The Mama of Tribal Fusion Jill Parker on the Alchemy of Belly Dance – ALLAF 030

Belly Dance Podcast jill parker

Jill Parker shares what she wishes she knew when she first started dancing with Fat Chance Belly Dance, talks about tattoos, beauty secrets, and the sorcery of dance.

Live at the Corset Factory, a pre-Industrial Revolution building in Cortland, upstate New York with Jill Parker from the West Coast hanging out on the East Coast for a hot minute.

Jill Parker, always cutting edge. For decades, she’s been performing all over the world with others in the pantheon of belly dance greats including Rachel Brice, Carolina Nericcio, and Zoe Jakes. Jill Parker is the mama of Tribal Fusion. In the ‘90s, Jill began to intertwine sensuality with feminism in a way that had never been seen before. As it is so eloquently stated on Jill’s fantastic and brand new website, Jill Parker Dance.com she’s “an exceptional teacher with a gift for demystifying this intricate dance, making it accessible for new dancers and offering insights for refinements and nuance to even the most seasoned professional dancer.”

Jill Parker is by far one of the clearest belly dance teachers I have ever studied with. When students ask questions, she leads with the answer and she has such a big heart. Everyone in her class is valued. Her choreographies are brilliant and somehow her hair always looks amazing. You might laugh, but I even think her hairstyle helps me learn. Check out the article on my site titled 10 Lessons Learned from Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Star Jill Parker, and I’ll tell you more.

Jill was one of the original members of Fat Chance Belly Dance and founded Ultra Gypsy.

These troupes changed the way the world thinks about dance and inspired a deluge of Western interpretations of Middle Eastern dance. Jill has given immense gifts to the world of dancers.

What do you wish someone told you when you first started dancing with Fat Chance Belly Dance?

Jill Parker:

Really, I thought that everything needed to be perfect. And I wish somebody had given me the permission or even suggestion to feel free to make mistakes because what I’ve learned is that they help me grow.

Alicia Free:

Are you talking about mistakes in the studio or mistakes on stage?

Jill Parker:

In a low-stakes performance, being able to make mistakes to learn from them so that when I have a higher-stakes performance, I feel like I’ve moved through that part.

Alicia Free:

I feel like you once said something about you practice at 110%…

Jill Parker:

I do say 110%. Not that you can achieve under 110%, but you get the point. I hope that when I’m on stage I can access 75% of that or maybe 90% on a good day. Because you might trip up the stairs, and it never goes perfectly. It’s just problem solving.

Alicia Free:

What do you wish someone told you when you first started creating and teaching Tribal Fusion?

Jill Parker:

I think a few things come to mind here. One is to relax and to search myself answers and not know them necessarily but kind of walk through them to give the correct answers in a relaxed way. And again, I come back to that, make mistakes, but be honest about them or say, “Huh, I’m not really clear about that. Let me see.” I guess that’s the gist of it.

DANCEABLE RITUAL

Alicia Free:

Do you have a danceable ritual that you want to share?

Jill Parker:

I dance in the kitchen a lot. Often, while I’m walking my dogs and I’m listening to music, so I think the neighbors really love seeing what new choreography is brewing.

Alicia Free:

For some mysterious reason, sometimes my mic doesn’t record what it has the pleasure of listening to, so I’m going to add back in some parts of this interview that were lost to the sound gods. Now it’s time for some music.

DANCEABLE SONG

Alicia Free:

You always have the best playlists, the best music for your classes in your workshops. What danceable song would you like to share with our listeners?

Jill Parker:

Right now, I’m really loving a track called Hear Me Roar by Kr3ture.

Alicia Free:

What do you like about this song, Jill?

Jill Parker:

I like the sensual quality and I’m really into playing with downtempo pieces right now, so this is definitely that field.

Alicia Free:

Meaning slower pieces?

Jill Parker:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alicia Free:

Awesome. The name of this one-man band is Kr3ture spelled with a K and a three instead of an E, which is fun because the three is used in the English notation of Arabic words for the Arabic letter ayn. This artist has really fabulous music. It says on Kr3ture’s website that Kr3ture is “a multi-instrumentalist and producer based out of Santa Cruz, California. Borrowing from various base music genres, Kr3ture creates a unique signature sound that is soulful, sexy, and sublime, making bodies move and spirits lift. Live performances include improvisations on instruments like tenor, sax, guitars, flutes, harmonica, and many others making him a phenomenal one-man band.”

After this interview, Jill put on this song Hear Me Roar by Kr3ture for us to dance to. The lyrics are, “I am lion, hear me roar”. I love it. We perfected this slow, slinky forward glide across the floor, painting a sneaks trail with our toes, never leaving the ground as we physically took ownership of the space and kept moving forward. Our arms created a horizon that emanated from our hearts, and our arms rippled like a soft plant anchored to the bottom of the sea and shallow water.

Jill talked about the vulnerability of dancing slow and open. She helped me see the beauty in that yet again.

In Jill’s workshops and classes, her playlist is a bonus. She always plays the songs that I really like, but I’ve never heard before. I want to stop and Shazam every song, but of course, dancing with Jill is more important.

In the interview we did with Johanna Zenobia in episode 26 of A Little Lighter, Johanna mentions the importance of building your playlists.

It adds so much to life to have beautiful danceable music ready to play anytime we feel like dancing.

Let’s do some dancing.

DAMN SEXY DANCE MOVE: West Coast Jewel

Alicia Free:

Now, we have featured the move “the jewel” in another episode an interview with Hakan. We called it Welcoming Unicorns because Hakan is a male dancer who identifies as male, and there aren’t that many of them out there in the belly dance world. Hakan highlighted a jewel as his damn sexy dance move. And we were just talking about how the East Coast and West Coast jewels are different.

Could you talk a little bit about the West Coast jewel?

Jill Parker:

Yeah, so West Coast jewel is definitely a really sensuous movement. How do I describe this? It’s sort of three-dimensional figure of eight in the sagittal plane.

Alicia Free:

Sagittal plane?

Jill Parker:

Yes.

Alicia Free:

A sag?

Jill Parker:

A sagittal. It’s not flat vertical; it’s not flat horizontal. It moves in a three-dimensional plane.

Alicia Free:

Ohhh.

Jill Parker:

Yeah. So it also has an undulating quality and a twist at the waist. So it’s quite a few layers coming together and it’s very slinky.

Alicia Free:

So my hips are not going in a horizontal figure of eight.

Jill Parker:

Correct.

Alicia Free:

And they’re not going in a vertical figure of eight.

Jill Parker:

Right.

Alicia Free:

They’re kind of going diagonal?

Jill Parker:

They’re moving from the front into the back while they twist down, not in a straight down, but in a diagonal.

Alicia Free:

Whoa. And there’s no accent in the West Coast jewel.

Jill Parker:

Right. It’s all slinky smooth.

Alicia Free:

In the East Coast jewel, it’s like a figure of eight with a boom.

Jill Parker:

With a little pop, right?

Alicia Free:

Right.

Jill Parker:

So this jewel travels all the way down from the upper spine, so diaphragm, upper back area, down the spine, into the leg, all the way through the pelvis into the leg.

Alicia Free:

So that’s the undulation part. Whoa. I want to see it. I’m going to try to get a video of Jill’s moves somewhere and take it up or one of her current videos or get her to show me another one. I did catch a video of Jill doing this move and explaining it. So go to Alicia Free.com and to the show notes for this episode, this interview with Jill Parker, and check out that video so you can really get that West Coast jewel down.

(Recorded after the interview)

Jill taught us I think four or five combinations that were so solid. They were consistent every time she did them and they were very different. I noticed that my elbows got straightened where my elbows are usually a little soft, totally straight arms, and they looked really good so it’s fun to try that. So we had these four or five combinations and we were moving throughout the room, doing them together, and really feeling as if we were a group that danced together more often than this one workshop. For one of the movements, Jill was telling us to follow the path of the movement.

It was this hip going up and over in the front and then going up and over in the back and then undulating up through the torso to the chest, and then swimming down with our shoulders first and then arms windmilling around to hold the sun. It was really beautiful sequence of movements. And when she said follow the path of the movement, I saw the way she choreographs and I saw the way I wanted to move.

FEATURED LIGHTEN MY BODY FOOD

Alicia Free:

is one vegan whole food ingredient that you would like to share?

Jill Parker:

I’m having a hard time picking one, so I’m going to name several. The first one is pepita salsa, which is pumpkin seeds ground up within the salsa to give it a lot of body and a nutty taste. The second one is coconut oil. I use in everything, even my coffee and tea. I love arugula. I’m big on greens. I eat them for every meal. PG Tips tea from England is so good. It’s really strong. It has some body to it. I love the flavor and I drink it every day, all day long and in that, I put raw honey with propolis.

Alicia Free:

With what?

Jill Parker:

Propolis.

Alicia Free:

Propolis?

Jill Parker:

Yes.

Alicia Free:

What’s propolis?

Jill Parker:

It has a health benefit.

Alicia Free:

Is it like a supplement or a vitamin or…

Jill Parker:

No, it’s naturally occurring and it boosts your immune system.

Alicia Free (Recorded after the interview):

Propolis. So honey is bee food that bees make so they can eat it and propolis is sometimes called bee glue for holding their hives together. So yes, neither of these are vegan foods. My aim here in this segment of the podcast is not to stand on a vegan soapbox, but instead to really help us eat more plants and crowd out junk food, especially processed food and enjoy food and feel guilt-free about what we eat. I buy honey from local producers, and it’s in their best interest to treat their bees well. And honey bees can swarm and just leave the bee boxes if they’re not happy in most smaller operations which makes me feel better about it too as opposed to other farming situations. I eat honey occasionally and I’m happy when I do it, so I’m at peace with that. Whatever works for you. I just wanted to clear up any confusion about why I would have those ingredients in and also use the word vegan in this segment.

Alicia Free (Back to the interview):

Sorry, I got to go back to the pepita salsa. So it’s like a tomato salsa and they make kind of a nut butter kind of thing out of the pepitas by grinding it?

Jill Parker:

Some of it. It’s like partially ground.

Alicia Free:

Oh, so there’s chunks in it.

Jill Parker:

Yeah. Not big chunks, but you get the body of it without it feeling like an almond butter peanut butter. It’s used sparingly.

Alicia Free:

What do you like to put it on?

Jill Parker:

Everything.

Alicia Free:

Chips?

Jill Parker:

Chips. Sometimes I put it on my salad. You name it.

Let’s play dress up.

MAKE YOU SHINE COSTUME TIP

Alicia Free:

You always look great. You have a real fashion sense and you are always wearing gorgeous ethnic jewelry. Do you have any costume tips for us?

Jill Parker:

If you’ve seen any of my costumes, you know I’m wild for old coins but not a shiny silver, but a very patina’d silver and I’m also really into draping. I love textiles and I love seeing how they can fall in drapes on the body.

Alicia Free:

Maria Hammer was talking about draping silk veils that her mother dyes. That was one of her tips in episode #22.

Jill Parker:

I have her mother dye me veils.

Alicia Free:

Oh, that is cool. That is cool. Would you say that tattoos have become part of belly dance costumes? If so, about when did that start?

Jill Parker:

Hmm, well, I will say I don’t think tattoos are for everyone. I do love tattoos and I had them before I began dancing. In fact, everybody in Fat Chance Belly Dance had tattoos, well, most, and most of them had the tattoos before they began dancing. The tattoos on my fingers, they’re based on Moroccan designs, so that’s what that’s representative of. I also got the symbols for my alchemy program tattooed on my hands, and I just love the logo. I’m excited about what they mean to me and about the aesthetic.

Alicia Free:

Can we jump to ask you more about the Alchemy Program?

Jill Parker:

How do I explain alchemy? So I started a new program called Alchemy. It’s a certification program. I felt like when I began doing this form, I was initiated into something really amazing, really feminist, really out of the ordinary.

 

It wasn’t like going to a spin class. It was just something incredibly special. And I would like people to feel that way when they have this experience and share this with me. Sorcery of belly dance and I really stand behind that idea of mysticism blended in with all of these other more technical bits.

Another piece of this program that I’m really proud of and that has been a long time in development for me is a performance lab.

It’s really special for people to perform for their teacher, but most importantly their peers and get direct written feedback about a number of topics and how they’re coming across and any detailed information friends want to offer. This is something I would have wanted when I was starting out dancing and even becoming a new performer or a new teacher, and I’m excited about people being able to have that information.

Alicia Free:

So that’s part of the Alchemy Program?

Jill Parker:

It is.

Alicia Free:

Performance labs, so it’s like an online aspect of it?

Jill Parker:

No. They perform in front of their peers. A proper performance with a costume, makeup, lights in a venue. It might be a studio that we’ve converted into a little performance space or it might be a nightclub. It’s been a feature of the program that people are really responding to.

Alicia Free:

So you’ve already rolled this out in different places?

Jill Parker:

Yep.

Alicia Free:

Awesome.

FEEL-GOOD-LOOK-GOOD HABIT

Alicia Free:

Do you have a feel-good-look-good habit for us? A beauty tip if you will?

Jill Parker:

Yeah. I use coconut oil on my whole body. I use it as a softening mask for my hair and my face, and I use it as a lotion on my skin and obviously I also eat it.

Alicia Free:

And which one because I see there’s extra virgin coconut oil, there’s refined, there’s unrefined.

Jill Parker:

I use extra virgin organic.

Alicia Free:

Is it actually hard at room temperature?

Jill Parker:

It is, yeah.

Alicia Free:

So you just rub it on like a piece of soap?

Jill Parker:

Yep, exactly. Use my fingers and soften it in my hands and apply it.

Alicia Free:

Soften it in your hands.

Jill Parker:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alicia Free:

How do you know what’s too much in your hair? That seems like a tricky one, oil like coconut oil in your hair?

Jill Parker:

I wash it out. I use it like a mask. Same with the stuff on the skin. I put it on my skin and then I put a hot towel on my skin and then let it sink in for a bit and then I wipe it off with a warm washcloth.

Tell us something that you’ve learned on your adventures abroad, something about dance

Jill Parker:

How about something about touring? So my friend [Olivia Kissel 00:15:57] and I have traveled together, and we like to joke about the underbelly of belly dance. You’ve arrive in some beautiful place that you’ve never seen before, and then suddenly you realize you have to walk up four or five stories. You’re carrying a costumer three with metal all over it. You’re carrying whatever clothes that you need on tour for three weeks and merchandise. If you can imagine, you might have two or three suitcases and two of them might be quite large and it’s incredible. You’re dying. And this is just one part of the underbelly of belly dance. We don’t have Sherpas.

Alicia Free:

It’s a business idea, Jill. Yeah, if there’s who want to Sherpa for established dancer.

Jill Parker:

That’s funny.

Who is one dancer we might not know about, but we should be looking out for?

Jill Parker:

Okay, I’m going to name three. Assuming you’re a Tribal Fusion dancer or a dancer that likes folkloric dance, I’m going to speak about three that I think are under-recognized or under known. Maria Hammer is by far my favorite dancer and I think not enough people know about her. She was a forbearer in our form and really just exceptional and for some reason, doesn’t get enough recognition. Maybe she doesn’t promote herself enough.

Alicia Free (Recorded after the interview because of recording failure during the interview):

Jill also wanted to spotlight Elizabeth Strong. Elizabeth is also in the Bay Area and she has traveled extensively. I’ve studied with her as well. I went on her site, Strong Dancer.com and saw that she was a touring member of belly dance superstars, was a founding member of Belly Dance Evolution and of Beats Antique dance company with Zoe Jakes, and she was a former principal member of Iowa Ethnic Dance Company. Very cool. And she’s traveled to Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Greece, and Bulgaria to study closely at the source and is now considered one of the leading experts in the form, and she performs with live music groups. So Elizabeth Strong is very cool. I’m so glad that Jill mentioned her in this show.

Belly Dancing to Live Music Tips from Elizabeth Strong & Accordion Player Dan Cantrell

Jill Parker:

And she’s just beautiful. She’s traveled to Turkey a whole bunch.

Alicia Free:

Jill also wanted to spotlight Sahra Kent or Saeeda. Saeeda studied dance ethnology at UCLA and she studied Egyptian folkloric dance under Farida Fahmy, the principal dancer in Reda Dance Troupe, the folkloric dance troupe that was sponsored by the Egyptian government and quite famous and did amazing work. So Saeeda has some pretty amazing experience to share with people, and she’s been doing this Journey Through Egypt Program and Sahra started her dance career in Arabic nightclubs in Los Angeles and she also had a contract in a five-star hotel in Egypt for six years. So I’d also love to learn more about Sahra Kent or Saeeda.

There’s a tremendous amount of stuff you can learn from her about the history and the culture from a very academic point of view. And her teaching and her dancing are both beautiful. Sahra Kent, I think she’s based out of LA still but I’m not certain. She may also be going by the name Sahra Saeeda.

Alicia Free:

Just want to highlight that Maria was the guest in episode 22 and on my site too, I have a whole article about dancing to live music tips that I learned from Elizabeth Strong when she was in the area.

Jill Parker:

Yeah, I love it.

Alicia Free:

Some wonderful dancers. I have to learn more about Sahra Kent.

Jill Parker:

Cool.

Tell us about something exciting that you’re creating.

Jill said that her troupe, Little Egypt, is preparing for Tribal Massive 2020.

Jill Parker:

We’ll be showing that on an amazing stage with high-production values.

Alicia Free:

And they are dancing to…

Jill Parker:

Music made special for us by Jef Stott, wonderful musician and electronic music maker. That’s Jeff, J-E-F so one F; S-T-O-T-T. You should look him up. His stuff is pretty rad and we’re just working away on little snippets and little choreographic bits and becoming really inspired by each other’s contributions and sort of spiraling the energy up by working in a collaborative way which is my favorite way to work.

Alicia Free:

After this interview, I listened to some Jef Stott and added some of his great danceable songs to the Belly Dance Body and Soul playlist on Spotify. There are 21 plus hours of songs that will make you want to dance on that playlist. It’s a great resource for dancers so open it up.

Alicia Free:

Jill, thank you so much for sharing your words and wisdom with us on A Little Lighter and for everything that you have done and are doing for the dance community. I am honored to be one of your students and I appreciate everything you have taught me.

I hope listeners check out your new site, Jill Parker Dance.com and check out the alchemy certification program and get to study with you as well.

Thank you to Jo and Tessa of Belly, Set, Go! for letting us record this interview just outside of their dance studio space. Thank you so much for being here, Jill.

Jill Parker:

You’re so sweet to me, Alicia. Thank you so much for having me.

Alicia Free (Recorded after the interview):

Something really clicked for me this time with Jill. I finally saw some of her secrets and her subtlety. I caught a glimpse of the alchemy of her every move, some of the fleeting perfection and the imperfection of Jill’s humanity. What a gift that Jill Parker.

The day after this interview I started singing in my empty kitchen. Mawal, this vocal improvisation rose from my soul and something new crawled up behind my eyeballs and slid down the front beaming out. I saw differently, touched again by a master and again becoming the most powerful version of myself at that very moment.

10 Lessons Learned from Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Star Jill Parker

Since this interview was cut a little bit short by my microphone malfunctions and also by Jill’s amazing clarity where she just went right to answer the question, I’m going to add some parts from this article on my site, Alicia Free.com titled the 10 Lessons Learned from Tribal Fusion Belly Dance Star, Jill Parker. Just a couple I wanted to include in this show with Jill.

#1 A solid well-thought out choreography makes dance class and performances more fun

Now, at Super Fun Dance Camp, Jill had choreographed this piece that could accommodate as many people as wanted to perform it which is so cool.

One and also had very different things going on in different groups on the stage at the same time and they all matched so well and looked so good together. So they were three different groups of people dancing at the same time doing different moves, but the choreography was so cohesive. I’d never been part of anything like that and really the power of coming out with just so many people of performing with half of the room basically, it was a really wonderful experience. It was what community feels like in a dance form.

#2 Give your students short videos of the hardest combinations BEFORE class. And the music too.

Before we all got together at the camp to learn the choreography that we were going to perform at the end of camp, Jill also sent out two-minute long videos on a Facebook group page so that we could practice the hardest movements and really drill those and then tie the choreography together and the hardest sequences and that was so helpful. Such as simple thing to do for your students to get them more comfortable with the choreography before even arriving in the class.

When I’ve taken classes with Jill, I love how she even simplifies learning even more by starting without music. She starts with just finger steps so we can really just listen to her voice and get the steps and then match them to the music. Jill has also sent out the music ahead of time so that we could really listen to it and internalize it before doing the choreography. But when you’re first learning choreography in a class, it’s nice to just have voice. So Jill just snaps her fingers and uses very concise spoken directions that she repeats. She does not change them and allows us to create different ways to remember the choreography through words and through feeling and just through the most basic rhythmic element of the song. Her finger snaps.

#3 Start with the footwork

Again, simplifying dance, making it accessible for all of us.  Jill does a lot of beautiful footwork in her choreographies and she likes to travel around the stage. If we get the footwork first, then we can layer on the top what comes above the footwork much easier than trying to do it all at once or getting the arms just right and then trying to do the steps with it. Starting with the footwork first really seems to work well for a lot of choreography. When I teach classes, I do that as well. Learn the footwork piece and then build up from there, and this is also the foundation for sharing the stage and not running into each other and feeling like you can own that whole space that you’re dancing. Your footwork is key.

#4 Keep both big and small movements clear. “Don’t confuse clear with big,” Jill says.

Just like when someone can’t understand what you’re saying. If you say it louder, it’s probably not going to help if you’re not being clear when you say it.

Jill can make the smallest, most subtle movements unique and compelling and that is a skill to work toward, especially in this dance where micro movements are so important. I got the term micro movements from Alia Thabit’s book, Midnight at the Crossroads: Has Belly Dance Sold Its Soul? I just really liked it. It spoke a lot to me, micro movements and microtones in the music as well. That makes belly dance so delicious and infinite.

Alicia Free:

#5  Zip up in the middle

Jill’s movements are consistently clean and tight and I think this is one of the things that makes her one of the best belly dance teachers in the world. Respect your center line. Notice when your dance slips into a mix of untrained movement going out in multiple directions? The audience can’t comprehend that. Do us all a favor, zip up in the middle, and then the audience can understand and we feel good as dancers doing a focused movement well instead of a bunch of movements, not very well, and your mind will probably be less chaotic as well. So those are some extra treasures that I wanted to share from Jill.

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