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A gorgeous tribal dancer from Perth, Rebecca Forster asked me some questions regarding my perspectives on ITS and how it sits within the tribal family tree ITS. You can view her article in Belly Dance Oasis Magazine (Australia’s only belly dance magazine!)

What does Improvised Tribal Style (ITS) mean to you and where does it sit within the context of the Tribal family tree?

I see ITS based on ATS principles of an improvisational tribal fusion dance form involving a troupe of dancers all sharing a common movement vocabulary where there is a set combination or series of movements that are initiated by a cue. The “followers” are not aware ahead of time what step or combination will come next.
In terms of where it sits within the context of the family tree, from my understanding many dancers have naturally and spontaneously created their own steps and incorporated it into their growing vocabulary and hence I feel it’s just another offshoot from “Tribal Style belly Dance”. I also see troupes combining steps from different ITS formats. Unmata’s ITS format seams to use some of the principles from ATS however I am unsure whether the overall style fits into the ‘Belly dance’ category, but perhaps more world fusion? The individual creators of ITS seam to inject their own flavour (dance styles) into their format, so in terms of how it sits on the family tree for me, I still see the roots being ATS, flamenco, Indian dance, and elements from the Salimpour legacy.

With Australia, dancers are increasing having the opportunity to access a wider range ITS teachers and performer both from within our dance community and aboard. How do you feel this is contributing to the evolution of bellydance as an art form?
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I feel it is really important for ITS instructors to explain the roots of their own format and what dance genres are being fused. For people who don’t know a huge amount about belly dance, and go to see a performance of ITS, (thinking it is ‘bellydance’), it can misrepresent the more traditional Egyptian, Turkish, Lebanese styles of belly dance. Ideally it would be beneficial, on a belly dance educational level, for an audience to be aware of what style of belly dance they are viewing.
The nature of art is change, so I guess it’s inevitable for belly dance to change with the times. I admire people who do like to keep their style “pure” and most representative of the origins, however for me my nationality is a mix of Armenian, Latvian, Scottish, Persian and Irish so it’s never felt right for me to try and represent a specific culture that I don’t belong to. I have a cultural fusion of genes, so consequently I love tribal fusion and ITS.
From my understanding in early times belly dance was a celebrated dance form, and enjoyed among women. ITS has similar principles in that it is a group dance that involves women, connection, intimacy and growth which is a really positive thing for belly dance and women in general.
To be honest I don’t know a huge amount about other ITS formats and how they developed and are currently presented, however for myself, after studying ATS for many years I started to crave moving in new ways and hence started to create my own movement vocabulary. This is how the Body Temple ITS format developed. It incorporates some ATS styling, classical Indian aesthetics as well as tribal fusion. I love the discipline and complex muscular isolation patterns of tribal fusion and therefore wanted to incorporate this aspect into my BT ITS format.

How would you describe your The Body Temple Format (ITS styling) and its major influences?

My format has two branches – BT ITS and the BellyDance Blueprint.
The main influences for BT ITS is Carolena Nerricio (whom I completed teacher training with), my Bharatnatyam teacher Shakti, and Suhaila Salimpour. The BT ITS styling started out with a strong ATS influence with arm shapes and formations, however it has further developed over the last 10 years to incorporate my own personal expression which is heavily influenced by Classical Indian foot and body positions and tribal fusion arm patterns. There is also a strong focus on beautiful body shapes as well as a large component influenced by Suhaila’s take on Middle Eastern dance movement, isolation patterns with complex layering. So in a nut shell it’s a mix of ATS, tribal fusion, Classical Indian and a heavy dose of Acushla styling.

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