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What is Tribal Style 


Tribal Style belly dance is a fairly new style of bellydance. Its a combination of many dance styles, taking movements from Middle Eastern dance and combining them with dance styles from across the world.

The style of costuming uses rich colours, open back choli style tops with highly decorated bras, tribal jewellery and many layers of clothing with large baggy pantaloons, several layers of skirts and fringed and mirrored belts.

hairfalls and belt

American Tribal Style was developed in California in the late 1960s. The originator of this style of dance was Jamila Salimpour, a largely self taught dancer in San Francisco. Jamila taught a mixture of various styles of cabaret dance and in order to allow her students to perform she founded a troupe called Bal Anat. She created a variety show with members of the dance troupe and musicians to represent different middle eastern cultures.

Masha Archer, a student of Jamila, wanted to recreate the image of belly dancing away from the beads and sequins and dancing in bars and restaurants. This resulted in dancers wearing pantaloons, turbans and choli tops. She started the San Francisco Classic Dance Company in the early 1970s and the performances used group improvisation. Masha used modern, classical and folk music from the west.


decorated bra and headdress

One of Masha's students was Carolena Nericcio, who created the troupe FatChanceBellyDance (FCBD). A lot of Masha's dance format went into her teaching. Carolena developed set moves and cues that would indicate the next move when dancing together as a group. This meant that the group could dance entirely improvisationally with constant communication.

It was during this time that this style of dance was given the name "American Tribal Style" as more people became aware of this style and to distinguish it from other forms of belly dance.

FatChanceBellyDance have been in existence for over 20 years and work with the same format adding modifications and new developments over the years.
Some early members of FCBD or former students of Carolena have since started their own troupes.

Paulette Rees-Denis founded Gypsy Caravan. Paulette created her own style of tribal which she has taken around the world.

Steffi Colbert

Barefoot's founder Steffi Colbert attended one of Paulette's workshop and fell in love with Gypsy Caravan's tribal style. Passing this love on to her students she created Barefoot Bellydance, with her husband Richard and his Morris dancing friend Chris Turner learning to play Middle Eastern and African drums and instruments.

Richard Colbert and Chris Turner

Jamila sums up the unstoppable evolution of bellydance: "Tradition is not static. Every generation draws from the past. Evolving from the salon and street performer, to the night club, and concert hall . . . Oriental dance will endure . . . I don't object to anything as long as it is entertaining."