Fusion Dance Icon Rachel Brice – 075
This interview with Rachel Brice dives deep into recent American belly dance fusion history and fashion. Rachel reminisces about her influencers Suhaila Salimpour, Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance® (formerly ATS), and Jill Parker, and opens up about inclusiveness and past mistakes fusing dance forms.
It is such an honor and a pleasure to welcome Rachel Brice to A Little Lighter! There is a beautifully written bio of Rachel on https://www.rachelbrice.com/about, so I’m going to share it with you piece by piece as we take a little journey through the career and life of Belly Dance Fusion icon Rachel Brice
“Rachel Brice first fell in love with Belly Dance at 16 years old, when she saw a group (who later became Hahbi Ru) at a Renaissance Faire, and started classes immediately. Soon after, she discovered a video of Suhaila Salimpour which she obsessively studied. She began making her living by performing American Cabaret Belly Dance at restaurants and teaching yoga while putting herself through school.”
Just BEING Young is Sexy. What Does your Dance Say About you at This Point in Your Life?
#1. Let’s pause your bio here. I remember hearing you say something like, “I used to think belly dance wasn’t about being sexy. But come on. Just being young is sexy.” And that really struck me. You and I are just a few years apart in age, and after I heard you say that, I saw dancers in their 20s in a new light. What do you want your dance to say about you at this point in your life and career?
So, I’m challenging a lot of my own BS right now. it’s really easy to have ideas about what something’s gonna be like, when you arrive there.
But destinations are rarely like you anticipate they’re gonna be, and that’s how aging has been. When I was younger I thought, women should embrace aging.
I feel differently about my appearance. I’m not always proud of the way I feel about it. it’s different than I thought.
There is something to be said for having lived through decades. We just need to find a place in our culture that celebrates experience. And I feel like a lot of times there’s this huge rift between older generations and younger generations because both of them are defending themselves instead of the older generations being fascinated and excited about the changes that are happening and the younger generations being excited about what people learned in the past.
I think Gen Z’s amazing and I’m super excited by the changes that they’re making.
And they seem to be really appreciating elders too. So I think something is on the horizon. For the relationship between younger and older generations. So I’m looking forward to that.
Should belly dancers wear bindis?
I think that it’s really Gen Z that’s making us realize so much because I’m of the previous generation where when I was dancing in nightclubs and restaurants and meeting people from the Middle East, they were like, wow, how did you get interested in my culture? That’s so cool.
And, then their kids come along and are like, wait a minute, you’re gonna make fun of my parents, and then you’re gonna wear a bindi? I don’t think so.
So this next generation is speaking up in a way that their parents hadn’t. And I wasn’t there when that shift happened.
I was happily on a plane somewhere thinking that opinions are fixed in time and space. And when I started reading, the bindi is a really great example of how many different feelings there are about a cultural object and what that object represents. I mean, there’s no way that you could say that a person from India feels A, B, or C.
The bindi is a great example of how many different feelings there are about a cultural object.
There are so many different feelings about it. And yeah, so the more I’m learning the more I’m realizing that whatever I do, I need to investigate it and learn enough to where I feel comfortable with doing it, but also still be open to the fact that I could learn more and need to let it go. Here’s the big challenge.
Whatever I do, I need to learn enough to either feel comfortable doing it, or let it go.
You know, as long as I’m more interested or as interested in how my actions affect other people as I am in how they feel about me I think that there’s the opportunity to learn.
If I am genuinely interested in how my actions affect others, there’s an opportunity to learn. If I am defensive, I lose that opportunity.
But if I’m defending myself like we’re gonna do, then I lose that opportunity. So, yeah, I sure hope that I find something that I feel is a respectful homage that brings people together that I’m as in love with as I was with some of the previous incarnations of the dance that I was doing.
Cuz man, I had so much fun. It’s so much fun. I loved it so much and I still love it, but I just haven’t found the pants that fit, I guess.
Most Belly Dance Venues Have Disappeared, and Now we Dance for Each Other.
#2. I interviewed Suhaila Salimpour on this podcast back episodes 38 and 44, and we talked about the history of belly dance and where we are now. What are some of the best changes you have seen in belly dance since you started dancing in the 90s?
I think my answer’s gonna be less about the actual dance and more about the community, I think because of the loss of so many venues.
We don’t have the same kind of Middle Eastern restaurants in America that we did before 9/11. The community has really decided to keep it going through all of these festivals and theater shows. And in a lot of cases, it’s dancers dancing for each other and, maybe you get five or six husbands or boyfriends or kids that were dragged there.
But, generally speaking, instead of us dancing for non-dancers the way it was in the eighties and before, we’re really doing a lot for one another.
And it’s a testament to how much we love this dance. No audience. Fine. We’ll do it for each other then.
And I think that’s pretty amazing that we’ve figured out a way to keep it going.
The Big Belly Dance Bands Have Dissolved.
#3. I believe you are a person who fully embraces your shadow self, so I think you will also appreciate this question. What are some of the unfortunate ways you have seen belly dance change since you started dancing in the 90s?
One thing for sure that I really miss is the large number of musicians hanging out on a regular basis and playing music together. In the Bay Area in the late nineties when I went to school for dance ethnology at San Francisco State, one of the awesome extras that I didn’t expect when I moved there was that I would meet this large group of people that not only hung out all the time but were constantly learning and growing and striving to be better. And I learned so much about practice from these people.
One of my favorite things was that Tobias Roberson, who was my boyfriend at the time, had created this life where he would play music all day, then he would teach, and then he would do gigs. And when he was hired to play a show people were just basically seeing him do what he did all the time anyway.
And I remember thinking that that was such a huge difference. Rather than practicing for a show, I felt like people got to see a snippet of his life and he didn’t have to prepare for his show because he was always playing for hours.
I had such a struggle with practice. But I started to develop a practice at that time as a result of hanging out with him. And their bar for excellence was so high. And they were constantly playing music togethers like Dan Cantrell of The Toids, and Peter Jakes of Brass Menagerie and a whole crew of people that were just constantly playing music together.
And so the people I was doing shows with were also my best friends, and that was an amazing time, and I really miss that. And are small pockets of musicians, but because dancers use recorded music so much you know, they don’t get a chance to work as much as they would like to.
And so they have to turn their attention to real pursuits and there’s not as many musicians out there, so there’s not as many people seeing the music and getting bitten by the bug. And it was a romantic time that I hope can have a resurgence at some point just because it’s so enjoyable to have a community like that.
When Rachel Brice Belly Danced in Clubs…
When I started dancing in clubs. I learned what works for dancers that are established in a club and what doesn’t work. And the first thing that doesn’t work is not meeting the dancers before you go to the owner, as you can imagine.
Meet the other dancers in the club before you go to the owner.
Once I moved to the Bay Area I went to the dancers and said: Hey, if you ever need a sub, you know, I would love to sub. And next thing you know, they’re calling me all the time. I don’t wanna go in, will you dance for me? And then I ended up being really good friends with the dancers and loving my relationship with them as much, if not more than the actual experience of performing for the audience.
And Nanna Candelaria, who became a dear friend of mine, was telling me that back in the day, what she started, cuz she had been dancing for like 25 years. When I met her, she said when she started, the dancers used to put cigarette burn holes in each other’s costumes.
They were trying to take each other down and it did not feel like that at all. We would hang out, we’d drink wine, we’d laugh, and next thing you know, we’d go collaborate for fun for some show outside of the restaurant. It was a great experience.
But that was also because the owner of that restaurant was a lovely person. Culture is often built from the top down. So if you have a good restaurant owner, you’re gonna have a good time.
Suhaila Salimpour, Carolena Nericcio and Jill Parker’s influence on Rachel Brice
#4. A decade after you started dancing, you discovered Carolena Nericcio’s FatChanceBellyDance®Style (FCBD®Style), formerly known as ATS or American Tribal Style. When I interviewed Carolena back in episode 58 of this podcast, she said “Successful patterns repeat themselves.” Can you tell us some of the ways that Carolena and FCBD Style changed your patterns?
Yeah. I mean, she changed everything at some point.
I was in love with Sue’s technique in Dances for the Sultan. And if you haven’t seen it, you need to go buy it right away because everyone needs to own this piece of American belly dance history. Just stunning, amazing technique. And I wanted to be exactly like her until I saw video of myself trying to be like her…
And then I was like, oh, that doesn’t look the same. So that was my first experience of, oh, what looks good on one person, doesn’t necessarily look natural and right on another person. And I just couldn’t find my place.
And then I saw Carolena, and the first thing that I really resonated with was the posture. Was the way that she held her neck and how high her chin was and how long her neck was, and how pressed down her shoulders were and how lifted the chest was.
Carolena Nericcio looked like royalty to me
She just looked like royalty to me, and immediately I resonated with that. She had a huge smile. And then of course the jewelry. Fell in love with the jewelry.
And then the way that the body line worked with the jewelry…
And later when I learned a little bit more about Masha Archer‘s intentions with the dance, I understood why it looked the way that it did.
But at the time, all I felt was just what’s happening feels right. And it didn’t change my love for Suhaila’s approach to technique and to drum solo and sort of more American Cabaret technique. But I felt in love with the whole chest, shoulder, arm, neck, head relationship that I saw in Fat Chance and the whole aesthetic.
Rachel was dancing Fat Chance from the waist up and Salimpour from the waist down.
So I immediately started learning fat chance style, and basically, I never thought about it this way before, but in some ways you could think of it as like – what I was working on was fat chance from the waist up and Salimpour from the waist down, kind of a thing, I guess. Because I really loved the posture and the presentation, and I also loved the improvisational vocabulary.
Suhaila’s shape-driven, isolation-heavy drum solo improvisational style
But it didn’t change my love for like a shape-driven, isolation-heavy drum solo where you’re not pulling from a vocabulary, you’re dancing shapes. So yeah, the patterns that I started working with became more about applying some of the principles that I saw in what Fat Chance was doing to what I was already doing.
And, I asked permission from Carolena about that because what I was doing was so heavily influenced by her that I said, are you okay with me kind of building an entire life on what you have done, but changing it? And she was like, yeah, sure. Thanks for asking.
Yeah. So I think she’s happy to be asked , and appreciates the respect. Because yeah, She basically, changed everything.
Jill Parker changed everything
And then Jill Parker, who I also know that you interviewed, Jill Parker added another dimension to that. So she was just coming out of her eight years with Fat Chance, maybe a year or two into her next project. And she was trying to move away from structured improvisation and was moving more towards what she was calling Belly Dance Theater at the time. And it was very Bay Area, you know, there was fire dancing and we were wearing shredded fabric and painting our eyes black. And the head wraps came off and the cholis came off and things got very sinister and oh God, I was in love with it. In love with it.
Before Jill moved away from structured improv, you had to choose a side: Tribal or Cabaret.
And that kind of broke because before Jill, you had to choose a side. It was, what was called tribal at the time. You’re either tribal or you’re cabaret and there was no fusion. And Jill just kind of blew the doors off everything.
And I think the first time I saw anyone doing it I think it was the Rakkasah performance in 2000 where Sharon Kihara was in this performance too.
They all came out in what we were all expecting. Had head wraps and chos and skirts, and she came out and had like 30 people in the troupe or something, and after the first song, half of them left and finished out their thing. And then Jill and a number of dancers came back on without head wraps or cholis.
And I remember the feeling. I was like, oh, I don’t think I liked that. Oh no. Like, you are not allowed. This is not allowed. You know, cuz everyone was wearing head wraps at the time. Even then it was Paulette’s group who I saw wearing flowers in their hair. But that was after, I think, so nobody was doing that.
So basically all of these different patterns. And all of it really comes from Jamila. I just always continually circled back to Jamila, the vibe that she created but yeah, Carolena’s group changed everything and then Jill changed that.
#5. Around the same time you discovered FCBD, Jill Parker became your technique inspiration. Jill is one of my favorite people on the planet, and I featured Jill Parker in episode 30 of this podcast. What was it about Jill’s technique that inspired you?
What isn’t it about Jill’s technique? Oh my God. Jill Parker.
I think one of the main things was that I always felt like I was scrawny. I am embracing the way that I was built now. I know there’s room for all of us, but at the time I had this idea of what a belly dancer was supposed to look like, and I didn’t look like that naturally.
I mean, the first dancer that I saw was super curvy. And what I really responded to was the reverb of her costume. Like she had tassels on. Her movement extenders were bouncing off of her curves. And I was like, I think that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
And then I start dancing, and I felt like I didn’t have that reverb. And I wanted to look like other people. I wanted to have a belly, I wanted to have softness.
I wanted to be curvier.
When I saw Jill, it was the first time that I had ever seen that really muscular serpentine.
Like that muscular rippling that happens when a cat is hunting or a snake is slithering. That intense ripple that was accentuated by her belly tattoos. The grapes that she had tattooed on her belly. You could see the skin sort of sliding over the muscle. And I was like, oh yeah.
So for the first time saw a way forward.
And I saw Jill’s slow stuff too. And that was huge because it is so much work to dance slow like that and to have it look and feel weightless. And to have no break in the energy in the torso.
And because she had just been doing the Fat Chance vocabulary for eight years, it was completely effortless for her. She’s as close to perfection as I’ve ever seen, and she has this crazy rotation in her shoulder joints where I’m like, does she even have an acromium process?
Like upper arm bone I feel like doesn’t bump up against any other bones, and she could. Keep rotating her arms forward, which means that her elbows can go really high with no effort and mine can’t. I’m like bone on bone. So there were so many things about watching Jill that opened up all kinds of possibilities and falling in love with the slow stuff.
Where in the American Cabaret restaurant world, the slow stuff was really, really sexy and sultry and hands in the hair and, peeling away the veils and I love watching other dancers do that, but it doesn’t really feel like personal expression for me.
Jill’s slow stuff to me looked like hunting. Like a cat when it’s in the bushes and it’s slowly creeping forward and it was menacing and weird and fabulous and I was like, oh my God. It changed everything.
It made me feel crazy. I remember at the time saying, I just feel like I got punched in the gut and the face at the same time, like Jill’s dancing just punched me everywhere in the front that I was out.
So, yeah. It changed everything.
And then in addition to all that movement that was really uniquely hers she also was interested in fashion.
I was in Jill Parker’s dance company for a while, and you’d go to her place where she had classes and she had W Magazine all over the place, and she had pictures all over her walls, and she was fusing belly dance with flamenco. She had a dancer friend named Carola Zertuch.
They had a dance company called Zambra Bailar Yalla! And they actually got into the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival here doing a choreography together in their respective styles. So she was really pushing the envelope in a number of ways, but also fusing it with pop culture, which I hadn’t seen before.
I had always felt like I was rejecting my culture at first. Just like, I don’t care what Americans are doing, whatever.
I’m gonna do this other thing. And then Jill was somehow reintegrating it in an interesting way. So yeah, she just changed what the rules were and what I thought was possible in so many ways.
Who were Rachel Brice’s Influencers?
#6. You earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Dance Ethnology where you studied Kathak with Chitresh Das, Flamenco with Rosa Montoya, Odissi with Vishnu Tattva Das, and Dunham Technique with Alicia Pierce. You started to mix these dance forms with San Francisco culture and your 10 years as a restaurant dancer. Was there some connection between these dance styles that motivated you to study and fuse them?
Well, I didn’t learn the dances with the intention of fusing them, but when you practice other dance forms and then you improvise, sometimes they just end up in there.
I was just taking classes with people who were teaching dance forms that I thought were beautiful and that I was fascinated by. I didn’t realize that Kathak was actually a big aesthetic influence in Carolena’s FCBD style. The Fat Chance spins at the beginning, a lot of that we inspired by Chiresh Das as well. He was famous in the Bay Area.
Is there a connection between Flamenco and Belly Dance?
I saw more of a connection between Odissi, Flamenco and belly dance.
Before I took flamenco, I thought I might fuse more flamenco into what we were doing, cuz there’s so much of it in the posture, in the arms, in what Fat Chance does.
But then when I took Flamenco with Rosa Montoya, I was like, no, I can’t. This is a whole other lifetime of study.
I might be able to take some inspiration from the body line, but it’s not really fusing flamenco, I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like taking one tiny little element.
But yeah, after 18 weeks of flamenco, I was like, oh no, I don’t know anything about flamenco and I can’t really say with any confidence that I was fusing it.
I think the stuff that I practiced the most ended up in all of the other stuff that I was doing.
I kind of wanna go back and look at these bios again because as my understanding of what I was doing is deepening. I’m attempting to more deeply understand what culture means to individuals that are raised with it it’s changing the way that I feel about how I fuse.
And I don’t want to rewrite my history to make it palatable. You know, I could see that it would sound like that.
But I have a lot of journals, so I can actually read what I was feeling at the time, especially around that period cuz there was so much exploration going on.
But I think sometimes when you write a bio and you’re trying to explain what it is that you do to people that may not have seen it before, it’s very easy to go for really broad strokes. So yeah, hearing that in the about section, I’m like, Ooh, maybe I need to go put a little more subtlety back in that bio.
Because yes, I was influenced by all of these. But I feel weird saying that I fused these styles because they fused me really. I mean, you dance a style and it ends up in you.
And that’s, really I think one of the most interesting ways to play.
How can we fuse dance styles responsibly?
#7. You recently said “Belly dance is a sort of Cosplay. I love the creation of a character that doesn’t look like they are from any one place. I still have conflicted feelings about that.” Do you have guidelines that help you see when fusing forms is appropriate and when it is not appropriate?
Ugh. All right. Here we go. Put on your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen.
I think that when I realized the cosplay thing I don’t feel that great about that right now. For myself personally, it’s so multi-layered and nuanced and different every time I learned something else.
But where I was at the time that I was making a lot of work and dancing all the time, I took a lot of inspiration from Frederico Fellini and his Satyricon film and what he said about creating Planet Rome.
And what I didn’t consider at the time is that, he’s Italian. He could create Planet Rome.
I’m not from India. Creating what I wanted to be a “Planet India” may be missing some really big pieces.
And now I think that I haven’t found really where I feel that my next…
Okay, let me say this. I know that I’m going to land on an answer.
I know that I feel good about dancing in class and teaching what I’ve learned and sharing resources that I’ve discovered and turning students onto other teachers that are currently doing really good work. All of that makes sense to me.
But as far as my own personal expression on stage as a belly dancer, I have more questions than answers right now.
I don’t know if you saw the most recent tour from fall, I think it was last September, October where I went to Europe and Finland and Kazakhstan and performed. The night before I was supposed to go on in Finland, I’m listening to all my belly dance music that I have and all of the stuff that I used to really, really love. I have learned a little too much about what that may have represented to the people playing the music or what it meant, or I’ve considered what it might feel like for someone not connected to the music to be dancing it.
And it all felt like sort of pants that were too tight. It just felt wrong.
And I’m like, well, okay. For me, belly dance has always felt very authentic for where I was in the moment. So what have I been listening to? What have I been feeling passionate about? I’m like, Bo Burnham. But you can’t dance to Bo Burnham. I don’t know if you’ve seen “Inside” on Netflix. it’s considered a comedy special, but it’s not funny.
I mean, it’s funny because it’s sad, but really, it’s sad. It’s about everything that we’re going through as a people. And it was in the middle of the pandemic. So, you know, all I’ve been doing is listening to Bo Burnham and learning more about our history and having all kinds of feelings about human beings.
And I finally was like, you know what? I will do one weirdo witchy fusion thing but I’m also gonna do something that feels really authentic, which is a couple Bo Burnham songs. And in one of the songs he says, “I’ll bother getting better when I bother getting dressed”.
I don’t know about you, but in the middle of the pandemic, that was a real thing for me.
And I’m wearing all this jewelry. And I’m thinking, how could I go out there and dance to “I’ll bother getting better when I bother getting dressed”, like dressed to the nines?
So in the song right before my piece, I said to the three dancers in the dressing room, “Can you help me take this off?”
Can you help me take all the jewelry off? And there’s three dancers on me. It’s like one minute to go and we’re like pulling earrings off and they’re pulling stuff outta my hair because I had it all embedded in my hair.
And I put on a Bruce Lee t-shirt and went out there and danced to this thing that was really expressing what I’m going through.
All of that being said, I’m not a trained contemporary dancer.
So I’m in this place where no dance form has ever moved me like belly dance does. And I want to respect the root of it. And a huge part of the root of the dance is self-expression to the music. And generally speaking, it’s music that is culturally yours and you’re connecting with it.
So some might say that was even more true to raqs sharqi dancing to Bo Burnham in a Bruce Lee t-shirt than pretending to be from Egypt with this, Sunny Lester album or whatever. That is not truly Egyptian.
It’s a huge, huge topic and I thought I would be further along in my understanding by now.
But I’m working continually. I’m reading continually I’m working with a counselor specifically about understanding culture, understanding my place and my own culture.
I’m learning about Orientalism. Learning about what Orientalism looks like. Learning about respectfully borrowing and studying.
Right now, I personally don’t feel comfortable cosplaying a culture that exists.
Like, if I’m using a name or costuming that actually belongs to a people and they haven’t invited me to use it, I don’t feel comfortable using it. There may come a time where I learned something that changes that.
So basically I am still exploring cuz it’s important to me and I’m still dancing and I’m still teaching. But I really don’t know how to answer your question more than: I don’t know yet. I’ll check in with me in a year. I’ll let you know if I’ve learned anything by then.
Alicia: The deeper you get into it, the more you realize it’s really hard to fuse dance styles responsibly.
Alicia: Well, it’s like what you said, you took 18 weeks of flamenco to realize you’re not comfortable fusing flamenco with what you were doing. The deeper you get into it, you realize it’s harder to do in the way I wanna do it than I thought before.
Very well put. Yeah. Thank you. Exactly.
#8. When I interviewed your friend Ceremonial Botanical Bodywork Practitioner Rachel Fisher back in episode 53 of this podcast, she mentioned your appreciation for “The Little Book of Talent”. That inspired me to read the book, and fall in love with the concept of “smallest achievable perfection”. Something I can focus on and achieve rather than doing multiple things half-ass. Do you think that is a helpful book for dancers to read?
I think Little Book of Talent is an essential book for dancers to read.
Little things like when I would learn a choreography outside of the practice space when I was working with other people, if there was a part that I didn’t get, I would be like, I’ll take care of that part later.
And I would skip over it and then I would never learn those parts. And then I started getting stage fright because I would push my hotspots away, the parts that I didn’t know. And then I started thinking I was just bad at choreography. So things like that.
Stop when you make a mistake. Stop and correct it.
Make sure that those little hotspots are the spots that you focus on before you go on.
Slow it down and break it into chunks.
If something is too hard, it’s either too fast or too many things.
Learning the difference between soft skills and hard skills. I didn’t understand that hard skills require a totally different type of practice than soft skills. And people usually say, oh, I’m an improviser, or I’m a choreographer. And after reading that book I was like, oh no, we have a natural tendency to go for one or the other, but we can develop strength in the other one with the right kind of practice.
So it’s only 52 tips, but felt, so complete to me. As far as answering all these questions that I had about practice. So yeah, that and also has booked the Talent Code. It’s so funny because I put it into practice just last night and was talking about it today. Again, my mom and I are trying to learn the theme song for Big Bang Theory, just cuz we watch it so much and we’re tired of having it stuck in our heads without knowing parts of it.
Cuz you know how infuriating that is to be like the whole world of what’s that part? So we decided last night we were gonna learn it. And so I thought, okay, first thing we need to do is slow it down and break it into chunks. And so we did exactly what Daniel Coyle talks about in the opener of the Talent Code.
We would start from the beginning, we’d go till we messed up, we would focus on the mess up part, make sure we did that part correctly, then go back to the beginning and then go until we messed up in a different part and fix that part. And yeah, so if you’re at all interested in creating a practice and it’s such a quick read, isn’t it?
It looks like a little gift book. It looks like something that wouldn’t have anything useful in it, but every tip is like really solid, so, absolutely. Yeah.
Alicia: I got it on audiobook and kept listening to it while I was cleaning and whatnot. Yeah. and just like thinking about how to help my kids excel mm-hmm. At what they’re going to choose as their passion, their superpower, you know? Yeah. I loved so much of that.
Oh yeah. It’s great.
How do you practice belly dance?
But I had no idea how to practice. That was my biggest challenge is how do you get the stuff in your body? Do you just repeat it over and over? Like, do I just ignore my mistakes? Do I arrange a practice ahead of time, or do I just do what I feel like doing in the moment? Or, you know, how do you, organize something that becomes efficient, that gets you from point A to point B when you need to get there?
Dunham technique was huge in considering how to approach a practice.
Alicia: You could just see how precise and how beautiful your technique has been for so many years, how much you practiced, how much you thought about it, how much you did, you looked at it over and over again. You know, I do really admire that.
Well, nothing ever made me feel that way. Even boys.
And I loved boys. I loved looking at them and listening to men talk, but I did not love them as much as I loved watching belly dance technique.
Belly dance technique when done well, would make me insane. It gave me feelings that I can’t explain.
And I think most belly dancers know what I’m talking about. Where you go watch a show and when somebody hits it, you’re just like, oh my God. You just lose your mind. And I just loved reaching for it. And every once in a while I’m like, oh, you know, I’ve been in this relationship with the dance form for like, oh my God, how long? 1988. What? It like 36 years or something.
And I keep thinking, yeah, maybe I don’t feel that way.
And then I’ll watch Heather dance. Heather, who’s in Portland here and just be like, I’m wanna scrape my skin off. She’s so beautiful. Like I still get that feeling about belly dancers that moved me.
I mean, yes, there was definitely an element of like, I should practice, which never worked for me. Cuz the more I’d be like, you have to, you must, then it just became a chore.
But then when it was like, oh my God, this is so fun. I love it so much and I’m learning something and oh my God, I love this drum soul and I’m achieving and it was so fun to practice.
I ended up making a practice regimen because it was fun to practice.
I did not have 20 hours a day to practice. And half of that time was just wandering around the room, figuring out what I wanted to do. So yeah, that’s how it came about. I mean, that’s not the thing that floats everybody’s boat. And I don’t think it has to be.
One of the first times I worked with Donna Mejia, all the teachers that she hired for her summer event were required to adhere to certain principles. And she would give you the sheet of paper when you first arrived and you would read it and agree to it.
And I remember where I was standing, it had such impact.
There was one line in these principles that said, it is not up to you to determine or judge what someone else’s dance experience means to them.
And I was like, oh my God. And I mean, such. A huge impact on me because I think most of us assume that our perspective is just like this is.
What dance is, or what dance is supposed to be or what your priorities should be or what’s most important and I remember reading that and being like, oh my God, I don’t know why someone else is dancing. I don’t know what their path is. Therefore, how could I tell someone else what their practice should be or what they should be working on, or what their hierarchy of importance should be?
So that was really humbling, but also opened up a lot for me.
Some people belly dance for social reasons. Some people focus on technique and westernize belly dance.
And people are like, oh yeah, people in the dance for social reasons. And I’m like, oh God, that’s just terrible. How could you? Isn’t it that from what we know, the origin of the dance is like to bring together and to dance at a party and to enjoy each other’s company?
I mean, a lot of people would be like, how dare you focus on technique and westernize this stuff? There’s something beneficial coming out of it. If we’re doing it with respect we still can’t know how it’s gonna impact each other.
#9. In 2001 you were “discovered” by rock mogul Miles Copeland, and toured for several years with his company, The Bellydance Superstars. It has been really fun to interview the Bellydance Superstars Artistic Director Jillina on this podcast as well as Kaeshi Chai, who was also in BDSS. That is also where you started making costumes influenced by the late 1800s to 1920s together with Mardi Love. BDSS toured the world, youtube emerged, and a global interest in your emerging style of Belly Dance grew. Do you remember a moment when you realized that you were creating a legacy?
We don’t know what is going to be a fad and what will be a legacy.
I feel like I could create a program where you start at square one and we know what we’re going for. We know where we wanna end up and I can assist people in getting there. But I have no idea what’s gonna happen with it. It’d be great if it continued without me, which is why I didn’t name it after myself, cuz I wanted it to, belong to all of us.
And I have a personal style that’s different than the style that was on stage with belly dance superstars. And I feel like that’s the style I’m really codifying and trying to simplify and just name all the component parts.
The first time Rachel Brice thought Tribal Fusion became a dance form
I can tell you the first time that I realized that people felt that fusion was a dance form because I didn’t think it was a dance form I don’t know if I thought of it as a legacy, but like, oh, people are thinking this is like, A thing that has edges.
And that was on MySpace. There was a dancer who said that she did cabaret and at the time we were calling it tribal fusion. And she had a picture of herself in a Bela, like an Egyptian bra belt set. And then she had another picture of herself. She was wearing a coin bra and two big roses and a yarn belt with pantaloons so this was her tribal fusion outfit and this was her American cabaret outfit.
And I remember thinking, tribal fusion is not a noun, it’s a verb.
Like I’m fusing things and it changes every year.
You can’t go get your tribal fusion costume. You can’t just say you do fusion unless you’re studying many dance forms and fusing those with Carolena’s style. And that’s what it meant to me at the time. But now I feel like if I hold to that opinion, I’m like a parent that’s insisting that their child becomes a doctor or something.
Like at a certain point you’re like, this is my child. My child will be what it is and it will grow and change in the way that it grows and changes.
And then I was like, okay, well then let’s look at what I was actually doing at that time and what the component parts were and then how the constant change can happen.
And the reason that I sort of settled into that was because of something my yoga teacher Gary Kraftskow said, who has completely shaped the way I feel about teaching. Like he’s my number one influence in my approach to teaching. And someone asked him, what if someone comes to you and they wanna learn headstand, but it’s clear when looking at their posture that’s not really what they need.
And my first thought was, will you have to be authentic? And you have to, tell them what you think.
And he thought for a while, and he said, well, if you give them what they want, you will then have the opportunity to give them what they need.
If you give students what they want, they you will have the opportunity to give them what they need.
And I was like, what? I never considered that. You could meet a student with the questions because they’re gonna have different questions the longer they study.
Like you were saying earlier, the more you learn, the more you’re like, oh, I started out there, but I can’t do that anymore. If someone’s like, oh my God, I love tribal fusion and I want to do this thing like the Indigo did in 2006, and I do this kind of dance. How disappointing would it be for me to be like, well, “I don’t call it…”
Okay, well Rachel, why don’t you take a deep breath and look at what the hell you were doing and show people that.
And then after four phases, maybe you could tell them, you know what? It’s really exciting. Not any of that.
That’s just the vehicle for getting you to the juicy stuff, which is actually forgetting all about what you look like.
Just totally dissolving into the music.
Feeling so excited about what you made and what you’re wearing and that you took the risk to make something you haven’t seen before.
And that you put these things together.
That you’re connected with the principles of beauty rather than making a costume based on someone else’s costume that you saw.
You have to start somewhere. so I feel very comfortable now with teaching a set style of dance that has been codified because I feel like the whole time, my actual message is we’re gonna learn this so you can discard this if you want to eventually.
So I don’t know if that answers the question about legacy, but yeah. There was a moment I realized it was the thing, and at that time I didn’t get how that could actually be useful, I guess. And now I feel like I’m getting in touch with that a little more.
Alicia: Nice. Yeah. Carolena said something similar when they went out on stage and was it Morocco was named what she was doing. Yeah. like Carolena hadn’t put herself in that box yet. Took other people to kind of put the box around for her to go, oh, okay. So there’s something changing here.
Yeah. Yeah. It was one of Morocco’s students said, Morocco thinks you’re tribal. And at first Carolena was like, “Well they really got a lot of nerve naming my style”, you know. but she didn’t connect with at the moment was that on the East coast, which is where Morocco was teaching. They were using that as a descriptor for anybody that wasn’t, you know, sparkly. They’re all wearing stripes.
And if you go back and read all the Arabesque magazines, which was like the East Coast magazine of the seventies and eighties they would talk about, oh, this dancer is doing it in the tribal style. And she always had on stripes and like, more earth tones and wasn’t so sparkly. So basically Morocco could have just been saying, oh yeah, that group is sort of like East Coast tribal style. But it wasn’t, it was a description rather than a name for a style those are my words, not Carolena’s.
Carolena’s words were, wow, you’re naming my style for me. Huh? And then she said she thought about it later and was like, actually, you know, that makes a lot of sense. we are, we sort of are. So I love that story because you know, words can mean so many things and for Morocco’s student, I can’t speak for her cuz I don’t know what she was thinking, but I can only assume that she was just saying, yeah, Morocco recognizes your style is similar to a style of dancers we have on the East coast.
And then it changed everything over here. So it’s interesting.
American belly dance history
Listen to the full podcast to hear Rachel answer these questions as well!
Alicia: I think one of your gifts to our world belly dance community is your playfulness. When you and Mardi and Zoe Jakes created a show called Le Serpent Rouge, you gave many dancers a license to play. What do you cherish about that show?
Alicia: We are recording this interview in March 2023, and The Mega Massive 2023 starts soon, and I am super excited to head out to Vegas to see Ebony and Zoe Jakes and Amy Sigil dance in person! They are just a few of the incredible instructors we can learn from on Datura Online which is an incredible resource for dancers. It must have taken a ton of heart and time to grow Datura to the size it is now. What motivated you to create Datura online back when so little structured belly dance instruction was available online?
Alicia: What are some of the things that makes Datura an amazing program?
Alicia: Tell us about your 8 Elements Program, and what dancers take home from that experience.
Alicia: Back when I first asked you to be on this podcast back in early 2022, you were working with a coach and processing cultural appropriation and fusion and your life. You did a dive deep into this in your Bedtime Stories series on youtube. In the 21st episode, you again mention your coach’s clarity, compassion and unity that she wants to bring to the world. You said that she sometimes drops a bomb of love and clarity that melts all of these defenses that you have. Are you up for sharing one of these bombs your coach dropped on you that might help us grow as well? Alicia: Let’s end with something we can eat 🙂 You recently said something like “Dance is more like making food than painting a picture.” I love that. What is one vegan whole food ingredient you love?
Thank you so much for sharing your insight and life stories on the show Rachel!