It’s All Improv: Carolena Nericcio & FatChanceBellyDance Style
Some Great Carolena Nericcio Dance Quotes:
Successful patterns repeat themselves
We are there for the bliss of following the directions
The audience felt like they were dancing with us
The most successful performance is when the audience completely forgets they’re watching it.
Dance is supposed to take you away from the every day.
Ask yourself: What is engaging for the audience? What is distracting? What is superfluous?
For me, there is certain music for certain activities.
Alicia Free: Carolena Nericcio (pronounciation note: “Ner-ee-kee-yoh”) founded FatChanceBellyDance® in the 1980s, and she is the creator of the worldwide dance phenomenon known as FatChanceBellyDance®Style or FCBD®Style. We used to call this American Tribal Style®, ATS for short.
I remembered the first time I saw a group of dancers do FCBD Style. I was shocked when they told me they were just improvising. That the beautiful synchronicity I had just witnessed was unique to that moment, made possible by learning a very intentional dance language, and led by a leader’s cues, not choreography.
And I remember first falling in love with the FCBD style costuming. 10 yard skirts, layered like peony petals, halos of flower gardens above outlined eyes. Tattoos blooming from open back cholis. Dancers dripping serious silver from central and South Asian desserts.
Where Did the Name Fat Chance Belly Dance Come From?
Alicia: So I heard you saying in an interview that you said to somebody “Fat chance you’ll get anything but a belly dance show for me.” And that’s where the name came from right originally. It’s so great. It really speaks to that regal energy of the dance and the costuming. It’s like, you know what? Watch me or get lost.
Carolena: Yeah. Watch me, and then get lost. Just enjoy and keep your distance.
Where Did the Term America Tribal Style Come From?
Alicia: So tell us about the recent evolution from the names American Tribal Style(ATS) to Fat Chance Belly Dance Style (FCBD)
Carolena: Sure. That is a very recent evolution and we’d have to go back to the dawn of time, but I’ll make it a quick journey.
When I first started teaching, I just referred to what I was doing as “belly dance”. When I brought the dance form out into the belly dance world, people asked, “What style is this?” And I was like, “It’s belly dance.” Because that’s all I’d ever called it.
All belly dance was belly dance.
And they said, “No, this is different.” And for quite a few years, the traditionalists, you know, Raqs Sharqi and cabaret people were really unhappy about my being on the scene because
The general public was assuming that what I was doing was traditional, and what they were doing was new. When in fact, it’s the reverse.
I could see why they had an issue with that. So I tried to play nice as much as I could. And I remember distinctly at a belly dance festival, Rakkasah West a dancer came up to me we were in the dressing room and she said, “Morocco has decided that your style is called American Tribal Style.”
Alicia: Oh, it was from Morocco!
Carolena: And I said, “Okay, great. Now can I dance? Call it whatever you want.”
But I needed that title to come from the traditional community because I wanted to play nice. So it was called American Tribal Style.
And then people started to abbreviate to ATS. And then people started using “Tribal” as an umbrella.
So originally I was given that title American Tribal Style to single us out as something really specific, then it became a really general term.
And then all of these different “tribals” popped up. There was “Tribal-Ret” like Cabaret Tribal Style and Gothic Tribal. And I was like, but those are not tribal.
Those are their own thing. All of a sudden it started to get really muddy. And I tried to make it clear to people that
Tribal is not the name for experimental. It actually defines this style.
But it had already gone so far to field that I decided to take back ATS and American Tribal Style.
So tribal could be whatever you’re doing. It’s all good. I want everyone to dance and have a good time. But I want our style to remain distinct. So eventually I was encouraged to put a registered trademark on it, which sort of solidified the community. We had to really be doing ATS to use the registered trademark.
Is Tribal Belly Dance Cultural Appropriation?
So then things started to settle down around that issue. And then just recently there was a big discussion about the fact that using the word tribal was a cultural appropriation. And at first I thought, “But it’s not cultural appreciation.” We’d all like to say, “I’m appreciating the cultures that I’ve borrowed from.”
But, you know, in fact it is a cultural appropriation.
Should I change the name? Can I change the name? What would happen if I changed the name? And then Sophia Salazar-Rubio, who’s one of my advanced teachers in Fat Chance Belly Dance said. “You know, originally the phrase American Tribal Style denoted Fat Chance Belly Dance. But back in the day, if we had called it Fat Chance Belly Dance Style, nobody was really been able to make an association because we weren’t well known yet. But she said, in fact, for the rest of the world right now, ATS is Fat Chance Belly Dance. So why don’t we flip it back around again and call it FCBD Style or fat chance belly dance style? Because the people that want American Tribal Style want FCBD Style.”
And I thought, “That is brilliant.” It’s brilliant.
So back in the day, what we wanted to call it was FCBD Style, but it wouldn’t have made any sense back then. But 33 years later it made perfect sense. It certainly was not something that I thought out. It was not intentional. But it actually worked out really well.
The only caveat to that is that a lot of dancers who are not in North America are quite happy with the word tribal and for their community. Changing it to FCBD Style is like turning it into nothing.
So I’ve said to everybody, if you want to use the word tribal, you can do it. everybody understands what’s going on, but for professional and political reasons, I decided to make that change.
Alicia: After being established, then you could redefine yourself again easily. Sounds like the transition wasn’t that crazy.
Carolena: Not at all. It made perfect sense. And as I said, it was not my idea. It was Sophia’s idea. And it makes a lot of sense. So I’ve offered to write her in my will.
Alicia: Great. Life hands you new information that you haven’t considered before and you make it beautiful.
Carolena: You’ve got to. Because it’s all improv on stage, That’s what life is, right? So you gotta just take it and go, okay, I can work with this. This is not going to unfoot me. I know where I’m going. I know where my people are. It’s the same as improv on stage.
How to Simplify Choreography
Alicia: You have an organized brain, which is something I would love to have myself. And you’ve said that successful combinations tend to repeat themselves. And that within discipline there’s freedom and not rigid structure, but logical structure and the structure brings flow.
And one of my very favorite dancers and people and teachers is Jill Parker. She was in your original troupe, and you guys go way back. And I saw an interview you were both in, and she said there weren’t many moves when ATS started, but you mastered the ones that you did. You mastered the moves that you did.
And this trust and simplicity is really attractive to me.
What are some ways that we can simplify our choreography so that it flows?
Carolena: How can you simplify your choreography so that it flows? Well, I don’t think in terms of choreography, so I’ll just say that. But I think that a really good way is pull back and look at what you’re doing is to literally pull back.
Sit at a distance from where your dancers are dancing and without directing them in your head.
Without noting what their costumes are doing. Without thinking about the music. Just as if you were an audience member watching the performance.
Is it engaging to me? What parts are engaging?
What parts are distracting? What parts are superfluous?
I would sit at the back of the venue and watch the dancers perform. I want to see what is successful.
What makes me forget that I’m even watching the dancers?
To me, the most magical part of performance is when your viewer forgets they’re even watching a performance. So do I have an experience ever of forgetting that I’m watching? If I’m conscious that I’m watching, what do I feel is really successful? If I’m conscious that I’m watching, what makes me nervous?
And what am I completely distracted by?
Like, wow I wish that hadn’t happened because it just kind of distracted my mind. And what was needless? What happened over and over again? What got jumped over? What was not necessary?
You’re obviously super focused on the details (when learning a dance). Where does it go in our bodies as dancers? Where does my arm go? What does it feel like?
But then you gain more command of the muscle memory.
I encourage my dancers to stop thinking about themselves. And stop thinking about what they’re doing. Instead, trust that the music is going to move your body.
You want to be able to look down from overhead and see what the formations of dancers are doing.
If you can do it, you can really see what the other dancers are seeing. When you’re looking from overhead. And what the audience is seeing.
Then it becomes very easy to realize what is necessary and what is unnecessary. And in that case you could simplify.
Alicia: That’s great. Not being attached to your creation. Have the experience of the audience watching it. The audience forgetting that they’re watching it even. That’s beautiful.
Carolena: The most successful performance is when the audience completely forgets they’re watching it.
And they’re like surprised at the end. When it’s over, they’re like, “Oh! I was watching something.”
FCBD Style Movements are Based on Natural Movement
Carolena: The thing about FCBD style is that the movements are pretty much based on natural movement.
In the beginning before things got a little more complicated. Jill was saying in the beginning, there were not that many steps. But people would often say, “I felt like I was dancing with you.” And I thought, wow.
As a performer, to have an audience member say, “I felt like I was dancing with you.” That is fantastic.
So that’s why I’ve always wanted to keep it as simple and as organic as possible. I’ve not been able to do that, because it’s gotten more rich. But in the beginning it was simple. Simple enough that the audience was sort of swept along with it.
The Dialects of ATS
Alicia: I was listening to another interview you did where you were talking about how different teachers would want to put their own moves in there. And it just grew and grew. And you said that’s okay, but you’re not going to have the same vocabulary as everybody you meet now that’s in this style. So just be aware of that.
Carolena: Yeah. The concept of dialect. There was a moment in time where I was challenged by a student, and she put a thought in my head. She said, “Is Fat Chance the only entity that ever gets to create anything new?” And at first I thought, “Yes. What’s your problem?”
I thought about it. When I started to teach, and when I started creating videos, I obviously gave the dance away to say, enjoy this.
And we didn’t have the skills in teacher training back in the day. So people watched the videos and started teaching. And they did or didn’t understand the concept, but that was okay. Because they were moving the dance forward, which was sort of the whole point.
And of course, then, they were creating their own dialect because if you’re not coming to my studio several days a week and drilling over and over again, things are just going to start to blend and change based on music based on your body proportions and flexibilities based on the abilities of the people that you’re dancing with. It’s just going to happen.
So it gave me pause to think, “Do I want to be in control of being the only person that can ever create anything for this dance form for the rest of my life?” And the answer was, “No, I do not.” I’d like to be able to pass this on to my daughters, for my children. And we started the dialect project. And I think it’s kind of gone sideways. It didn’t really go in the logical direction that I would like it to go in. But again, I can’t pull up one group and say, you can’t do this, but they get to do this, you know?
So it has to just become an organic growing entity. And it either works or it doesn’t work.
And that’s what I landed with, with the dialect. Go ahead and try.
If it works and you’re using it, that’s great. If it doesn’t work and you have to rehearse it five times before you can do it and you have to explain it seven times to somebody before they get it, it’s probably not going to work.
And I’ve had to do that with my own creations as well. If it’s not something that you can see and understand, it’s probably not going to work.
Alicia: I was in a Pema Chodron retreat recently, and she said, trust, simplicity. And I was like, “Oh!” I make things so complicated, you know. Successful patterns repeat themselves. Right?
Carolena: Absolutely. And, you know, speaking of successful patterns, walking as a successful pattern, And we all do it and we don’t even know how we do it. In FCBD Style, the Taksim and the shimmy are based on walking. So simplicity. Trust simplicity.
Other Sort-of Cued Improv Dance Forms: Square Dance & Greek Line Dance
Alicia: Did you know of any other cued improv dance form before you started ATS?
Carolena: No. The only other dance form that might be cued in my experience is square dancing. I was not thinking square dancing when I created FCBD Style.
But when I think about square dancing, which I really enjoy doing as a teenager, the caller tells everybody what to do. They tell you reach your left hand out and your right hand over and do the hokey pokey. And it’s really fun because there’s a rhythm behind it and the caller is calling out what you should do and you just do it and things just happen.
And it’s really exciting. So it’s probably not technically improv, but it’s got the feeling of improv and that you’re being pushed. The caller and the rhythm are pushing you. But that was not what I was thinking when I created FCBD Style. And other than that I don’t think I’ve experienced other cued improv forms.
Alicia: I was wondering if it was just something that I had never been aware of that was around, but yeah. Contra and square dance. The caller is the leader and it’s just more verbal rather than visual cues.
Carolena: Right, right. That’s really interesting comparison because in square dance the caller is basically singing the song that you’re responding to. But the song has really explicit directions.
Everybody in the group shows up with the intent to cooperate.
People don’t show up to square dance and go, “I’m not even going to do this today. I’m going to a stand in a circle, but I’m not going to follow directions.” Like that just doesn’t happen.
Why are you there if you’re not there for the bliss of following the directions?
So, there’s a song playing, it’s got a rhythm and then the caller is matching the rhythm of the song or the beat of the song with the directions for what you do.
And it’s very much like in FCBD style. When you really get there. When you really learned your steps, and you’ve got your muscle memory, and the formations make sense to you, and you know what you’re doing on stage…the music just pushes you. And you don’t think you just do. You just wait for the information to flow through the music, through your body, and then you’re dancing. So they are very similar.
Actually though, I’ll take another step back.
I grew up doing Greek folk dance.
There’s a very simple step that you do, but there’s a lot of improv reacting to the music as well, especially for the lead dancer. So in Greek dancing, people stand in a half moon, as we do in FCBD Style for Greek dancing, the person on the right who’s the leader gets to improvise to the music while the person who’s right next to that person holds the handkerchief really sturdy.
So the leader can use the firmness of that companion dancer so that they can twist and bend and do all the things that they want to do. And all the rest of the dancers are just keeping up the step pattern. And then very similar to ATS, the lead dancer when they’re done, they get to do their flourish and then they hand the handkerchief that supporting dancer. And then they become the lead dancer and the other lead dancer just folds back into the line. So that’s a very similar concept as well. I definitely was influenced by Greek folk dance.
Alicia: Interesting. I love how you said the bliss of following the directions. I mean, culturally, as an American, that’s such a foreign concept in so many ways. You don’t follow the directions. You create something completely new and you resist. In a lot of parts of Asia, it’s the bliss of following the directions. So eloquently stated.
Standing Out From the Group vs Blending In
Carolena: Right? And also in many parts of Asia, the most important part of being in a group is blending into that group. Whereas in America, it’s standing out from the group.
I just want to blend into the group. The idea of community and belonging. I think that’s just so important.
Even though I know I stand out in the belly dance community because I created this other thing, but I didn’t realize at the time that’s what I was doing. I thought I was blending in.
Alicia: You probably thought you were making it easy. We don’t have to sit around choreographing. We can just work together and create this beautiful thing and talk with our dance. It’s so cool.
Where did FCBD costuming come from?
I can’t think of another recently born dance style that has so many costume elements and at the same time looks unified and incredibly distinct. And you must have put so much thought into the costuming and the look of FCBD®Style in addition to creating a culture and a dance vocabulary. How long did it take for the fat chance belly dance, costuming to solidify, and is it still evolving now?
Carolena: That’s a really good question. Well, I started out my dance studies with Masha Archer, and she was very much a fan of the big pantaloons. Not so much skirts. Skirts probably came in and out at times, but pretty much it was the big pantaloons with a fringed, embroidered shawl, a choli, and a lot of jewelry and a smallish head dress. Just a headscarf, as opposed to the head dress that we ended up doing.
So when I started teaching classes and my dance class wanted to perform, I sort of tried out the costume that I had learned about from Masha.
And it was really from there that people started adding things in. I remember that Paulette Rees-Denis came back from the Renaissance fair with the gathered skirt. And we were like, what? That was fantastic.
So we added the skirts, and then I think Jill brought a sarong for a head wrap that was so much bigger than the pieces of fabric that we’d been using. And that worked. And somebody brought in the bindis. I’m sure I found something, but there was a lot of outside influence. It wasn’t as if I’d sat down and said, “This is a universal costume that’s going to look good on everybody.”
But everybody contributed to the costume until we sort of had it. And the thing about the costume is that it needs to look good on tall, short, fat skinny, young, old bodies. And it does. It’s just beautiful. And that’s, I think a divine creation. I did not come up with that. I don’t think anybody came up with that.
It’s because so many different bodies put on the costume. I do fashion design and I sew garments together and I look at women’s bodies a lot. I can tell what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. So I probably edited it. Probably everybody else brought a lot of stuff and I was like, take it away, take it away. That’s probably more my contribution than the actual styling of it.
Alicia: When did you guys start putting coin bras on top of cholis? I’ve never seen any other dancer outside of FCBD do that.
Carolena: I’m pretty sure that I learned that from Masha. In Masha’s dance troupe, we probably did just a choli or just a coin bra or a choli and a coin bra. I don’t think that there was a rule about always having a choli.
When I started teaching though, I said absolutely choli and a coin bra. Just a choli, no problem, but not just a coin bra. Cause that’s just too misinterpreted. I didn’t want that.
Alicia: Having sleeves on does make such a big difference in terms of the visual. It’s interesting how something so small can make such a big difference.
Belly Dance Costume Tip: Make Sure the Shoulders Fit
Your love of folkloric, textiles, tattoos and jewelry from all over the world has carved out this niche in the spectrum of belly dance costumes, and it has influenced so many of us dancers. And as you mentioned, you also have your fashion background, which explains a lot.
What is one costume tip that you want to share?
Carolena: One costume tip that I want to share is something that’s going to take you by surprise. And that is the shoulders always have to fit.
So. You can take this into belly dance costuming, you can take this into your day wear. Anybody that looks good in what they’re wearing is wearing something with shoulders that fit. And anybody who looks kind of sloppy is wearing shoulders that don’t fit.
I’m not talking about a drop shoulder. That’s another thing. Right? A drop shoulders still has a shoulder that fits. It’s just that the seam, rather than being here, is down here. Right. But you know what it looks like. When somebody’s wearing something that’s too big and when somebody is wearing something that’s too small, it looks ungainly.
But when the shoulders fit, the body looks elegant and at peace. Also because the shoulder seam is up by the face. Right? So without knowing it, we’re evaluating people based on Leonardo da Vinci’s code of the body proportion. I can’t remember what it’s called.
As human beings, we read each other to see if those proportions are correct. And when they’re not correct, we are distracted. It’s not like you’re judging that person because they don’t fit into a perfect formula, but you do notice. When the shoulders fit, we’re looking at the head and everything makes sense.
Alicia: It’s funny how much emphasis we have on our chest-up in the body. The other day, I had my son in my arms and the trunk of our car fell down on my head and it got me in two places. I wouldn’t care if that was anywhere else on my body, but right on my face. There’s so much that happens above the shoulders. It wasn’t bad at all. It just looked horrible. It made me think about the importance of every little thing on this certain part of your body. If it’s all over your legs, who cares.
Carolena’s Nereccio’s Favorite Music Now: Entran Finatawa and Afrit Temple
Alicia: FCBD®Style dance is done to all kinds of music, from folkloric to straight up electronica. And you’ve probably heard several lifetimes of mizmar and drums and very folkloric kinds of songs that stir something really deep inside of us as dancers.
What music do you love to dance to now?
Carolena: That is a really good question, because I haven’t been dancing that much. I did retire from performing and I’m sort of forcibly retired from teaching because we’re all stuck at home. And I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of new music, because I’ve been so wedded to my old music. And now I’m getting curious again. I want to get out there and look around. My favorite song is called “Hemme” it’s by Entran Finatawa. They’re West African.
And that piece of music makes my eyes roll back in my head. It’s very simple. It’s not full of bells and whistles. But the chorus of it sounds like people welcoming the rain. That’s what it sounds like to me. So I do love that style of music.
I like the work that Afrit Temple is doing with traditional music, with electronica backup. He’s coming up with some really amazing stuff. Afrit Temple is the musician and Dyanisma are the dance troupe that worked with him. So I like that a lot.
I don’t care for more contemporary music in terms of belly dancing. I prefer something folkloric, exotic, soulful. But in terms of dancing to the latest pop song, that’s just not interesting to me because everybody knows the words to the latest pop song, and everybody has an experience related to the latest pop song.
Dance is supposed to take you away from everyday. So I want something that’s a little more exotic.
Alicia: I was listening to some pop music. I just got into my head. And I’m blasting it in my kitchen yesterday. And I was thinking, there’s a place for this, but just one place. You know what I mean? For some people all the music that they experience is pop. It clicked for me yesterday. It was like, all right, I’m going to clean my kitchen, right now.
Carolena: Yeah, exactly. I don’t want to attempt to tell people what to do with their musical choices, but I would just say for me,
There’s certain music for certain activities.
And I get really distracted by music. I can’t listen to it while I’m driving, because I can’t focus. I’ll get distracted from what I’m doing if the wrong music shows up when I’m not anticipating it.
Alicia: Gotcha. So you said Afrit temple, A F R I T…
Carolena: A F R I T Afrit Temple. And I think he’s not on Spotify, which is really tragic. But if you just type that in, or you go to my website, there are links to some of his work there as well, I think. Yeah.
Alicia: And the first song you mentioned was Heeme…
Carolena: It’s called Heeme. Spelled like team H EE M E and Entran Finatawa.
Alicia: So I’m in a band and sometimes we’re playing and we have a sound engineer record us. And then somebody comes in with zills into the soundscape and it just kind of throws things off, you know, and dancers don’t know that that happens.
It can overpower the melody instruments sometimes and make the recording lopsided. And I talk about this because I know dancers want to collaborate with musicians and want to contribute to the performance in a positive way. Have any tips for dancing with zills when performing with a live band?
How to Dance with Zills to a Live Band
Carolena: Yes, I do. And I had to learn this the hard way. Some musicians do not want you to play your zills. And if that’s what they say, then don’t play your zills. Even if you want to, even if you feel like Carolena is going to find out, I performed without my zills. Carolena will understand. If a live band says, “We don’t want you to play your zills,” then don’t play them. Like that’s it.
Ask the Band if It’s OK to Play Your Zills
But rather than be caught on either end of that spectrum, I would say, have a conversation with the band. And say to the band, “We really like playing our zills. It helps us stay together as a group and it just clicks us into the music. Is it okay with you if we play our zills? We’re not going to play during the slow songs over the softer music, but during the percussive songs, we’d like to play our zills.” You’re playing them because it’s part of your dance instrument.
Or Just Tap Your Zills
I think that another compromise would be offering to tap the zills rather than ring the zills. That’s a bit difficult as a dancer to only tap, because you’re holding your hands in a stiffer manner. And when you’re moving your body, it can look awkward. So that’s an artistic decision that you have to make about whether you can actually maintain that tap throughout the whole set. And whether you like the way your hands look.
But again, if you’re going to work with musicians, you actually have to work with the musicians. It has to be a collaboration between dancers and musicians.
If the musicians say, “We’re not going to play if you play your zills,” I would be like, I’m going to look for different musicians. But I’m happy to hear what their concerns are.
You know, when I play my drum solo, I want everyone to hear my drum solo and not your zills. Okay. Then I won’t play myself during your drum solo. Can we play it during that long stretch melody? Sure. No problem. have that conversation. I think it’s important.
Alicia: I’ve seen people crochet, zill covers. Have you seen those? They’re like dampened, but I would think you’d still be able to move the same way. I was so excited to ask you that question because I know zills are so important to your dance style.
Carolena: Yeah, the crochets zill covers I think are good for practicing. I think they would look kind of silly during a performance. And I’m sorry if I’m offending anybody because you’ve been performing with it. I used to think that the crochet covers were not good for practicing, because if you’re not hearing what it sounds like when you’re applying the right amount of pressure to the zill, how are you going to learn to play your zills?
And then I had to compromise and realize Carolena, if someone’s not playing their zills at home, because you know, their roommates or their neighbors are going to turn them into the police. But they’ll practice just with the zill covers on. Let then practice with the zill covers. So I don’t practice with zill covers, but I also don’t have neighbors that would turn me into the police.
Alicia: I love it when people play zills in our band, like they’re playing it as a musical instrument, without the dance being part of it, because they’re able to be sensitive to when things are happening.
One of Carolena Nericcio’s Favorite Belly Dance Moves: Taxeem
Alicia: What is one of your favorite belly dance moves?
Carolena: My favorite move is the Taksim the figure eight infinity. I just feel like it has no beginning and it has no end and whenever you’re doing it, you’re perfecting it again and again, and again. it’s like a moving meditation. That’s my favorite move.
Alicia: That’s the name of our band. Taksim.
Carolena: Well, it’s a musical term.
Alicia: So it’s a figure 8 that goes horizontal?
Carolena: Well, it is a vertical muscle movement, but it looks horizontal.
Alicia: It’s almost like a reverse maya, like an up Maya on both that kind of a thing. Right?
Where Does Carolena Nericcio Like to Travel?
Alicia: What places in the world inspire you?
Carolena: That’s a good question. Well, Santa Fe, New Mexico. I really love the British Isles, but that’s because I speak the language. I feel like when I’m in the UK, I’m experiencing a different culture, but I understand what they’re saying, and I can communicate.
A lot of other places that I’ve visited I don’t speak the language, I’m in another culture and I feel like I can’t interact, and I can’t understand. So, I enjoy everywhere that I’ve been, but I really prefer being able to understand what’s happening.
Conversation and communication are so important to me. And I also don’t want to be the ugly American, you know.
Alicia: It’s so funny Carolena. I’m kind of on the other side. I want to go somewhere where I have no idea what’s going on. For me that is so exciting. But you created your own language. I never created my own language. So, it’s a very different way of being in the world.
Carolena: When I was very young, we would fly to Greece to visit our extended family. And I was only six, and I vividly remember several times that we were visiting our family out enjoying a dinner or something when people perceived instantly that we were American, and everything changed.
The fact that we were American meant that only the best of this could happen. And make that person go away, and this doesn’t even exist over here. I’m six years old and I’m like, something is really wrong. I could totally feel it.
And several times after that, when I visited Greece, I saw it happened again. And I was like, wow, this is really awkward. I can’t speak this language. So, it’s not like I can put somebody at ease and say, “I know that I’m American, but please don’t put that away and don’t change this, you know, don’t spend extra money on our meal or anything like that.”
Alicia: Well, you value blending it, right? You value being part of the group. So that sounds like it all fits together.
Carolena: Yep. Yep. It does all fit together. Thank you for understanding.
Alicia: Yeah. I don’t know why I want something crazy to happen. that’s why I’m like, I’m going back to India. I’m going back to some place where I just can’t understand what the hell is going on.
Carolena: If it works for you, do it.
Alicia: For some reason it does!
Carolena: But you know, that’s sort of the difference between choreography and improv, right? So, the place where I want to be where I don’t know what’s going to happen next is onstage in front of people in a costume dancing improv. I’m like, throw it at me. Just let me see if I can figure out what you’re trying to say.
For some people that would just be like, if it’s not choreographed up there, like I can’t do it. And I can. And also speaking extemporaneously in front of people, I have no problem.
We all have our different fear factors, and we all have our different confidence factors.
And so, I do have confidence when it comes to improvisation
Alicia: And teaching. How many thousands and thousands of people have you taught? It’s just kind of mind boggling.
Carolena: It’s true. And every classroom that you walk into, you have to adjust. You have to decide how much you’re going to adjust to the level of the people in the class and how much you’re going to push them a little bit higher, but not so high that people feel left out, but not so low that the people feel unchallenged.
You’ve got to constantly figure out what’s going to keep this boat floating. It’s a welcome challenge, but it’s a challenge.
Alicia: I love watching how Jill Parker does that, how she could make every level in the room still get something so beautiful. You guys are such masters.
Carolena’s Favorite Dancing Skirt: 25 Yard Black Tissue Skirt
Do you have a favorite skirt? And if so, what makes it special?
Carolena: I think my favorite skirt would be one of those 25 yard tissue skirts in black. I think black is elegant. I feel good wearing black, and I love those giant skirts, the way you can wrap them around you that’s really elegant.
I just love 10 yard skirts and 25 yard skirts. I just think they’re so flattering and so beautiful. I wish we could wear them as day wear, but it’s a little too attention getting when you don’t need to get attention, you know. But for dancing…
Alicia: I just think about all that hand-washing.
Carolena: Oh, you can wash them in the machine.
Alicia: Get out. Really?
Carolena: Yeah, of course you can.
Alicia: Oh, I’ve never done that
Can You Wash a 10 Yard Skirt in a Washing Machine?
Carolena: Really? Ooh, well it depends. I am a fabric and clothing person, so I’m concerned now. I don’t want you to just throw your skirt in the machine and come out and shreds and you’re like, Carolena, you promised!
There’s no reason why you can’t put it on gentle cycle on cold (if it doesn’t have beads or other decorative pieces on it)
And then I think you could fluff it in the dryer.
And then I wouldn’t bake it in the dryer because basically every time you put fabric in the dryer, it’s degrading the fabric. Right. But if it’s just a cotton skirt, there’s no reason why you can’t wash it and at least fluff it dry, or you could just be totally safe and let it drip dry and then touch it up with an iron.
I always washed mine in the dryer, regardless of whether you hand wash or machine wash your skirt, you’re going to remove the sizing from the skirt. Which is probably one of the things that drew you to that skirt was that it had a crispness to it. And that crispness is going to go away when you wash it, because the crispness is a finish that was put on the fabric. Right. And the water and the soap and the agitation is going to remove that. And it’s going to kind of go limp.
So, I would say don’t wash your skirt for as long as possible. There’s not really any reason to wash it unless it’s gotten muddy at the bottom.
if it’s got some kind of gold braid on it or beads or anything like that, then definitely no. No washing in the machine. So. Be careful out there!
Alicia: I’ve heard of people putting bedla in a pillowcase and putting it in the washing machine, like Bella costume…
Carolena: That’s also a good way to do it. You have to have a pretty big zipper bag to put a ten yard skirt in, but this is a good way to do it.
Alicia: When I come back from the medieval festivals that I go to filthy I might try to put one in the washing machine.
Carolena: Try it. One of the reasons I bought my washing machine is because it has a 15 minute cycle. You do a cold 15 minute cycle, and it’s the best. I have a front loader that’s another reason a front loader with a 15 minute gentle cycle is way different than a top loader.
What do Face Tattoos Mean in ATS?
Alicia: I’ve been intrigued by the drawn on face tattoos that I’ve seen with Sue Haleigh and Jamila Salimpour performing at the Renaissance Pleasure Festival back in the day, as well as the FCB style dancers all over the world.
What are some of the meanings in the tattoos that are used in ATS costuming?
Carolena: This is a really easy question. Just beauty marks. Our aesthetic appeal for the makeup. We decided a long time ago, not to try to represent anything because there are people who live in cultures where they’re actually tattooing something onto their face for a reason, and I can wipe mine off at the end of the day. So, there’s no way that I could say, you know, these dots mean this because I’m not living in that culture. So there’s no meaning.
Alicia: I saw a really funny dialogues online about fertility marks and people who were going, what about not fertility marks? I’m like, Ooh, I like those someone said protection. Use the protection marks.
Danceable Ritual: Putting on Stage Makeup Together
Alicia: Do you have a danceable ritual that you’d like to share?
Carolena: When you say danceable ritual, what comes to my mind is putting on stage makeup.
Putting on stage makeup is the ritual when you transform from the everyday into the dancer.
Alicia: I loved one of the videos that you made about stage makeup. You talked about, give yourself two hours as a troupe to come together and just create yourself together to do this together. Wow. That’s beautiful to actually schedule that.
Carolena: Yep. I love that.
Carolena’s Quick Coconut Milk and Salsa Soup – Vegan and Gluten Free
Alicia: What is one vegan whole food ingredient that you like?
Carolena: I like all vegan whole food ingredients. Tofu was one of my favorites, and my current experimental favorite is coconut milk. Coconut milk makes everything go mmmm.
The easiest perfect soup that you can make is half a can of coconut milk, half a can of salsa and mix them together and you have soup. Try it. It’s amazing. Add a little turmeric black pepper, just a little bit of salt, you don’t need much. Stir it all up. And it’s like, mmm.
Alicia: I am such a nerd for coconut milk. I boil mine for a long time with carrots all chopped up in it. Carrots and mushrooms. It’s like vegan clam chowder.
Carolena: Yeah. Coconut milk is a gift from God.
The Future of FCBD Style
Alicia: Tell us about your dreams for the future of FatChanceBellyDance Style.
Carolena: I just hope everybody will continue dancing and spend a little more time in the basics. And try to really feel why simple is good.
Don’t feel like you have to create more and more new things. Just break it down and find the beauty and the boundaries of the simplicity.
But as long as people are dancing, my job is done. So, get out there, keep dancing, be nice to each other, be cooperative cultivate your community.
Stylish Pantaloons with Pockets Coming Up!
Alicia: Tell us about something exciting that you have coming up
Carolena: I’m working on a new dance garment. So it’s going to be pantaloons with pockets, lots of pockets, but it’s going to be uber stylish.
We’re all rethinking our wardrobes, right? So you need to be able to get up in the morning and put on something comfortable that’ll move you around the house. Right. But you might need to go out and run an errand. And so you don’t want to have to change out of what you are wearing. You want to just walk outside with it. If you walked outside in it, that’d be great. Then you can come back inside and you’re comfortable.
But then once this shelter in place is over, because it will be, then you’re going to want to be able to get up in the morning, put on something comfortable and stylish, and go out for coffee, being comfortable and stylish. And then just roll over to the dance studio and put your skirt over these groovy pantaloons. Then afterwards, take the skirt off and go out for a drink and you’re comfortable and stylish.
So that’s kind of what I’m working on.
Alicia: Pockets and women’s pants!
Carolena: Yeah. My clothing design brand is called Bessie because my mother’s name was Bess. The whole thing centers around the photograph of her when she was six years old. So adorable. That’s the tag that I use. I want to create a sub brand called “It Has Pockets”. That’s what every woman on the planet wants to know. Does it have pockets? Everything that I design has pockets.
Alicia: That’s awesome.
Thank you so, so much for all of the thought that you’ve put into making our dance community stronger.
Thank you for all of the wisdom that you’ve cultivated over your dance career and your fashion career, and thank you for continuing to create amazing things. And for being on this podcast too! Thank you so much.
Carolena: Thank you so much. it’s been a pleasure.