What is Tribal Fusion?
Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is a modern Western form of belly dance which was created by fusing American Tribal Style belly dance (ATS) and American Cabaret belly dance. Artists frequently incorporate elements from Popping, Hip Hop, ‘Egyptian’ or ‘Cabaret’ belly dance, as well as movement principles from traditional forms such as Flamenco, Kathak, Odissi, and other folkloric and classical dance styles.
The first Tribal Fusion dance company (although there was no name for it at the time, they simply called it Belly Dance Theatre) was Jill Parker’s Ultra Gypsy. Jill Parker is often referred to as the “mama of Tribal Fusion”. Ultra Gypsy expanded on the American Tribal Style repertoire of movement, costuming and music. In the late 90’s, Jill and her dance company, Ultra Gypsy, began to scale down the tribal costume, expand the movement vocabulary, work with modern DJ mixed music and play with theatrical themes in their performances. This had a significant impact on tribal dancers and opened up the floodgates of Tribal Fusion innovation. An early example of Ultra Gypsy’s work was filmed by the cable TV program “The Cutting Edge”, produced by Jerry B in Berkeley, CA in 2001; directed and edited by D. Sosnoski.
Jill Parker, Mamma of the modern tribal fusion belly dance movement is an award winning teacher/choreographer. Adding her own definition on tribal, she quickly became a pioneer in the American Tribal Style. From Tribal style, Jill Parker moved more and more to fusion belly dance, yet firmly rooted in American tribal and oriental dance.
Stephanie Barto, a student of Nericcio, brought ATS to the Midwest with a group called “Read My Hips”, founded in Chicago with Heather Stants. Later, during the early development of Tribal Fusion, Heather Stants worked to introduce new elements to Tribal Style belly dance, including a minimalist aesthetic, underground
She was the first to fuse American Cabaret technique with American Tribal Style, and the first to perform as a soloist. In the early days, she referred to herself as “Cabaret with a Tribal aesthetic.” When discussing this with her teacher via email, Carolena wrote that Rachel was “Fusion.” Rachel decided to refer to herself as “Tribal Fusion,” to reflect that she was fusing the style of Fat Chance Belly Dance with other styles. This term stuck, and its definition has morphed as dancers have pursued it as a style of its own.
In 2001, Rachel was discovered by rock mogul Miles Copeland and toured for five years with his company, “Bellydance Superstars”. These tours sparked a global interest in this very San Francisco style of belly dance, known as Tribal Fusion, which has gone on to grow, change and evolve.
In 2003, Rachel also formed the “Indigo Belly Dance Company”, where she had the great pleasure to collaborate with her friends and initial members of the group; Michelle Campbell, Janice Solimeno, Ariellah Aflalo, Shawna Rai, Sharon Kihara (who studied with Frederique “The Lady Fred” and performed with “Ultra Gypsy”), and later, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes. The Indigo officially disbanded in 2013 so the individual members could pursue solo careers, but they still work together for occasional projects.
Rachel Brice also greatly contributed to the popularity of movements similar to popping, though
she credits Suhaila Salimpour and former troupe mate Ariellah Aflalo as the sources. Most people can agree that the poster girl of Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is Rachel Brice. Yet she herself writes, “The real dance heroes that created and fed my personal dance lineage: Jamila Salimpour taught John Compton and Masha Archer, who taught Carolena Nericcio, who taught Jill Parker, who taught Heather Stants, who taught Mardi Love, who all taught me.”
Today, Tribal Fusion is a rapidly growing and evolving dance form. On one hand, some feel it is moving away from its American Tribal Style Belly Dance Roots, but on the other, some newer Tribal Fusion Dancers have never studied American Tribal Style Belly Dance. For the founders of the form, nevertheless, the connection with American Tribal Style Belly Dance is what makes it considered “Tribal Fusion Belly Dance,” rather than simply “Fusion Belly Dance”.
Many Tribal Fusion dancers once used the ATS “uniform” as a basis for costuming, the scenario is changing. Additional elements of the costume are strongly influenced by the nature of the fusion – flamenco fusion dancers will wear flamenco skirts, burlesque fusion dancers will wear feathers etc. Costumes are often very elaborate with layers of fabrics, Tulle bi telli, antique tribal jewelry from many cultures, hair ornaments, and permanent body adornment, such as tattoos and piercings. At the other extreme, where the fusion has a strong contemporary influence, the costume is pared down to a sleek minimalist style.
Mardi Love pioneered and paved the way for the many of the elements of the more adorned Tribal Fusion costumes that are popular today. After working with
the more minimalist Urban Tribal, she helped sculpt the intricate, vibrant, and complicated costumes worn by The Indigo. She is the original artist who adapted Rajasthan cowrie falls for the hair, using colorful, hand dyed yarn to braid cowrie shells together. She also created one of the most popular belt styles of the mid-to late 2000s by combining Indian mirrored “shisha” with Afghan Guls (beaded medallions), and adding colorful yarn fringe (such as Colinette Pointe 5). She also popularized the use of Talhakimt in necklaces, which became a huge sensation in the global Tribal Fusion marketplace.