Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What it Takes to Perform With an ATS Group

When people start taking classes in American Tribal Style dance, often one of the first questions is, 'When do I get to join the troupe/perform?' 

The answer is, not for awhile. While you may have a desire to get up on stage and express yourself, you have a responsibility to your fellow dancers and your audience. The first thing to learn about performing ATS is that it is not all about you. It's about the group. 

American Tribal Style Belly Dance is an group improvisational dance form. That means there are groups of 2-4 dancers, with 1 person leading, and that leader is stringing the steps together on the spot. This involves skill, intimate knowledge of the steps, transitions, and formations,  a lot of trust, and high level of comfort with your dance partners. You have to be open enough to read their body language, know their quirks, go-to moves, and how they hear the music. 

So. That said, what does it take to perform? It takes a LOT of classes, and a LOT of practice. Our level 1 class is a 6 week format, and level 2 is a 12 week format. You must take at least one full cycle of each before entering into Level 3, which is the level at which you start performing. But before you think ,"18 weeks, that's not so bad", most people will need to repeat Level 1 at LEAST twice before graduating to Level 2.  Same with level 2, although many will need to repeat that level more, as the steps are more complex, plus it takes time to get used to leading, and changing formations.  Count on at LEAST a year of taking classes consistently, if not 2, before you first perform.  

You may think you are well versed enough in the format to jump in after a long absence.  Think again. If you haven't been around class for awhile, we need to get used to dancing with you again.  

You may think that because you have other belly dance training you don't need basics. Think again.
You may think that because you are Arab/Egyptian/Turkish, etc, you won't need basics.  Think again.

This is a specific format with its own vocabulary.  You must learn the basics before you can advance. It's not fair to the people who have put in the time and effort to allow inexperienced dancers into the advanced levels. Again, it's not about you, its about the group. Keep reminding yourself of that. Make that your mantra. 

FCBD does not audition, nor do our student troupes. Well, I take that back. We do audition, but that audition starts in Level 1 and continues throughout your education in our classes.  The teachers do pay attention, and we do observe.  And it's not all about skill, it's also about attitude. We are likely to choose a less skilled dancer with a good and humble attitude over a diva who can dance like a dream. Technique can be improved. It's a lot harder to change personality. It's no fun to deal with a diva. And while we do take what we do seriously, we also want to have fun. 

Ironically, *most* of the people who have been in FatChance have not asked to join. We've been invited. Most of us never aspired to be in the troupe. That humility is a desirable quality to us. In a group format there is no place for a diva. 

So. If you want to perform with an ATS group, here's what you do. Show up consistently to class. Have a good attitude, don't be a diva. Focus, do your best to fit in with the culture of the classes. And no matter how experienced you become, always go back to Level 1 and Level 2, because in spite of what you may think, you have never learned everything there is to learn about any one move.  If you think you know everything, you're sorely mistaken. 


  1. First! :)
    (PS love this Wendy. Thanks for putting it up!)

  2. Thank you for posting this, Wendy! Well said and much needed. :)

  3. I come back to this often, thank you for posting such a wonderful and thoughtful article!

  4. Thanks for this very interesting article, Wendy ! Would you allow me to translate it in french for my non-english-speaking tribal sisters ? :o)

  5. Love it Wendy! These are things that I do practically preach to my students all the time!

  6. I love this Wendy!
    It will be so valuable for those with their eyes on the prize so to speak.
    But how do you invite those who are in that first round of level 1 (and are just realizing that their hips [shoulders, elbows, hands, face, zills] are much harder to control than they thought) to come back for more?

  7. Thank You for excellent post. I've been learning ATS for eight months, I repeated Level 1 twice and I will repeat Level 2 again. I used to dance belly dance cabaret style and I can tell that ATS is a different language. At first I was very disappointed and almost gave up after second time Level 1 but all my friends keeping telling me that it takes some time so...I'm keeping practice even more and doing my best because I really like this dance.