Why do I write these? Because I crave a good raqs show any time of the day. I’m Nigerian-American w/extended family and friends from the middle and far east. My relatives, friends and I grew up with raqs sharqi in our teens and university years. Most of us can’t imagine life without it. I’m always happy to see others embrace our cultures as well. In the case of TribalCon, it’s a chance to see our cultures totally fused. This was my eighth visit to this event and I’m so grateful I’ve been able to participate in it in some form or fashion all these years. I’ve met some amazing people and have been able to spend time with legends in the art. Huge thanks to Kira Lang for the initial introduction! As always these are just my thoughts and observations…
So…how was it? Pretty cool, eye opening and interesting!
Thursday – I went to Donna Mejia‘s lecture and loved it. I sat right in front with my ears perked up and absorbed every last bit of it. I’d love to share each and every detail of the lecture but I’ve come to the conclusion that attempting to summarize these amazing 1.5 hours of Lady Mejia’s energy and info/discussion are somewhat impossible for me. There’s so much truly useful and invaluable heaps of knowledge that I find it difficult to talk about one thing without spilling into thoughts of another. My advice is to just go to one of her lectures wherever she is. If Donna Mejia is nearby, attend her lectures in addition to at least one of her classes.
Why? Because The lectures…
-Provide a firm foundation for all levels of dance and enthusiasm in the raqs world
-Raise questions and help each individual think through their personal decisions in this art
-Helps dancers see the bigger picture and how their actions and roles play in the ribbon of history
-Give a voice to the unheard, showcases and shines a light on the roots of the art
-Fill a void, provide checks and balances for areas of Raqs Sharqi that others just don’t “think” about.
-Make “Raqs Sharqi” make sense and cents: helps many understand in what they are investing and provides the industry with a better method of presenting the art as valuable and worthy in arenas where it is often ignored.
Entering the Tribal and Fusion World
I’ve watched ATS and Tribal Fusion modernise and metamorph as much as my own culture. In the case of ATS, costumes went from colourful Salwar Suits to what we, in my culture and those I grew up with, would call parallels and wide leg pants mixed with tops I’d seen worn for modern dance (TCDE). In fact, tribal today (IMO) doesn’t really look very ‘Tribal’ at all. To me, it looks to be a mass of fusion upon fusion, an entirely different entity that some of us have to look at closely to even find the ethnic hints of yesteryear. It seems so fused that the regional salutes, nods and steps look to be fused right on out. While some are focused on fusing their fusions, others delve further in and many have found the cultural root of some of these dances. I’ve met many who have begun to specialise in certain West African, South Asian, East African, Northern Chinese, etc. dances because of their intro to American Tribal Style. One lady let me know she fell in love with Tribal Fusion through Rachel Brice and later ‘found herself’ in the roots of some of the things Tribal Bellydance was highlighting. She no longer attends Tribal shows and events because what she has come to love is barely recognisable or even present in much of what is being presented today on ATS/Fusion stages. While I wish people wouldn’t abandon supporting the various shows that helped them find their passion, I do know it is one’s right to focus solely on the origins of Raqs. And after last year, I learned that my early expectations of raqs sharqi within ATS supposedly have very little to do with authentic or familiar Eastern and African regional dances. I was told, “It may be the same music, it may be the same clothes, but it’s not the same dance. This isn’t really from your culture. It kind of looks like it but that’s not what we’re doing.” Me: Mmmkay.
Over the past year and even this weekend I heard some say things like, “Fusion allows you to do whatever you want, there are no rules.” While some others in that conversation didn’t subscribe to that, others agreed in low hushed voices of support, almost as if they weren’t really sure but they were more or less in agreement. For me, it’s becoming a little confusing. But what I can conclude from the past 16 years of following this dance (I saw ATS for the first time just after high school) is it’s subjective. I’ll also probably not ever get the same definition of ATS or Fusion from the same two people and those same two people may have a different definition for it later on. It seems that it is always evolving.
So, this is the mindset I went in with for the shows this weekend. I could see anything. That “anything” may not have a bit to do with the tribes and countries/cultures I grew up with…or it might (i.e. Levash and Kaitlyn’s Bhangra piece). Regardless, I still look for the tribal I used to see, those raissat who burst onto the stage with raqs sharqi. I look for those who are representing cultures they have encountered vs. just presenting dance moves. I look for the person who is embracing and celebrating a country and a culture all while making it their own vs. solely a series of technical movements. I get excited about TribalCon because of these individuals and that’s why I attended the shows (and of recent, lectures) for nearly 10 years.
Weekend Show Highlights
Let me suggest to all to just get the Buffet. The Mediterreanean Grill and Nicola’s served delicious food according to attendees I spoke with. I did end up getting a buffet option for Saturday at the very last minute. I don’t normally eat before shows because I’m so nervous – #TheNervousFan. Anyway, these buffet tickets had sold out but someone had extra. Thank you, you know who you are. It was delicious!
The format changed this year, allowing both nights to feature Live Music at the top of the shows. This was a plus! I adore live music, I feel it provides a much more enhanced experience and this band that comes together annually is incredible for American and International Raqs Sharqi/Bellydance historical reasons. There’s so much history in this team. They really should produce an album together if they haven’t already. Kickstarter anyone?
Aziza’s set had a lot of historical references. If you read her blog post this set was perhaps just as awesome for you as it was for her personally to perform it. Doug of Light Rain was extraordinary as he accompanied her with music. This set was certainly one of the highlights of not just the show but the entire weekend.
Majda…was so good. I cried. I can’t say anything else or I’ll get all emotional and I have no tissues. So, trust me on this, she was just unreal. Masha’Allah!
Awalim did two sets and were just as good as expected. You can see that this piece has just been tattooed on their hearts. Robyn was all over it, she was oozing that rhythm and being that close to the stage allowed me soak all of their energy up. Really energetic and beautiful, one of their best pieces of the Awalim repertoire. Zills to die for! Awesome!!
Jenny Nichols redefined bada$$ery. I’m not even sure the audience was even ready for that. I feel that she really is the true ‘model’ of modern fusion for so many reasons.
Bogoas is ten times as amazing LIVE and IN-PERSON. If you love his videos and online presence, you have to spend some time with him person and enjoy one of his shows, upclose and personal. It took all my might not to throw money on that stage. I was struggling. HE is…ohhh mercy. Yes! Yesssssssss all day long! 😉
Cyndi Cyreigna Elliot was a breath of fresh air. Her performance was electric and beautiful from her skill with spinning to the colours she chose in her costume. I really liked her presentation and miss that sort of enthusiasm at “tribal” events.
Madame Onca was stellar! Stellar! Stellar! Stellar! She presented a dance to music noted as “Arabish spy jazz” composed by River Guerguerian…and it was all that and then some! Loved it! Always been an Onca fan. Braved a drive up to North Carolina with friends to see her years ago when she hosted Aunt Rocky. I’m not big on road trips by car but that was worth it! She’s also one of the best hosts for these types of events.
Donna Mejia – I have a string of adjectives. Elegant, Powerful, Engaging…she left me overwhelmed. Donna Mejia is the type of artist who leaves me so enraptured I feel like writing a book about her performances immediately following. I can’t even go into descriptions because many of her movements have about 100 years of evolving art and dance history attached to them. She literally dances her lectures. All of the information she provides is presented in beautiful pieces. She later told me (and others) that she had one piece planned but ended up dancing with the audience’s energy. It was so strong…a blessing really. She also made her own costume. My word! I was like, “Who makes elegant pieces worthy of royal weddings like these?” I’m so going to explore her sewing blog. Oh I could go on for weeks about Lady Mejia (and have on other occasions). I reference her often as I feel she makes fusion “make sense.”
Again, more Awalim magic including Ava, who took her performance seriously. She glided to the stage and was one of the highlights of the set. Again, Awalim has maintained a pretty darn good thing. They are to be admired.
Aaliyah Jenny is always a welcomed favourite. I never know what amazing material she is going to bring but it’s always heart stopping and stellar. She brought us all to tears this year and let me just say I’m sooooo glad she was there! Love and appreciate her work and contributions, giving us something to think about. Very grateful for her presence.
ATS All Skate was great! Beautiful improv featuring classic ATS transitions and zilling. It reminded me of the impromptu piece last year in which Ziah was featured. These are perhaps going to be a staple, cool stuff!
Rafi’ah Dance Company looked like the epitome of perfection with their modern fusion piece complete with glitz, glam and fan veils. This is another troupe that really lives up to its name. This was one of my favourite sets of the evening. They represented the community very well, top notch!
The world famous Lavesh accompanied Kaitlyn’s on a Bhangra set that embodied what I origingally expected to see at TribalCon yearrrrs ago. I feel that Lavesh was a great addition to the show and LONG OVERDUE! I want to see more of these types of collaborations. I know many audiences who can appreciate it. Loved watching Christy Smith enjoy this set as well. This was all kinds of perfect!
As mentioned before, Atlanta SEEDS proved why the Atlanta’s International Community Kids are gonna be more than fine in their Raqs journey. With a dynamic sword routine they wowed the audience and received a standing ovation. These young women are very young, I think the eldest was 11 years old, others perhaps 6 or 7? They didn’t drop their very large swords even once. “They’ve got this.” One of the best performances of the entire weekend!
Alyssum and Bagoas returned to the stage (both having performed earlier, Bogoas on Friday). Their set was comical, cute and crowd pleasing. I’ve come to believe ANYTHING with Bogoas in it is going to be incredible.
Jendayi Dance Company just. brought. it!!! They were elegant, poised and presented that piece like a boss. They owned that raqset. Kudos!! Really elegant and powerful! People nearly lost their minds as Jendayi came to the center. Most of all, you could feel every move they made in your soul! Unreal…unrealllll!
Sema Tribal Bellydance came to TribalCon all the way from Korea. They were here before I believe, that one year I wasn’t at TribalCon. People were phoning me all night and the rest of the week about their performance that year. “You should’ve been there! Two girls from Korea, you would have loved them, they could have been your new best friends!” Tonight they mixed Hip Hop with Kpop while wearing tons of body glitter, a short skirt and cropped top style costume that I’ve seen on KPop stars here and in Korea …one in an Afro wig and another in a wig that featured the latest “Kinky hair perm” style that is growing in popularity throughout Korea and Japan. While their presentation perfectly fused Hip Hop and Kpop, from technique to pop culture expressions, some found the wigs were a bit over the top and unnecessary. I would love to know more about their decision to do this piece with the wigs and would also like to see it without the wigs. The young ladies presented exactly what I’ve been surrounded by in the Kpop entertainment community I visit from time to time. I received a substantial number of questions in private about the piece. Let me say this: I don’t know these ladies personally and yes I’m aware of the reprimands the Kpop community and some members in the Korean entertainment world have received about presenting material that is deemed borderline offensive. I do not think this is the case with this group. I want to believe these two women just really love hip hop and their Korean culture and felt compelled to bring it to the stage because it’s so a part of who they are, so what else would they possibly do? I’m turning this back on the dancers, ask SDC what is their intent …and go from there. #ThatIsAll
Ambiance of the Conference
TribalCon wasn’t as “packed” as it has been in the past. I remember the days when you could barely move in the lobby because so many people were in attendance. I think that had to do more with the space of the Decatur venue compared to this one in Dunwoody. This particular layout is huge and you can relax or have a drink without fearing you may spill it on someone as you walk. I remember having to arrive 3 hours early to get a really good parking space in the Decatur Holiday Inn (now Marriott) and lining up by 5pm for a show that didn’t take place til around 7:30 or 8pm? This is the 3rd year at the new location, of which I love, but I only saw about 10 of my ATL bellydance friends there (now there were tons of other ATLrs there, but you see what I did here, I’m totally calling people out that didn’t show up. Where were you? This is our annual event! There were no Farmburger Milkshakes afterwards or fun T*Con traditions we usually do. I know you all had tickets, so where were you? I saw 5 members of the international community and not so many of the usual out of towners. Maybe they were there and I missed them? For those that didn’t attend, it may have been due to the horrible weather we had just before the event or maybe it’s something else? I don’t know. But I feel those that weren’t there really missed out on some unique experiences! I won’t detail them all here but there are pictures and videos that speak volumes. Again, check out TribalCon-nect. It’s a great resource for TribalCon fans, visitors and those who are interested in attending in the future.
TribalCon is relevant to the Bellydance and Raqs Sharqi community. I feel it is important because it helps everyone from dancers and teachers to enthusiasts see the trends and modernisation of the art in addition to what parts of the roots are still honoured. I feel all who attend or even those who have teetered on the idea should fill out a survey and let Ziah know what YOU and your troupe members and dance communities want to see at events like these. Then, stay in touch through TribalCon-nect. It’s a great forum for sharing photos, ideas and more. I think that was one of the finer touches of the event, it added engagement.
I feel TribalCon remains a treasure to the Bellydance community and to the Raqs industry. I know that the fusion material is not for everyone as people move toward a sort of schism, returning back to the root of African, Asian, Mideast dances. I think these roots have a place at TribalCon and perhaps artists like Artemis Mourat, Amel Tafsout, Donna Mejia will remain on the Ziah productions guests list. And that instructors like Samba Diallo, Jamil and Zaidel will become a part of the line up as well.
Wishing everyone a really good year ahead filled with knowledge and appreciation for all aspects of this art. Many thanks to all of the friendly faces that came over and said hello. So many sweet and friendly vendors to chat with and new faces to the event. I found some items for my personal wardrobe (non dance related, gauntlets of which I wore all weekend and a cool skirt that will be paired with a long blouse as I try to change my wardrobe up a bit). Gotta love the variety that TribalCon brings, always totally cool!
Thanks for reading!