Sunday, April 3, 2011

Talk about Tribal

A little over a year ago, I decided to explore tribal bellydance. I didn’t know a lot about it when I first wandered in to observe a class at Tribal Bellies Studio, but I was instantly drawn to the earthy, sensual and strong-but-still-feminine movements. Soon classes became an enjoyable part of my weekly routine. Last Sunday, dancers from a variety of levels at the studio got together to do a flashmob in Philadelphia.

Afterwards, we compared notes on the comments we had heard from the onlookers. The one most often repeated was “that had to be choreographed.” But it wasn’t.

The label of “tribal” refers to several aspects of this particular dance form. The first is the amalgamation of influences and styles that inform both the music and movements. The second alludes to the fact that the dancers work as a community (or tribe) to develop a shared vocabulary of moves and cues, and that in turn allows for spontaneous improvisation in casual settings as well as public performances. In the video above, my teacher, Vikki, is leading the dancers, but usually the leadership position is rotated throughout the group and thus each individual becomes a participant in a communal act of creativity. 

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On a more personal note…
My mother was a singer, and I grew up in a home that was filled with song, always.  Musicals were also a stock part of the household. I spent a number of my formative years believing that people habitually burst into song and dance as a means of communication and self-expression, so being a part of last weekend’s flashmob felt very much like an extension of my upbringing.

I also enjoyed taking dance to the streets because a good part of my philosophy on art revolves around the idea that it is one of the things that can initiate a sideways step away from the mundane and into the magical, in terms of both creation and response. Oliver Hunter’s short essay, “On life, art and magic” (found towards the bottom of this link) eloquently expresses a similar sentiment. I've long been an admirer of his artwork and, because it is now National Poetry Month, I'll leave you with a postcard (via the archived Endicott Studio) that combines one of his paintings with a quote from one of my favorite poets, John Donne:



  1. Great! A little enchantment in - is that Rittenhouse Square?

  2. Always wanted to give bellydancing a go - it looks like so much fun! And sounds like it too :) Oh, and by the way, your mother was a very beautiful lady.

  3. @ Daniel ~ Thanks for stopping by!

    @ Valerianna ~ Good eye ~ it is Rittenhouse Square. Have you been there before?

    @ Roisin ~ Bellydancing was on my check-it-out list for a while before I actually got to it. I'm fortunate that the studio closest to my home teaches tribal, I'm not sure I'd be quite as smitten with some of the other forms of belly dance. Not only is it fun, but it's also a great workout for the abs :~) Thank you for the compliment on my mom's photo!

  4. That was fantastic, Donna! I love the idea of a belly-dancing flashmob - or is it a flashmob of belly-dancers? Whichever, watching the women dancing in a group like that was mesmerizing.

    I'm with Roisin: beautiful photo of your mother. It conjures up a bygone era.

    And, thanks for the link to Oliver Hunter's essay. His artwork is wonderful.

  5. Another excellent and timely post. Since I am at another crossroads point in my life and art, I've been pondering again the whys of expressing one's self through art, music, and dance as well as the connection to that sideways step. I hadn't yet read the Hunter article which is also helpful.

  6. ~ Lynn: I have some really beautiful old family photos. In "bygone eras" photography definitely had a different and somehow deeper feel. (or maybe it is just me romanticizing it?)

    ~ Aria: I've had that Hunter essay on my inspiration board for years. Different things stand out for me at different times, but somehow it always seems relevant...

  7. Yes, my mother used to keep a place in Philly as she was the NE sales rep for a company.... so she went there a lot, sometimes stayed for months, too. My favorite place was in the old section, sweet little brick house with lovely courtyard in back. Cool neighborhood. I can't believe I recognized Rittenhouse sq, this was in high school that she was there!