What is ATS?
American Tribal Style Belly Dance or Tribal Style Belly Dance (also known as ATS or Tribal) is a modern style of belly dance created by FatChanceBellyDance director, Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman. American Tribal Style Belly Dance is clearly defined and documented with the primary characteristic being that of group improvisation.
Roots of Tribal Style
The early roots of tribal belly dance is accredited to Jamila Salimpour, who fostered a fusion of costumes and folkloric dances styles from the Middle East, North African, Spain, and India (such as the Banjara gypsies of Rajasthan) and began teaching what she knew and performing all over California and the West Coast. Using traditional folkloric dance elements and costumes inspired by traditional and ethnographic traditions, she presented on stage through Bal Anat a colorful dance company which included musicians, singers and dancers to create a “souk” or almost circus feel.
Taking what she herself had learned from native dancers from Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who were dancing in the United States, she began to catalogue “belly dance movement” and began creating a basic repertoire terminology which is still the basis for Tribal Style and American Tribal Style repertoire. Jamila’s Bal Anat paved the way for others to use a fusion of the various regional dances of the Middle East and North Africa as inspiration for their own version of belly dance.
In the 1970s, a former student of Jamila Salimpour, Masha Archer, began teaching and directing her own troupe, San Francisco Classic Dance Company. In her work, Masha blended together the diverse elements of Bal Anat into a single cohesive dance style which she simply styled as “belly dance”. Whether this was done in ignorance of the different stylistic origins, or as a conscious aesthetic choice, this approach was some of the earliest and most notable belly dance world fusion work in America.
Masha’s style was an eclectic blend of classic Egyptian, Folkloric, and any other influence that she found enticing. Masha, a trained painter and sculptor, taught her dancers to create art through dance. In 1974, a rising student, Carolena Nericcio, began dancing with Masha Archer and the San Francisco Classic Dance Troupe.
Formation & Structuring
In 1987, after the San Francisco Classic Dance Troupe disbanded, Carolena began teaching in a small studio in the Noe Valley Ministry. Her only goal was to teach people to dance so she could have dance partners. Being young and tattooed, Carolena attracted other young people living alternative lifestyles. The Modern Primitives movement was also underway. Tattoos and primitive styles of body adornment were the vogue. Carolena and her students performed at tattoo shows and conventions and became well known in the City by the Bay.
When the need for a name for the dance troupe arose, a friend suggested the playful rhyme FatChanceBellyDance, based on the silly question dancers often get from onlookers who think that beautiful, feminine belly dance is merely an exotic entertainment for their personal pleasure. In other words, the answer is, “Fat chance you can have a private show.”
As Carolena and FatChanceBellyDance expanded horizons they received a mixed response. Some people loved the new style; others abhorred its departure from tradition. Finally, in the early 90’s, the style was named “American Tribal Style Belly
Dance,” a name that distanced ATS from classical beledi styles. The word “American” made it clear that ATS was distinctly an American invention, not a traditional dance style. “Tribal Style” described the dancers working together as a group with a “tribal” look.
Carolena Nericcio, is credited with codifying the first dance style and format to bear the name “tribal belly dance”. She has registered their signature style American Tribal Style Belly dance, and over the last two decades plus, Carolena has grown her format and brought it to the mainstream belly dance community through videos, music compilations and performances and workshops around the world. Dancers inspired by Carolena’s work with ATS have since created multiple offshoots of the style, some retaining true stylistic elements of ATS while others have evolved quite far from the original form.
The style is also characterized by costumes derived from many “folkloric” and various traditional tribal costuming resources and is often composed of layers of large tiered skirts or 10–25 meter/yard skirts, a short choli often with a plunging neckline, over which a bra decorated with coins and textiles sits, a headdress or hair decorations, one or more hip scarves with yarn, tassels or fringe, and a heavy layering of oxidized silver jewelry. The jewelry commonly originates from Central Asia, from any number of nomadic tribes or empires (e.g.: Kuchi, Turkoman, Rajasthan) and is often large and set with semi-precious stones or, when mass-produced, with glass. Dancers frequently “tattoo” their faces with kohl or kajal. Make-up is usually eye focused with heavy use of kajal.