Thursday, April 07, 2011

introduction (1/5 of the series)

As promised, coming up is the first part of a long article that contains the interview with Ms. Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance. The interview was done in FCBD Studio, San Francisco, CA on Thursday, March 24, 2011.

I will run each part per week and will publish a PDF file of the whole article at the end of the series.

I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I have enjoyed interviewing Ms. Nericcio and writing the article.


The FatChanceBellyDance (FCBD) Studio on South Van Ness, San Francisco, is the mecca and ultimate destination for Tribal style bellydancers. It is hard to miss the red door in front of the studio, with the name “FatChanceBellyDance” written in bold black letters. The first time I went through the door, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Behind the door is a staircase leading to the second floor. Photographs, media clippings, and event posters in various languages grace the stairway wall. There’s a sense of warmth and serenity every time I climb my way up there, relishing the photographs and the posters, as well as brochures of events by or endorsed by FCBD. The climb is even rewarded with more eye candy: ornate and one-of-a-kind textiles and clothes as well as drawings of the Goddess Quan-Yin.

The staircase serves as a transition between the outside world and the ATS haven on the second floor: the office, the resource center, and the celebrated studio of FCBD. In this area, there are even more beautiful hangings, cute trinkets inside or outside the glass cases, and, to a bookworm’s (that’s me!) delight, countless resource books and references on women studies, body adornments and embellishments (both permanent and temporary) and dance.

I’ve claimed my little spot on the left of the book shelf; there is only one changing room, so when it is occupied by the ladies, I put my bag on that little chair covered by woven fabric, and head over to the restroom to change. When I’m done changing, I just put my shoes and bag under the chair and off I go to the studio. Or if I still have time, I’ll grab a book and read.

All of those things: the fabrics, the jewelry, the books, and most importantly, the dance, wouldn’t exist without Carolena Nericcio, the lady behind Tribal style, behind Tribal fusion, behind it all.

It began in 1974 when a young Carolena studied bellydance with the now renowned jewelry designer, Masha Archer. Masha blended Egyptian style with folkloric moves and other dances she found enticing. Carolena joined the SF Classic Dance Troupe, Masha’s dance company. When the troupe later disbanded, Carolena went to teach on her own. Based on the movements she learned from Masha (that Carolena held as the gospel truth in belly dance), she expanded her repertoires and in 1987 began performing with her own troupe, FatChanceBellyDance.

The uniqueness of this style, an eclectic blend of costume elements from the exotic worlds – Afghani, Kohistani, Persian, Indian, and the Middle-East, gives the presentation an old look, although it is a new dance. Indeed, American Tribal Style (ATS), a nomenclature given by New York Oriental dancer Morocco, that Carolena has adapted to describe this art form, is a new dance style. But wait, there’s more than just the costumes.

“The philosophy of ATS is about leaders and followers dancing in total improvisation setting, but seamlessly, as if choreographed. It is achievable by learning sets of slow movements and fast steps and the cue that precedes them,” Carolena said, explaining the “flock of birds” concept. This way, a group of people who have never met each other before and don’t speak the same language can perform ATS bellydance together.

It may sound like magic, but it actually is not. It is pure hard work and dedication. This dance form has suffered lashings from bellydancers (“the purists”), but it perseveres. This dance form has suffered lashings from its offsprings (“the tribalists”), but it perseveres yet again. It has enchanted many dancers from around the world. Even non-English speaking dancers know ATS.

In fact, Carolena was kind enough to squeeze this interview in her hectic schedule. She just came home from teaching General Skills and Teacher Trainings in England and was on her way to Seattle with her FCBD troupe to teach even more workshops and perform. In between teaching, the lady is a savvy and compassionate business person. The merchandise in her shop is to die for, and yet everything is vegan. Her latest business venture, the fine Tribal silver brand NakaRali – a collaboration with renowned dancer Colleena Shakti – has taken over the belly dance scene by a storm. The pieces in the collection are authentic jewelry made and worn by the local tribeswomen of India. With NakaRali, the world will be exposed to this fine art, thus helping the remote tribe gain more awareness and ultimately welfare.

In my little spot on the left of the bookshelf I sat with the recorder in my hand. In front of me was Carolena, poised to answer my eager questions. And so, here it is: our little interview on that rainy day on a Thursday afternoon.


Continued next Thursday, April 14th, 2011, "The Hard Questions". Ms. Nericcio talks about how a movement is adapted into FCBD's movement vocabulary, the dos and don'ts of ATS teachers and students, as well as what makes ATS great.

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