First we will start by digging deep into the middle of the last century. In California, a woman called Jamilla Salimpour was in love with belly dance. She learnt to belly dance by watching and learning from other dancers and from old movies featuring celebrated egyptian dancers. She was a massive badass, running away to join the circus at 15, learning belly dance, and after a while of dancing professionally in nightclubs around the bay area she opened her own nightclub in the Bay Area in the 50's.
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She began teaching classes, and eventually out of her classes formed her dance troupe Bal Anat in 1968. (Check the funky video for some 1970's Bal Anat dancing!) These guys would rock up to the local Rennaisance Fair and play a long set, complete with a full band. Jamilla wanted it to look authentic and folksy, so she pulled together a costuming style inspired by middle eastern tribes and by hunting through the national geographic for cool stuff. The look was earthy and
Jamilla's belly dance was earthy and rootsy, with lots of finger cymbals and low hipwork. This was belly dance inspired by the films and the dancers of the 40's and 50's, without the later balletic influence upon middle eastern dance. This is important, as Tribal Fusion has retained some of it's earthy rooted Jamilla legacy and is part of the reason why many peeps are drawn to study the earthy and ethereal form of Tribal Fusion rather than the less earthy, flowing lines and princessy arabesques of modern middle eastern belly dance.
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One of Jamilla's students, Mascha Archer, began teaching herself along the lines of Jamilla's system and stylein the late 80's. One of Mascha's student's was Carolena Nericcio, who fell mad in love with belly dance and with cultural textiles, dances and stylings of the middle east and India. She started teaching because she wanted people to dance with, and out of her classes a codified belly dance vocabulary was created so that belly dancers could dance together as a group. Huzzah, American Tribal Style was born! Here is a vid from 2004.
American Tribal Style is inspired by middle eastern and Indian folkloric dances. It's a group improvised format, where one person is a leader and everyone else are the followers, and the leader swaps around often everyone has a chance to be a leader and a follower. The format has a strong Indian and I feel flamenco flair to it in the arms and posturing, which marks it clearly from modern middle eastern belly dance. It's called tribal because you have to dance it as a group - as a tribe. Carolena created an dance company and called it Fat Chance Dance Company, and they have been going strong for decades.
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Carolena has been teaching since the early 90's and inspired a whole generation of American belly dancers to play and make belly dance their own. The first fusion dance company was Jill Parker's Ultra Gypsy, expanding the dance vocabulary and playing with costume and theatricality. In this early video of Jill's dance company from 2001 you can see Jill's strong inspiration from Carolena, and her little twists on it (you can even spot Rachel Brice dancing in there too!).
In the second video here, you can see a later evolution of Jill's Ultra Gypsy from 2007, taking inspiration from burlesque and cabaret - I love this piece!
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Another early fusion dance company was the Urban Tribal Dance company lead by Heather Stants, who took a more minimalist approach in her costuming and a strong contemporary dance flavour in her movement. This vid is from 2004, and the poor video quality is because it is from the days of VHS!
Tribal Fusion till around the mid 2000's had been a very Californian, San Fransisco based thing - most of the dancers were based in the Bay Area and there wasn't a huge amount of Tribal Fusion outside California, let alone outside America. However, the Bellydance Superstars worldwide touring dance company brought Tribal Fusion to a global audience, and people all over the world went freaking crazy for Rachel Brice's snakey arms, incredible backbends and the darker, more tattoed aesthetic of the tribal dancers.
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From these awesome dance companies, passionate dancers appeared who would further the creation of the Tribal Fusion dance movement - Mardi Love from Urban Tribal, Rachel Brice and Sharon Kihara from Ultra Gypsy, Ariellah Aflalo, the Lady Frederique and a host of other dancers who brought in inspirations from other world dance forms. Here is some old school Rachel Brice and Kami Liddle from 2005
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Tribal Fusion till around the mid 2000's had been a very Californian, San Francisco based thing - most of the dancers were based in the Bay Area and there wasn't a huge amount of Tribal Fusion outside California, let alone outside America. However, the Bellydance Superstars touring dance company brought Tribal Fusion to a global audience, and people all over the world went freaking crazy for Rachel Brice's incredible backbends, and the amazing costumes, darker aesthetic and fluid gooeyness of the tribal dancers.