To the Edge of Davina Tribal Collective

originally published January 24, 2012 in fuse: a tribal and tribal fusion belly dance magazine

by Britta Visser Stumpp

DTC Logo R01 chisel glow

The ladies of Davina Tribal Collective have been solid FatChance Bellydance®  American Tribal Style®  performers and instructors for over four years with performances at the Massive Spectacular in Las Vegas and a DVD sanctioned by Carolena Nericcio. Members Amina, Jen, Temis, Maia, and Wendy shared some of their experiences in the ATS world with us in this candid interview:

Britta: Ladies, tell me how you got started with American Tribal Style and what was it about ATS that drew you in?

Davina Tribal Collective: We all started dancing other styles of belly dance before we came to ATS. We also began dancing ATS at different times and in different places. The costumes, the textiles and jewelry of ATS were appealing, but it was the image of strong, empowered, graceful women dancing together that was the draw for all of us.  We were each enjoying dance in our own ways, and then we found that we loved dancing together even more. There is a sense of connection and play in ATS that keeps it fun and fresh for us and provides an opportunity for creativity within the framework of ATS. Everything that we do is a shared expression of those things.

BS: How did Davina form? What has your partnership been like over the years?

DTC: We came together through a common interest in exploring and challenging the possibilities of this form. Some of us had danced in other groups together. We found that we shared a passion about ATS and a desire to explore and grow together. When we were dancing with a group that dissolved, we decided to go on as a collective together. Our relationships predate Davina and that has helped us create a strong collaboration that is flexible like ATS. We improvise, we trade off leadership and we draw on each other’s strengths. Wendy moved to the area a few years ago and we invited her to join because we felt she was a great fit. We know that our lives – work, school and family – will mean that we move around, but we plan to keep Davina going as it all unfolds.

BS: Individually, you have different styles of dance experience and you have over 55 years of dance experience collectively. How has that played out in your choreography and camaraderie together? 

DTC: We have far more than 55 years now. At some point we quit adding those up. Because we are an ATS troupe, we follow the style of group improvisation rather than choreography. Our previous dance experience in other styles does benefit us in terms of understanding visual design, presentation, movement, stage presence, costuming, etc., both in our performances and as we developed the modifications for sword. Dancing ATS strengthens the group. We know we depend on each other, we follow, we lead, we need each other because you can’t do ATS alone.

BS: Your base is in Logan, Utah. How has dancing in Utah been a blessing or a challenge?

DTC: Dancing in Utah is a blessing because there are so many opportunities. It’s hard to imagine that Utah is a hotbed of belly dance, but there is a lot going on here. Our challenge lately has been the geographic distribution. We live spread across more than 100 miles in the northern part of the state, and Jen has left Utah for the Pacific Northwest, so we now have sister instructors in the Tacoma/Seattle, Washington area. Perhaps the curse is the snowy winter road conditions that we have to deal with to get to shows and practices in the winter.

 BS: How do you approach teaching? What’s the best advice you can give to your students?

DTC: We are all certified ATS instructors and FatChance BellyDance Sister Studios. The intent is to provide ATS training that is true to Carolena’s vision. Any student of ours should be capable of dancing with other ATS students. We often do just that – put our students from the different studios in shows together. The best advice – practice! ATS relies on muscle memory and a comfort level that can only come with practice. The more you practice the more you will enjoy the dance.

 BS: Tell us more about your experiences with Carolena Nericcio.

DTC: As a teacher Carolena is kind but tough and she has been an extraordinary mentor. Making a video with her was a rewarding experience. We worked hard but never forgot that it was a labor of love. We learned a lot from her guidance and experience. Carolena has been instrumental for us. She created the dance, and she brought encouragement, expertise and her faith in us to accomplish the DVD project.

BS: Tell us about the DVD project.

DTC: ATS with an Edge is the instructional video for our modifications of the ATS slow vocabulary for swords. Dancing with a sword brings a new element to ATS. Our intent was to use the sword as another layer in the dance and to stay as true to the original steps as possible. Making a DVD is a lot of work, most of which is never seen on camera. We were lucky to have Matt Hepworth and Carolena Nericcio working with us. We couldn’t have done this without them. Carolena does an introduction and performance with us on the DVD. It is currently available in the US and Canada, and we are in the process of converting the video for international sales. There were a lot of people – friends, students and family members – who supported us and we owe them our gratitude.

Kel-Z Photography

Kel-Z Photography

BS: Tell us about your costuming. How do you develop your own unique look? Where do you shop? Do you make your own costumes?

DTC: We choose to wear bright colors because it makes us feel happy and energetic, and our audiences love the visual impact. We started wearing white cholis when we wanted a unifying look without matching, but we don’t wear them always. We like to play with the costumes, to mix it up. The colors and adornment of tribal women are our inspirations.

We buy our skirts primarily from online vendors but many of the other pieces we make. For instance we have all made our own coin bras. Other costume items are left to the individual dancer’s style. We stick with the basic ATS pieces with a lot of room to personalize the costumes. Everyone has some special pieces they purchased or were given. Some of the things we wear have personal meanings or symbolism. We can never leave things alone, either. We are always remodeling, remaking, or reinventing costume pieces.

BS: What are some great resources for the ATS student who can’t always make it to a class due to locality or budget? 

DTC: Attend workshops if you can. Get the FatChance basics on video. Because ATS is not a solo dance, you need to learn to do it with another person. Find somebody and practice together.  Be prepared to make mistakes because you will learn a lot from them.

BS: What is one of the most memorable performances for you and why? 

DTC: The Tribal Massive show in Las Vegas was the first time we took the ATS modifications for sword to the stage. We had worked on the adaptations for about a year before that performance. That was the first big show for something we were really excited about.


BS: What’s in store for your future? 

DTC: In the short term, we are teaching sold-out workshops at Tribal Fest and Cues and Tattoos in the spring. We will be scheduling workshops and we will expand the sword work. We intend to stay with the ATS format.  In the longer term, there may be new dancers and existing collective members are likely to move around. What we are doing works well for us, and we plan to keep it going.

For more information about Davina Tribal Collective and their work, visit:


Tribaret Bellydance: Techniques & Combinations for the Versatile Dancer

originally published November 6, 2012 in fuse: a tribal and tribal fusion belly dance magazine

Tribaret Bellydance: Techniques & Combinations for the Versatile Dancer

Review by Britta Visser Stumpp 

As an aficionado of both Cabaret and Tribal belly dance forms, I have always found myself asking the question, “Tribal or Cabaret? Cabaret or Tribal? Which of these styles will help me express my choreography best?” Carrie Konyha answers this riddle simply; why not both?

In World Dance New York’s latest production for the belly dance inclined, Tribaret Bellydance: Techniques & Combinations for the Versatile Dancer, the artistic director of Sedona Bellydance, Carrie Konyha, seams Cabaret and elements of American Tribal Style® (ATS) belly dance together to create a fun and playful expression for dancers who wish to incorporate both traditions into their repertoire.

As with most of World Dance New York’s instructional DVDs, Tribaret Bellydance: Techniques & Combinations for the Versatile Dancer, comes with a fundamentals section where Konyha breaks down basic movement from Cabaret and ATS for the viewer. These are, indeed, very basic moves and those who have already studied either style may just want to skip through these sections and go straight to the warm up and then to the choreographies. They are however, useful sections if you are new to belly dance or merely want to clean up your drills.

Konyha then takes us on a journey into the interesting method of combining Cabaret with ATS which can be performed solo or within a group using cues. This was the most fascinating aspect of Tribaret. Using cues has always been a foundation of ATS but Konyha has created cues to be used in Cabaret as well. The choreography section mixes the earthy nature of ATS with the playful attitude and expressive movement of Cabaret using layering, traveling, shimmies, level changes, etc. Beginners may find these chapters a little challenging, but she does keep the pace manageable and repeats each section several times to build up muscle memory.

I wish there would have been a section on costuming, but perhaps Konyha will add something like that to her website in the near future if enough people request it.

For the intermediate dancer, Tribaret Bellydance: Techniques & Combinations for the Versatile Dancer, will help you develop new combinations and generate ideas for ways in which to further explore the fusion of different styles.

The DVD can be purchased at

Watch a video preview of the DVD

Carrie Konyha is a dancer and instructor of Orientale, Folkloric, and Tribal Improvisation styles of bellydance. More information can be found about her, her belly dance studio and her performing troupe

Jamila Salimpour: A Salute

There has been a great deal of attention placed on the origin of Tribal style belly dance in the United States these days (for the historically curious of which I am…I’m a dancing bookworm, what can I say?) Almost all of the credit typically goes to Carolena Nericcio, the founder of American Tribal Style, ATS for short. We did a great feature on her in our Spring 2011 issue of Fuse:

And while it IS true that Carolena created ATS, there is another woman who sparked the so-called Tribal revolution in the Americas, Jamila Salimpour. Jamila is the mother of Suhaila Salimpour, a fantastic belly dancer in her own right. She was also the teacher of Katarina Burda and Masha Archer, who later taught and inspired Carolena. So, if Carolena is the mother of ATS, you might say Jamila is the Great Grandmama of the Tribal style as a whole.

Jamila Salimpour has  influenced hundreds of dancers and musicians over the past 50 years.   Known for demystifying Middle Eastern movements and finger cymbal patterns, Jamila created the foundation for a notation language that is most prominent in the Suhaila Salimpour Format used in the U.S. today.

Jamila Salimpour began her performing career at the age of 16 in the Ringling Brothers Circus (how freaking cool is that!?!?!?) as an acrobatic dancer.  She had 5 elephants in her act. Her father had been in a Navy Station in Egypt in l910.  As a little girl, Jamila had her first lessons in Middle Eastern Dance in Egypt.

In her teenage years she continued her studies by watching Egyptian star,  Tahia Carioca movies. By 1946 she was dancing at family and cultural events.  Jamila was an avid researcher and continued to study Middle Eastern music and dance, and by the early 1950s was appearing in ethnic clubs in Los Angeles.  She danced at and owned the famous San Francisco Bagdad Cabaret.  She was the first woman to own a Middle Eastern club in California.  Her first classes began in 1949 and Jamila began to develop her unique method of verbal breakdown and terminology for her movements of which most belly dancers still use today.

When she discovered the outdoor Renaissance Faires, she decided to form her own version of Middle Eastern entertainment that was very separate from the current nightclub cabaret dance scene.  Jamila drew from her past experience with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and created a fascinating dance village of live music, belly dancers, snakes, swords, & tattoos. She named her dance company, Bal Anat (Dance of the Mother Goddess) and “tribal” or “ethnic” style as it was called at the time, was born.  Jamila herself has admitted that her troupe theatre was part fantasy, quasi-historical and her own invention.  But this look and format was perfect for fairs, museums, and places where families gathered.

Historians agree that the Tribal Fusion style was conceived, nurtured and born by Jamila Salimpour in San Francisco, California, in the 1960’s.  Bal Anat was the original version of Tribal.

You can see a great deal of her creation alive and well today in the dress and dance styles of women like Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakestwo of my personal belly dance inspirations.

Jamila has trained innumerable teachers and performers from all over the world, and produced week-long seminars and festivals, often co-teaching with her daughter Suhaila Salimpour.  Suhaila, first danced at the age of 2 with the Bal Anat Troupe.

Much Appreciation and Love directed to the Great Grandmama of the Dance.


Styles of Belly Dance Defined (additions)

This was originally put together June 25, 2010, but I needed to amend some things and make some additions. Posting it again for all those new to the dance and other curious folk ;0)

Leah, a close friend of mine, just started taking belly dance with me last night and our class is Tribal Fusion. After the class was over, I asked my girlfriends if they would like to go to the Greek restaurant on 25th street for a bite to eat and to see a professional belly dancer in action. Leyla, the girl dancing at the Athenian, was wonderful. I was pointing out to Leah that Leyla was doing more of a classic style and Leah asked me what’s the difference. What a big question! Where to begin….

Trying to go through all the different styles of belly dance is mind boggling. No one really even knows exactly where it came from, some say Egypt, some say Crete, some say India, but it is ANCIENT and has sooooooo many different cultural influences. It is widely agreed that belly dance originated as a women’s ritual dance, possibly even as a child-birthing exercise or a young woman’s initiation dance. One of the oldest “known” styles is Raqs Sharqi or Classic Egyptian and the folky Baladi or Beledi, then there is Cabaret, Turkish, Greek, Lebanese, and Romani. Some say even Flamenco originated from belly dance. Then there is the American Tribal Style and it’s offshoot, Tribal Fusion belly dance.

I’m going to attempt to explain some of these styles to the best of my knowledge. Here goes….

The Arabic terms for the dance is actually raqs sharqi, the contemporary stage art, and its country cousin, baladi. Raqs sharqi translates as “dance of the East” or “oriental dance” and baladi, meaning “country”, refers to a rhythm, style of dance and costume all relating to the Egyptian folk tradition. I believe this term “dance of the East,” may refer to the coming of the Gypsies into the Middle East. Nineteenth century French travelers, witnessing the unfamiliar torso movements of baladi, dubbed it “danse du ventre” or dance of the belly.

This is a misnomer, as in fact the whole body is used—head, shoulders, arms, chest—with a particular emphasis on movements of the pelvis and hips rather than actual belly isolations.

Badia Masabny

In 1926, Lebanese actress/dancer Badia Masabny opened a nightclub in Cairo modeled after European cabarets. Casino Badia featured a varied program of Eastern and Western entertainment—comedians, singers, musicians and dancers—appealing to both Middle Eastern and European audiences.

It was here and at similar night spots in Algiers, Beirut and Cairo that raqs sharqi developed into the sophisticated and refined art form of today, distinguished from its predecessor, baladi, by a greater use of stage space, a larger movement vocabulary, use of veils, a Hollywood-inspired two-piece sequined costume, and such balletic influences as more expressive use of the arms, the introduction of choreography and a more elevated carriage often on the balls of the feet.

Egyptian dancers wear the bedlah style costume which includes a fitted top or bra (usually with a fringe of beads or coins), a fitted hip belt (again with a fringe of beads or coins), and a skirt or harem pants. The bra and belt may be richly decorated with beads, sequins, braid and embroidery. The belt may be a separate piece, or sewn into a skirt.

Egyptian bedlah style costume

Since the 1950s, it has been illegal in Egypt for belly dancers to perform publicly with their midriff uncovered or to display excessive skin. It is therefore becoming more common to wear a long, figure-hugging Lycra one-piece gown with strategically placed cut-outs filled in with sheer, flesh-colored fabric.

Egyptian style belly dance primarily uses classical as well as modern music produced in Egypt with Arabic rhythms. Egyptian style movements are very precise, with the hips held under the rib cage.


Baladi is the Egpytian folk version of belly dance which is much more energetic and community oriented. Baladi is a social dance performed for fun and celebration by men and women of all ages, usually during festive occasions and social gatherings such as parties and weddings. It is an improvisational dance integrated with the rhythm of the music. Baladi dancers traditionally wear an ankle length, baladi dress with a coordinating hip scarf.

Ansuya a fantastic Cabaret style dancer

Cabaret style is the glitzier more flamboyant evolution of the Egyptian style which was highly influenced by 1920’s -30’s Hollywood movies. It incorporates the use of the veil during a section of a routine and is often done high on the toes or in high-heels. It is also synonymous with zills, or finger symbols and fuses elements of Jazz and Spanish dance. There is often a lot of floor work involved. Cabaret is less grounded in the earth and more light, airy and sensual.

Turkish style costumes look similar to Egpytian/Cabaret costumes with some differences. Turkish dancers also wear bedleh style costumes, but the costumes became more “Las Vegas-ized” for lack of a better term, with skirts designed to display both legs up to the hip, and plunging bras. Though this look originated in Turkey, it has spread throughout most of the traditional styles and is prevalent in Cabaret. All Turkish belly dance costumes reflect the playful, flirty style of Turkish belly dance.

Turkish style often leans the upper torso back, pushing the pelvis forward. Also, it is not “in vogue” for an Egyptian dancer to do floorwork, while it is very popular in Turkish style. This is also where the backbend in belly dance originated. Another trade-mark is the Turkish drop.

Turkish Drop

Because the Turks invaded and occupied Greece for many years, most people actually see Turkish style dancers or Egyptian/Cabaret dancers in Greek restaurants (which, by the way, is a purely American invention). There was a great deal of cultural exchange going on during these years which gave birth to the dance and rhythm called Tsifteteli. Is it Turkish or Greek? Greek or Turkish? Both cultures claim it so if you want to split hairs over where it really came from, do your research.

Nadia Gamal

Like other styles of Eastern bellydance, Lebanese belly dance is very ancient, most likely going back at least as far as to the Phoenicians. Today it is considered an artful blend of Egyptian belly dance and Turkish belly dance. Lebanese belly dancing is generally more energetic than typical Egyptian, yet softer than the Turkish bellydancing style. Lebanese belly dance has been made famous by such bellydance stars as Nadia Gamal and Amani.

Lebanese belly dancer

The same belly dance moves and core belly dance techniques are used in Lebanese belly dancing as in Egyptian, Turkish, or classic American styles of belly dance. Like Egyptian style belly dance, Lebanese belly dance may have subtle influences from other genres of dance like ballet (which itself was originally influenced by Persian court dances of the eighteenth century). The use of finger cymbals and props are common.

Lebanese belly dance costumes are usually nightclub styles, consisting of the typical two-piece belly dance outfit of a decorated bra top and a matching belt (usually beaded) over a skirt. Using rich fabrics and jewelry, the costuming of Lebanese belly dancers is similar to the Egyptian belly dance costume style. However, Lebanese belly dancers are allowed to uncover their abdomen in public performances and usually do so.

Romani style is indicative of the Romani or Romany people, otherwise known as Gypsies. Some believe (and I am one of these people) the origins of belly dance were carried throughout the world by the Gypsies, probably Northern Indian tribes, near Rajasthan. This style is more folky and colorful with full skirts, peasant shirts and scarves wrapped around both the hips and the head. It often involves numerous twirls and emphasizes skirt work.

This is a fun little video I found on the evolution of Romani style dance:

And then there is American Tribal Style Belly Dance which was created by Carolena NericcioThe discovery of  belly dance led Carolena to the creation of her own dance style, American Tribal Style Belly Dance.  It’s movements are inspired by folkloric dances of the Middle East and India.  Aesthetically ATS is based on the richness of textiles and jewelry from North Africa and India. ATS is a method of improvisational choreography, using a vocabulary of natural movements and cues allowing the dancers to communicate via gesture when dancing together. The effect is a vibrant thread drawing the audience into the tapestry.

Her troupe, FatChanceBellyDance, is a Bay Area phenomenon that has become known around the world. The majestic costuming, including full headdresses and layers of ethnic jewelry, celebrate folk art of the old world. The music, a carefully chosen collection of both traditional sounds and modern fusion adds the effect… Tribal Style looks “old” but it is actually “new.”

Carolena’s invention of ATS was greatly inspired by Jamila Salimpour. Jamila is the mother of Suhaila Salimpour, a fantastic belly dancer in her own right. She was also the teacher of Katarina Burda and Masha Archer, who later taught and inspired Carolena. So, if Carolena is the mother of ATS, you might say Jamila is the Great Grandmama of the Tribal style as a whole. I wrote a tribute Blog to her which can be read here: Jamila Salimpour: A Salute.

Some of Carolena Nericcio’s students went on to develop their own “offshoot” branches of “Tribal Fusion.” Tribal Fusion is rooted in the ATS vocabulary with other styles mixed in. Some of the great names and pioneers in Tribal Fusion are Rachel Brice, Heather Stants, Mardi Love, Sharon Kihara, Jill Parker and Zoe Jakes, among others. Tribal Fusion is the so-called “edgy” style of belly dance with many of the dancers sporting tattoos, tribal piercings and other body adornment, with more “ethnic” looking costuming and jewelry than it’s predecessors.

Tribal Fusion is still my favorite style of belly dance and was the style I started with. I have steadily been moving backwards in my belly dance education, going from the most contemporary of styles back into the older history. What Tribal Fusion “is” can become a little convuluted sometimes, but I found this little Youtube documentary helpful: What is Tribal Style Belly Dance

Another great name in Tribal Fusion is Colleena Shakti. I interviewed Colleena for fuse: a tribal and tribal fusion belly dance magazine for the 2012 summer edition. I blogged about this experience here: Fuse Summer Edition 2012Colleena bought a one way ticket to India several years ago and has been studying Classical Indian dances and Rajasthani Khalbelia or “gypsy” dance for several years. She fuses a unique blend of Classical Indian dance with her ATS background to create a beautiful, expressive art form.

Now there is also a Bollywood/Belly Fusion style called Bellywood! Which stems from the Bellydance Superstars’ fusion of Bollywood (a style in itself that is a fusion of the dances of India) with belly dance! Dancing in Bollywood films, especially older ones, is primarily modeled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern India, and folk dances. It’s playful, fun and typically an explosion of colors! AND there is also another style which fuses Polynesian dance with belly dance, called Bellynesian!

AND Hip-hop Fusion, and Spanish Fusion, and Modern Dance Belly Fusion! Pretty much anything is open to fuse these days.

Some people are purists in the sense of maintaining a tradition, others are pushing for evolution. I believe all is fair game in the name of artistic expression depending on your personal integrity as an artist. Just keep in mind that it’s important to tell your audience what it is that you are doing. If you are presenting “traditional” belly dance, then keep it traditional. If you say you are a fusion dancer, then let people know what you are fusing together. Keep your audience in mind and when you are doing something new, make it clear first. This dance comes from life-times of mixing cultures so there really is no “true” version of the dance, just different cultural interpretations of the body’s spontaneous reaction to rhythmic music. Nearly all cultures world-wide have some version of a pelvic-oriented dance and they almost always have some connection to women’s traditions.

SO, there is my presentation “some” of the various different styles. Whew! I’m sure there’s a lot I missed, but I’m trying my very best to map this dance. If anyone has any comments/corrections/suggestions, please share!

Now if I go into more about music, this could go on FOREVER. I will have to tackle that another time. But I hope that helps the curious.

Much Love + Light


Groovy News ;0)

As I have already mentioned before, I started working for Fuse Magazine and it has been such a pleasure. My work with them allowed me to recently interview one of my ultimate belly dance heroines last week and that was definitely a high point in my existence. I can’t name names just yet cause it’s a surprise, but if you’re intimate with me, I’m sure you can already guess who it is. Let’s just say my image of her was not shattered to any degree. If anything, I respect her even more now ;0)

Watch for the December issue of Fuse! You won’t be sorry. It’s going to be a great one.


I’m also SO thankful for my Tiger Lilies. They are such a wonderful, creative presence in my life.