Thursday, April 28, 2011

part 3: the intimate details (4/5 of the series)

Welcome to the third part of the interview, or the fourth part of the series. Here, Ms. Nericcio talks about veganism, Buddhism, knitting, and Mama Bess Nericcio.



Okay. Now let’s invade your privacy a bit and question these things. The first one is: Why did you become a vegan?

I have always been concerned about the treatment of animals. Ever since I was young, I just couldn’t eat anything shaped like a body part of an animal. The meat has to be cooked just so it isn’t recognizable. One time when I went to Greece to visit our family there, they had a big feast for us. And on the table was the lamb I had just spoken to a few hours earlier, slaughtered and cooked. I told myself there was no way I was going to eat it.

I was seven years old when I told my mother that I was going to be a vegetarian. I was walking and I saw a man hacking a frozen animal. I told my mother I was going to be a vegetarian and she said I was going to die. At that moment, both of us didn’t realize that it was true, so I said, “Okay, if you want to cook me meat, make sure it’s not recognizable.” And I was very difficult about that.

At fourteen, I decided to really become a vegetarian. And Mom even went to a doctor to see if I was going to die and the doctor said no, there are people who don’t eat meat in their diet and they’re fine. So I became one.

At that moment, I knew that I was going to be a vegan but I didn’t know that such thing existed. I didn’t know that cheese and egg contributed to the killing of animals, so cheese and egg were always the go-to food. It was only eight years ago that I decided I was going to be a vegan. And by being one, I felt that I could look at the world straight in the eye and say I’m not participating in the poor treatment people give to animals.

Carolena’s commitment to veganism is reflected not only in the merchandise in the FCBD store, but also in the little refrigerator she shares in the studio: it is a completely no-meat environment. Carolena even convinced Wild Card (an American fashion company) to make a vegan based line to be sold in the FCBD store. And there’s no silk hip scarf to be found in sight. Nope. Just gorgeous, viscose and cotton fringe scarves.

Do you think your being vegan has inspired many bellydancers, particularly the Tribal dancers?

Well, I’d like to say that, but I think it’s also more to the fact that people heard about my being vegan and just asked how I did that. So they asked me questions and I answered whatever I can.

One time when I was teaching in Milwaukee, I met the husband of the organizer. When we met me for the first time, he was a die-hard meat eater. At the end of the workshop, he became a vegetarian, and a week later, he became vegan.

Wow! That’s fascinating! Does being a Buddhist have to do with you being vegan? When did you become a Buddhist?

I didn’t really become one. I was being a vegetarian at that time and was researching for religions that specifically forbid the eating of meat. And it turned out that only Jainism teaches that and if I were to be a Jain, I would need to let go my current lifestyle and I can’t do that. All religions teach meat eating as optional, but I think Buddhism is the only one that says it is better for you not to eat meat because it’s going to be much better for the karma.

So, one time I visited a temple here and I asked a monk if I had to go through a ceremony to become a Buddhist and he said no. And I said, “Oh, okay, because I felt completely peaceful here (in the temple),” and the monk said, “Well congratulations then! You’re a Buddhist!” And so I phoned my Mom and said, “Mom, guess what? I’m a Buddhist!”

My mom is just the type of person who’ll ask me what I’m into or I’m doing so that she could try it too and experience it with me. She’s not religious but when she learned what Buddhism is, she said she liked the philosophy of Buddhism. She even referred to the Dalai Lama as her boyfriend because she loves him so much and he has changed and taught her so many things, including patience.

Was this when you discover the Goddess Quan-Yin?

Well, I’m a Tibetan Buddhist and the Goddess lives in Chinese Buddhism belief. For Quan-Yin, I believe that I’ve known her even before Buddhism. There was a picture of her silhouette given to me by my roommate at a time and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever.

I didn’t know that there were so many interpretations, paintings and statues of the Goddess. So I figured out that the way not to lose the picture was to tattoo it on my body. At first, I was going to do it only as an outline because that was the only way I knew of the image. But my tattoo artist said that we had to fill it. So people started giving me pictures of Quan-Yin and I realized that there were many interpretations of this goddess.

Alright. Now, when we were doing the General Skills and Teacher Trainings 1 & 2, you sat there, knitting away, all the while listening and responding to our queries without skipping a beat. How did you get into knitting?

Well, after design schools and lots of sewing, I wanted to learn to weave, so when I asked a friend who was a fashion designer if I could try to weave, she let me give it a try, but then said, “Ummm… You should stick to sewing.” I wanted to weave but she helped me realize I was too slow for that. Later, I found out that I had to do something when I’m flying (to teach workshops), and so I took up knitting. At first it was so overwhelming that I gave it up. But then I took up crocheting and once I got the hang of it, I got back to knitting again, and here I am.

The thing about knitting is that it’s portable and I can do it anywhere. When flying, take the bamboo sticks with the rounded point. The metal ones just won’t work with the security protocol.

Do you have a piece you’re really proud of?

My biological clock has switched ON now. At first it said “experiment”, now it says “produce”. I’m making Stump Socks for Amputees with the Granny Peace Brigade, and Beanies for Servicemen and Servicewomen with Operation Beanie. I’m currently knitting a vest for myself, but this one can wait. I feel the need to create something that has social value with knitting, and it helps with the feeling of helplessness.

I converted my living room into a textile studio with two sewing machines, a loom and a spinning wheel. But I can’t take those things with me, so I carry my knitting when I travel.


Continued next Thursday, May 5th, 2011, with "The Love" - the last one of this series. Discover what Ms. Nericcio's favorite ATS Steps and Moves are, her opinions on performing and teaching, her favorite things in FCBD headquarters, and her future plan.

Friday, April 22, 2011

working out

Hoboy, I've had Rachel Brice's Serpentine DVD way back last year, when it was first released. At that time, I had too many things going on so all I did was watched it, tried some of the moves, and got on with my life.

When I was packing for San Francisco, I made a very smart decision by including the DVD in my overpacked suitcase. Yes, I sacrificed my Spongebob Squarepants and The Simpsons DVDs for this one, or more precisely, these two, pieces of DVD (the Serpentine package contains 2 DVDs).

I've been in San Francisco for more than four months now and I realized that I needed to get into shape. I just love Ms. Lalwani's Dance Conditioning classes and I feel that it's high time that I start working out more than once a week. Walking has seriously improved my near buttless rear end, but I need to work on my upper body.

So, I purchased Everlast Multifunction Chinning Bar and Reebok Wrist Weights. The Chinning Bar took me a while to install - it turned out to be way harder than Lego, and the screws are not that steady (a probable design mistake?) but I got it to work and I just love it.

Now, on to the Wrist Weights. I purchased the 4 lbs ones, which means 2 lbs on each wrist. The fabric is soft enough, but I have to use my training gloves because the friction with the Wrist Weights can become irritating after a while. But the problem was solved with the training gloves. I used this during my whole work out, including squats and crunches. The velcro clasp is strong enough that the weights didn't come off even when I was disco dancing (to songs by Madonna and Sister Act original soundtrack, nonetheless - OMG I'm so gay!). I have really small and dainty wrists, but the Wrist Weights were still securely attached until the end of my work out session.

I also used the Wrist Weights to drill on ATS moves. The ATS arm postures plus the Wrist Weights really give a challenging work out for both Fast Steps and Slow Moves.

And as for Serpentine... I was doing abs today and decided to work on the Drills. Man, the Isolation Drills were so hard and I had my Wrist Weights all the time. I hope to get better after a while. I skipped the Yoga parts, though.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

part 2: the 24/7 (3/5 of the series)

Here comes the third part of the series, or the second part of the interview.


PART 2: THE 24/7

Okay! Now that the hard part is out of the way, it’s time to do something fun! Tell me, where was the first FCBD studio?

Ah! The first studio was in Noe Valley Ministry, that’s a Presbyterian Church in the Noe Valley Neighborhood of San Francisco. There was a gym on the upper floor that got converted into a dance studio

I also rented Mahea Uchiyama’s studio in Berkeley once a week for several years. We also rented the Mahea’s studio to shoot Tribal Basics volume 1.

Tribal Basics volumes 5 and 6 were shot in two places, actually: at World Gym in the Potrero Hill Neighborhood, and Mahea’s Studio for the performance.

And then, we finally moved here to South Van Ness.

You’ve been in the business since 1987, that makes it more than twenty years.

24 years.

Right, sorry. My math is awful. So what keeps you relentless and perseverant? What keeps motivating you in doing ATS?

I feel like I was given this dance (by the Goddess Quan-Yin) and that it’s my job to move it forward. I just wake up every day and feel that there’s always something else to do. So there’s really no need for motivation.

However, every now and then, there is this debilitating feeling of not wanting to go, but it’s more because of what people say.

Fifteen years ago, when Fusion was the thing and everyone was learning fusion with different styles of Tribal, I was like, “What are they doing?” And people were nasty to each other and it wasn’t fun or conducive for the dance. So, I felt deflated because of that and I just thought of quitting.

When we moved to the studio, as much as I loved finally being in the studio, we had been part of the underground movement and then we became above ground and our clientele changed. So the switch was just strange.

Then I realized I had to start traveling because that way the inspiration comes. I just couldn’t stay in San Francisco and watch the haywire. And then you know how it’s hard to find a home for The Devotion show and you lose money over it because there’s just no way that the ticket sales can make up the cost of the production. (During the February 2011 General Skills Training, Carolena told us that they were still looking for a place for the June 2011 Devotion Show – they’ve found a place for this year’s show, though. It’s the Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley, CA)

Things like that can be a drag. And usually stuff like that is the result of people’s attitude.

But I guess what motivates me is the idea of happiness that ATS brings. It has brought so much joy to the lives of so many people. I feel the need to share the dance. The dance itself is fabulous. But as soon as people start to open their mouths…

Right. I completely agree. Now, I guess you’ve never been tempted to leave ATS to pursue other dance forms or add a dance form to your repertoire?

Well, I’ve learned Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Flamenco, and I feel that I have to give up ATS altogether to pursue these dances and I won’t do that. These dances are there to always inspire me and inspire ATS moves. I enjoyed learning them, but I’m sticking to ATS.


To be continued on April 21, 2011 with "The Intimate Details", where Ms. Nericcio talks about Buddhism, veganism, the Goddess Quan-Yin, and her mother.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

dance happiness & observe the creative process at fcbd studio

I've been taking lessons from Kae (Montgomery) and I have to say... she's one mean marine!! I watched Battle: LA and Aaron Eckhart (that handsome, rugged man, curse him and Viggo Mortensen for making me drool endlessly) said, "Marines never quit!"

So there I was, in the middle of the movie (I gave the movie 3.5 stars out of possible 4!) thinking that Sensei Kae should open up an ATS boot camp or some sorts. Sensei Kae is currently in Japan to teach workshop, so I asked Ms. Lalwani if I she could give me a lesson on Wednesday. She said sure, and we set up for a Wednesday morning session at 9 AM.

Well, well, well... Almost three full weeks without rain and suddenly... It was pouring! What gives, San Francisco?? I know earlier in the week I had complained about the wind, but that doesn't mean that you can over-complicate matters by adding water on top of it. I mean, come on.

And definitely not on the day I chose to wake up early and go across town for a private lesson at FCBD's studio with Ms. Lalwani! Thank goodness it was a good session (as always). Also, thank goodness it was Wednesday, which means it was the middle of the week. Two more days and HELLO WEEKENDS!

It's already the weekends now. As I've said earlier (in this blog or the other one?), my schedule is completely bonkers. I was too tired to continue blogging (I was blogging it on Wednesday evening and fell asleep) so I postponed it until... today. However, my memory of what happened is crystal clear.

It was the end of the lesson and Ms. Lalwani and I were having casual chats before I dashed out of the FCBD studio to go to school. Then I said, "You know..." in a nondescript manner and she said, "Well, you should just try to have fun! Dance is all about being happy and conveying that happiness across the stage to the audience."

Needless to say, I was surprised. I mean, how did she know I was going to say that? So I asked her how in the world did she read my mind, and she said, " I know you're always criticizing yourself and it's good to do that, but in the end, you can't criticize yourself during a performance. If you do, it'll show on your face and on your dancing. And where's the happiness in that?"

And she added, "There're so many crazy things happening in this world, and as dancers, we are responsible to offer happiness through our dancing."

I couldn't agree more.

Oh, and on a side note, if you happen to be in San Francisco during the National Dance Week, visit FatChanceBellyDance's studio for the Observe the Creative Process event with Ms. Carolena Nericcio. It's basically an open-house event where the upper level students will perform for the visitors and Ms. Nericcio will tell us about the creative process of the dance itself. The Observe the Creative Process event is held on two Saturdays: April 23rd and 30th, from 3.45 PM until 5 PM at FCBD Studio on South Van Ness.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

part 1: the hard questions (2/5 of the series)

Welcome to the second part of the series, also known as the first part of the interview (I just had to keep you waiting for one more week for the actual interview to be published! How do you feel? *giggles* Sorry for that!)

My questions are written in bold italics while Ms. Nericcio's answers are in more readable letters.

So here goes!



Hi there!


Let’s begin with the hardest ones first. Could you tell us the typical process of creation of a movement? From the conceptualization until it’s out there in the ATS vocabulary.

Well, the core movements that you see in Tribal Basics volume 1 are the movements I learned from Masha Archer. Basically, for a movement to be admitted to the ATS vocabulary, everyone has to accept it first, in that it has to be doable. Because everyone has different bodies, it is important that the movement is created so that they complement to these different types of bodies. This also applies to the range of motion. Dancers must be able to do a move, otherwise it will just get sidetracked because no one’s using it because no one can do it.

Most of the later movements are layering and expansion of the core movements. First you have the Egyptian Basic, and then you have the Egyptian basic with half turn, with full turn, and with spins. Just like the Turkish Shimmy that evolved to Turkish Shimmy with arms and turns, half turns, quarter turns, etc.

The core movements in Tribal Basics volumes 1 and 4 are now officially called “Classic ATS” while the movements in Tribal Basics volumes 7 and above are called “Modern ATS”.

Some of the movements evolved from a choreography and then they just became cue-able. Some movements were created with a song in mind. The Sahra Turn, for example, was inspired by the song “Sahra” by Cheb Khaled.

Do you adopt other people’s moves?

Well, I’ve been doing business and tours with Megha (Gavin of Devyani Dance Company, Birmingham, AL) creating the show Tribal: Pura and she said she had some new steps to show you and so I said go ahead. And so, Tribal Basics volume 7 was born.

Partnerships like this will happen again in the near future. After this year’s Devotion show in June 2011, we will shoot a new DVD called Anatomy of Steps that will be released in the fall of 2011. The DVD will include new moves and steps from Megha, Devi Mamak (Ghawazee Caravan, Australia), and Jennifer Nolan (Tamarind Tribal Belly Dance, Milwaukee, WI).

Tell me, what do I have to do do to make sure I don’t get kicked out and banned from FCBD’s studio?

(Laughs). Show up on time, leave your baggage at the door, be open minded, be in a good mood, allow your mood to be transformed, follow directions and be polite to the teacher and be helpful to other students, but don’t micromanage the others.

We really frown on people teaching when a teacher is teaching, and commenting when a teacher is presenting. What is planned for the day is whatever the teacher is planned for the day.

What do you think is the worst thing an ATS teacher could do?

I’d say that it probably has to do with what they say, not necessarily what they’re doing. If he or she is overly critical of other dance styles and saying that other teachers are wrong, that’s really frowned on. Also if the teacher is overly critical of the students and doesn’t build a good rapport with the students,

A really good instructor, I think, would be magnanimous, confident, able to manage things as they come and go, creative, open minded all the while staying with the philosophy (of ATS). If a teacher has so much creativity within him or her that makes the teacher go completely off the ATS map, then ATS is not the right dance. Perhaps fusion will be more rewarding, because what makes ATS so great is the boundaries of this dance.

You’ve said that even when you’re doing your solo, it is considered as fusion.

Yes, because that is not ATS. To be able to do ATS, you need a leader and a follower. This is one of the boundaries of ATS.

What do you think is the worst thing that could happen to ATS?

The worst thing would be if boundaries of ATS were lost and became a blur by being taken away so off the ATS track and that we lost the essence of happiness in dance itself.


Continued next Thursday, April 21, 2011, with "The 24/7". Ms. Nericcio talks about her 24 years of dancing, her pet peeves, and where the first FCBD studios were.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

competition? this ain't bodybuilding*!

I follow Princess Farhana's blog and I always love to read what she writes. I checked her list of links and found a website called Project Belly Dance, it's a competition, not unlike RuPaul's Drag Race (the producers: the fabulous Lotus Niraja and Michelle Joyce of Cheeky Girls, even admitted that they got the idea from Ru's show). There are lots of dancing involved (obviously), lots of tests (get your perfect DVD cover photo in 5 shots, make your own bedleh using veils and staples, create a group choreography with people you just met, etc). I'm not a fan of Project Runway or Next Top Model (or any reality show, any competition, or reality show combined with competition), but I am a fan of RuPaul's Drag Race. Now I guess I'm a fan of Project Belly Dance (I love Sherena and Shems!). You can go to Project Belly Dance's website to watch the videos of the competition.

Now, on to my entry!

First and foremost, let me get this straight: I am a very competitive person. I strive to be the best, the youngest, and so very often the strangest person in the group.

I had always been the youngest in my class up to university and I take that in great pride. I may not have been the best or the youngest graduate, but I was the youngest in my class. I was even younger than some of those who went into university two years after I did.

My competitive nature turned me into a jealous and insecure person. Although I am still competitive now, I've started to make peace with losing and to accept defeat from time to time. There is much to be said about competition. It is gratifying to win in a competition. There are numerous dance competitions in the world, and even in Jakarta.

However, my competitive nature doesn't even bother to let a groan and urge me to just go out there and compete. The reasons are varied.

First, I started taking bellydance lessons in August 2007, so that officially makes me a baby dancer. And speaking of baby dancers, I think I can no longer call myself that when I've been dancing for ten years. That means about six more years. And that's only Oriental. I've only been dancing ATS for four months. I just don't feel like I'm ready to present myself to the world. My techniques aren't perfect, my posture needs improvement. I'm not going to kid myself (or others): I am not ready for competitions. However, I love dancing and showing off, and that's why I love haflas.

Second, who're the judges? Are they really qualified? Do they even know what bellydance is all about? Some bellydancers don't even want to participate in competitions as judges because, well... They also don't feel like they have the right to judge others.

There was one time when the gym where I used to work had a promotional event, one of them was a bellydance class with giveaways. So the event committee told me to select three participants who danced the best. Needless to say, I was so miffed. I mean, why would I want to make something like that into a competition? I always feel like an ego-basher when I become a judge of art. In Tennis or Soccer, there's a set of rules that the players need to follow. It's just like math: there's an exact formula. However, that formula becomes somewhat blurry when it comes to art and it takes a lot of experience and skills to be able to keep that objectivity as a judge. It's even harder to judge bellydancing than bodybuilding! I mean, just imagine, all those men in skimpy posing thongs, all oiled up and muscular, I know I'll have a hard time (pun intended).

Third, the ego. I know how it feels to lose, even when you've done your best and pushed yourself beyond the limit. It took me a while to realize how cathartic that can be. However, there are those who don't have a back-up plan. There are those who can't just simply brush themselves off and try again. There are those whose lives depend on winning.

Then again, winning competitions does open doors. The question is, will I want to go through those doors and experience what's on the other side?

*PS: no offence to bodybuilders. In fact, I have to say that bodybuilding and bellydancing take the same size of determination and dedication.

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...