

My First Experience with ATS

Amy "Luna" Manderino, Founder and Artistic Director of Lunatique, became inspired to study bellydance after seeing FatChanceBellyDance perform at the Festival on the Lake in Oakland, California in 1993.
- Justine Sutton (2002). "Lunatique"
 My first experience in ATS was challenging and fun. I'm about a week or two behind the Wednesday class, and having to play make-up. This is the first time that I have actually met for five hours in a single week to practice dancing. By the time I was done Thursday, my body was finally starting to feel sore, but I was riding high. I had decided that since I had the opportunity, I was going to take advantage of Mecha Ramos's Thursday night beginning class with its Salsa fusion. I paid 24 dollars at the door to dedicate myself for the whole month, and we got started.

Coming fresh from my first ATS class, I started recognizing the same moves that I had been working on in the other classes, only with a slightly different flair. It gave me a chance to practice what I had just gone over and realize that all these different styles feed from and reinforce one another. As I recognize the subtle variations between each style, I'm hoping that it helps me be more graceful. So in addition to technique, this year I am planning to focus on stamina and grace; which further encourages me to study makeup techniques. The few pages I have read and applied from Making Faces has already had a noticeable impact, particularly when my image is being picked up on camera in a conference room setting.

A year ago, I was still not interested in ATS, but after having danced with girls in ATS, and being on stage while they did their thing, I really started feeling the energy of this art form. ATS stands for American Tribal Style, invented by FatChanceBellyDance in the 80s based on the eclectic tribal belly dance culture in the 60s and 70s. From ATS, various fusions, including tribal fusion have sprung.

As I banged my zils in class to the gradual immersion, I discovered that I was only about four moves behind in the basic vocabulary, so the class must have started fresh only in the last couple of weeks. Joanna welcomed me with open arms, and I found myself enjoying dancing with her this first time. Amina had each of us come to the front of the class to demonstrate a move while we kept the 3-3 pattern going on our zils. My brain melted on the 3/4 shimmy, not seeming to be able to zil and shimmy at the same time. I am focusing on that move this week. Yesterday, after about 15 minutes, I was finally able to do the 3/4 shimmy while zilling, but only if I just stood there. Today, I'm going to try to do the same thing, but with my right leg in showgirl position. Eventually I should be able to sway, and then, finally, step while shimmying and zilling.

When Amina called me forward, she asked me to do the Basic Egyptian, "I know you can do that."

Confused, I asked, "Which one."

She proceeded to show me the Egyptian one, and as I did it, she corrected me. I have been doing a Turkish Belly Roll all this time. What she asked from me was more simple, just a swaying pelvic walk with nothing added on top. This was reinforced two hours later in Mecha's class, when part of the choreography used that same Basic Egyptian, only with a kick-release, and from the side. Mecha used to be one of Amina's students years ago, so I can guess where she got that from.

Amina was telling Joanna, in my hearing, that the class was meant to help bring people up to performance level, so they could join they performing troupe, and that the Saturday class is an accelerated one. I'm willing to stay where I am, at least for this month, so that I can start getting more confidence. My goal at this point is to just start learning the technique, build my dance vocabulary up, and have fun with the group dances. I want to see which tribal fusion moves I learn come from ATS. When I feel more comfortable rotating into the lead, then I might switch to Saturdays. Until then, I'm going to enjoy every moment I can.

A funny thing happened. I accidentally joined a group demonstration of ATS to the rest of the class. I didn't know if I was supposed to participate or not. I happened to be in position 4, and just started following along. Practically all the moves Amina was improvising were variations that she had taught us in our Wednesday evening tribal fusion performance class, especially with the last choreography. I followed along as best I could, even through the half-turn sequences, when she suddenly stopped, facing the group, gave me a high ten, and said I "did a good job faking it." It was fun! I never felt so energized as I did in that moment, contributing to something larger than myself. I've had a taste, and now I want more, so much more.

Hugs and Blessings,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Woman in Progress

I never lost weight to fit better in the ballet world.  Maybe something inside told me that I was really okay the way I was, that it was not important to be a waif in order to dance. Of course, I wouldn't know how true that was until years later. But I kept dancing. It was what I knew and loved. I assisted my teachers in classes for the younger students and kept dancing every day. My mother was continually supportive, driving me to dance school and waiting patiently while I took my classes.
- Paulette Rees-Denis (2008). Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance

I am a woman in progress and I always will be this side of the grave--even then, my proteins will break down and the organic material will recombine, lending its support to new life--always changing, always evolving. I have been through many passages in my life, but perhaps one of the biggest was my transition. There is a truism that transition is never complete, and I agree with that. My transition from male to female only was the beginning of a lifetime of change. Challenge, and the change that goes with it forces one to push her boundaries, to step out of the comfort zone and redefine who she is as a more open, complete, and round person. Being is a verb. It means about being active about who you are, and interacting and changing with the environment around you. It means finding new elements to express about yourself and finding ways to express them.

Dancing is for me a way to continually plumb to new depths as I link my body to my soul, which in turn links to the music. I become the marionette, but I do it my way. Everything becomes one. And I take classes to expand my dance vocabulary, and to help develop my body so that it can indeed have more expression.

Because of classes shifting, I am, for the time being, having to give up my tribal fusion technique class for troupe practice with Zarandeo Dance Company. Instead of crying in my soup, I thanked the fabulous Michelle Sorenson for having had the advantage of her instruction over the last year, and looked at my options.

I am about to enter my fourth year of belly dance, and most of what I have studied in the past three years has been cabaret style. I had a request to start teaching classes at my church, while at the same time I have been getting more interested in American Tribal Style and Burlesque. I am still in three performing troupes: Azalea, for the third year; Masheed, for the second year; and Zarandeo in its first year.

It turns out that the time that the church wanted me to teach is still in conflict with my current troupe practice, so I turned to the choice I really wanted to try: American Tribal Style. I started reading a book on it as an Amazon recommendation, and then my friend Kathy loaned me a signed copy of Tribal Vision. My tribal fusion dance instructor, the fabulous Amina, told me that she has another book for me to read on ATS. Several of the members of our tribal fusion troupe are also members of the ATS troupe Azar. I have been onstage and in class while I watched them perform ATS with such dignity. The lead/follow dynamic reminds me of Swing dance and the improvisational element reminds me of my own improvisational style. The culture is also attractive in its emphasis on building each other up together instead of competing to get the best audience reaction. I understand ATS has a huge vocabulary to it, so I'll be joining Amina's beginning ATS class on Thursdays after work.

I find it amazing that I actually backed my way into tribal style. Tribal style already has a very rich history over the close to 30 years since it's inception. It has branched out and flowed into so many new forms of belly dance in that time. I began with Cabaret and Egyptian Cabaret, took a gypsy workshop, and then over the last year joined a tribal fusion troupe and started taking tribal fusion technique classes. A few months ago, I was invited to join a troupe that specializes in Ethnic Fusion, and now I am going back to the root of fusion, American Tribal Style. I will actually have a chance to learn which moves are the tribal moves that infused into tribal fusion.

I have also entered another passage of my life. Last weekend, I had a wedding in Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City. I wed my road warrior Trixie in a celebration that involved an exchange of collars BDSM style, a Cherokee blanket ceremony, and a handfasting. It was an absolutely beautiful ceremony and Bert Fontana made me look like a goddess with my hair and makeup. As a result, I am now encouraged to start exploring makeup manuals to work toward recreating a glam look. All I had to know was that it was obtainable.

Hugs and Blessings,