Tribal Bellydancer

Bellydancing has been around for thousands of years, but it was only recently that the term ‘tribal bellydance’ was introduced.  Tribal bellydance is a style of bellydancing that many believe originated in California in the 1960’s with Jamila Salimpour and her belly dance troupe Bal Anat.  This bellydance style uses the classic movement vocabulary and music of traditional Middle Eastern bellydance. The costuming is an eclectic mix of folkloric clothing that incorporates influences from the Middle East, India, Central Asia and North Africa. (For descriptions of classic bellydance moves)

In the 1980’s, Carolena Nericcio further developed Jamila’s belly dance style with a cue-and-follow type of improvised group choreography, and it is her troupe FatChanceBellydance that popularized the term ‘tribal bellydance’ (or ‘American tribal bellydance’).  A defining element of American tribal bellydance is that it’s almost always performed as a group or troupe, not as a solo.

In the 1960’s, when large numbers of American women first started practicing bellydancing in the United States, most people simply called it…bellydance.  At that time, most bellydancing was modeled after the Middle Eastern entertainers who brought the dance to this country’s nightclubs and it was also influenced by Hollywood movies and TV shows.

As time went on, more American bellydancers and teachers imprinted their individual interpretations on this improvised art form and new styles developed.  However, the most recognized belly dance style, then and now, is called ‘cabaret’ (or ‘American cabaret’, ‘nightclub’ or ‘classic’) bellydance.  Like tribal bellydance, cabaret bellydance is based on the traditional belly dance movement vocabulary and music, but the costuming is usually more glitzy than folkloric, and the dance is most often (but certainly not always) performed solo. (For descriptions of the major styles of bellydance)

Today, bellydance continues to evolve and some modern styles are becoming so fused with movements and elements from other dance forms (fusion dance) that they’re no longer authentic bellydancing, but something completely new.  This is the natural evolution that all art forms experience over time, and time will tell which of these new styles will flourish and which will fade away.

What has stood the test of time is classic bellydance.  All authentic styles of bellydance are based on the vocabulary of traditional bellydancing movements, and despite the variations of costuming, music, and choreography, authentic bellydancers have more similarities than differences. Whether cabaret, tribal, Middle Eastern, or American style, all true bellydancers belong to the same tribe – a tribe that celebrates life and community through our shared language of classic bellydance moves.


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