Can Belly Dancers Still Use the Word “Tribal”? Thoughts from Abigail Keyes – 046

Belly Dance Podcast abigail keyes

What should we call tribal fusion now that Indigenous leaders have spoken? Professor Keyes from the Salimpour School hashes out what educated belly dancers should know.

Abigail Keyes (pronounced like “eyes” with a K) is one educated and informed belly dancer!

Not only is she one of just 5 dancers in the world to hold dual certification in both the Suhaila and Jamila Salimpour formats, but she also studied at Near Eastern Studies at Princeton and Arabic at Georgetown and she is currently an adjunct professor out in California at Mills College.

Abby actually teaches a course on the history of modern dance in the US. And she is a published author as well as the Director of the Berkeley Salimpour Collective.

In show #38 of this podcast Suhaila Salimpour speaks on cultural appropriation, politics and community.

Abigail is also what I would call an expert on these topics as well as a big part of the Salimpour community. She is one of the dancers most closely connected to the Salimpour family and school. Abby continues to enrich our minds and our American belly dance culture with thoughtful perspectives and often actionable findings bundled in kindness and the understanding that we are all in a different place in our learning journeys. Welcome to the show Abby. It is wonderful to have you here.”

If you open the “Connect” page on Abby’s website, you can sign up for her newsletter, which is one of my favorites, as well as connecting with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube.

Danceable Ritual: Breathe. Get connected to your breath before you teach or perform.

Belly Dance Podcast 046 Danceable Ritual

Danceable Song: Mafi Noum (No sleep) by Najwa Karam

This song with Lebanese singer Najwa Karam has Latin dance vibes, debke flavor and also hints of India music influence. She vocalizes the rhythm, the doums and teks like musicians do sometimes in Indian music.

And a shout out to Shashkin and Ya Ayn Mawlaitain!

Modern Standard Arabic vs Dialects of Arabic

In academia they teach modern standard Arabic, but no one speaks it! Choose a dialect that you want to learn based on what you want to do with it.

Dance Move: 123& (single, single, three quarter)

It’s a move from the Salimpour Format, Jamila vocabulary. It’s a chasse. It’s right at :49 in this class combo video:

The way you think is sexy. It’s not the move. It’s the reason behind it. Why are you moving the way that you are moving? Ex: Just learning a move? Refining your technique? Ego driven (look at me! look at me!)? Or really feeling it.

When you do a move, how and why are you doing it?

Even if it is just an arm wave. When the move is paired with eyes, expression and intent, that is when it can get sexy.

Fifi Abdou owns it. She’s not doing acrobatics. She has feeling when she dances.

The Salimpour method gets accused of just being moves and technique. But then you get to level 3 and above, it becomes about your truth. Your expression. Being able to own it.

Zumba vs Belly Dance

With Zumba you have no cultural responsibility. It’s fun, but it’s not a dance form. You don’t need to learn anything about a language or culture. If you learn a dance form, you are responsible for culture.

Ballet is an ethnic dance. It has origins. It has roots. This is always going to be a big struggle for belly dance. People want to exercise and have community and have fun, and we all love that. But the people who are going to stick around are curious and interested in the context.

One of my students said “I’m going to finish up my dance card and then go back to Zumba”. Ok, so this isn’t your thing.

How do we negotiate being guests in a dance form where we are not from the culture of origin? How would you want a guest to behave in your house?

I got injured and had recurring issues. I tore my hamstring in grad school. I was getting a dance degree.

“Your injury is a gift. It will give you information about how to take care of your body.”

Even if you are injured and you can’t dance, go to class and take notes. Watch the instructor. That will inform how you will return to the dance class. Sometimes it takes something terrible to help you realize how to make it better instead of just limping along.

My glutes were not balanced.

Doing belly dance to rehabilitate after an injury.

Traditional Chinese Medicine has really helped my body

Feeding the yin and yang in your body. It isn’t just about exercise.

Vegan whole food: Potatoes and Mushrooms

Starches and sugars have been getting a bad rap in the media. But they are good for you! Whole grains are different from refined grains and sugars.

Potatoes are versatile. Root vegetables feel good. Things that are grown in the earth give you extra bacteria and vitamins from the soil. Russet potatoes are great for baking. Slice potatoes like British chips and bake on parchment paper, and then add salt, paprika or cumin. Sweet potatoes are so good.

Food anxiety. Allergic to wheat!

It is grounding to sit down and eat dinner together. Something to look forward to.

Can belly dancers use the term tribal?

Words can change meaning depending on how they are used and who uses them. We are seeing more indigenous communities speak up against the use of the word “tribal” by non-indigenous people, saying that it perpetuates stereotypes and racism. The use of this term has been causing harm. Even if we did not know that before, we can know that now.

Forum highlights pain caused by cultural appropriation in festivals

It’s hard to realize that the word we have been using for this dance that we love is racist.

Being able to adjust what you are doing is growth. Sometimes growth is realizing that we have caused others harm.

We are guests in the belly dance culture. Each of us has to come up with our own answer to what that means. Each of us comes from a different background and experience and experiences of institutional racism.

Sometimes the way that we present is not reflective of our family or cultural history.

Everyone is in a different point in their learning. Public shaming and public callouts are ableist. Call in. Don’t call out.

What terms can belly dance use instead of tribal?

ATS (American Tribal Style) is now called Fat Chance Belly Dance Style

Amy Sigil changed from ITS (Improvisational Tribal Style) to Individual Team Sync

There’s a difference between making mistakes and being new to belly dance and being experienced and digging in your heels and not changing just because you feel threatened.

Dance community leaders talk about emotional labor. How much uncompensated work should leaders in the community do to educate people? There is a balance. Just have a list of resources you could share.

How has your formal college education influenced your dancing?  

Theory, history, and context. Context is everything. Understanding how things happen and how that can affect the future.

I had a history teacher in high school who asked, “What is the significance of this event?” They weren’t asking about dates. What were the effects of this event? Why do we keep talking about it? Where is this taking us?  

And also, understanding sources. I also worked at the CIA for 8 years. And a source can make or break a claim. If your source material is weak, like a lot of the historical material on belly dance that we have, you don’t want to base your education on it.

The same is true for teaching. If your source is just hearsay or rumor, or, to use a current term – fake news – then you lose credibility.

Be comfortable with ambiguity. Be comfortable with disagreeing.

Be aware of “Wishery” – Wishful history

Is belly dance ancient goddess dance?

We hear that belly dance is ancient goddess dance, and it’s for women only. But if you dig into historical record, you find out belly dance is not just for cis-gendered women, and it’s not ancient goddess dance. It is ephemeral and always changing.

You don’t have to agree with everything that has been written. But be responsible about it and know your why. And have your why based in sources and reliable reporting.

What is the definition of belly dance?

Is belly dance an ancient birthing dance done by the bedside of a woman giving birth? Maybe. If belly dance is just a collection of movements with no cultural or performative elements, then sure interior hip circles and undulations would be helpful for birthing. Is belly dance a performative dance? Are you performing your birth?

We don’t even have a good name for what we do. Belly dance is just make up by Sol Bloom in the late 19th century, and that came from French.

And Raqs Sharqi, the Arabic term for performative belly dance

And Raqs Beledi, the Arabic term for countryside folk dance.

But what about Turkish belly dance? And American belly dance?

Non-dancers understand the term belly dance. If you say “oriental dance” to someone they might think East Asia.

So what do you call belly dance?

There is not an agreed upon definition of it. It keeps unfolding and becoming more and more. It’s an exciting endless process of learning.

Some Arabic words every belly dancers should know

1. “‘Omr” (pronounced “oh-mrr”) means life

2. “Hayat” means life

3. “Qalb” means heart

4. “Hobb / Hubb” is related to love

5. Bahebbek means  I love you

6. Layla means Night

7. Nar means fire

8. Qamar means moon

9. Beled means the land you come from

10. Raqs means dance

11. Taqsim means solo improvisation

While learning a language we can slow down songs and other sound files with the app Audiopo 

Check out Abby’s articles:

What Belly Dancers Need to Know About Arabic

Dancers: Don’t Do These Things with Arabic

A Brief Guide to Arabic Transliteration

How do you find translations of belly dance song lyrics?

Post on a related Facebook group asking for help translating a song! You can offer to pay someone to translate it. There are a lot of native speakers in the belly dance scene who could help you. You don’t need to do it on your own. Be curious. Everyone’s translations will be different. Try to find a translator on Fiverr and other platforms for finding translations. And Google translate is helpful at first.

Costume tip: Don’t spend more money on your costumes than you do on your training.

Belly Dance Podcast 046 Costume Tip 

And make sure your costume matches your performance and style of your movement! In fusion forms, sometimes dancers are wearing a lot of stuff and doing modern and contemporary movements. But the costume hinders their music! Your presentation should be a whole picture. Movement first, music, then what you are wearing, hair and makeup. Not just a bunch of things you like that don’t actually go together.  

Feel Good Look Good Habit: Eat Well, Feel Well, Look Good

If I don’t eat a whole food plant-based diet, everything else feels icky. It’s very personal. For me it’s all about the food. Many people have complicated relationships with food and their body. I also acknowledge and honor that.

What is something exciting coming up?

The 2020 Prague Bal Anat show was postponed to March 2021, and I’m really excited about that. Now there is more time to prepare and more time to get costumes together. There will be a time in the future when we can gather and dance together and not just see each other on the screen.