Classes at Manhattan Tribal

Since late January, I’ve been taking classes with Mimi Fontana at Manhattan Tribal.  An official Sister Studio of Fat Chance Belly Dance, it’s the best and only place in Manhattan to learn authentic American Tribal Style (ATS) as created by Carolena Nericcio.  So far, it’s been a really positive experience.  The classes are always efficiently run and instructive, but also very therapeutic and relaxing.  Emphasis is placed equally on executing the steps correctly and knowing the proper terminology for them.  In particular, I love the special pamphlets the studio has prepared with a breakdown of each weeks’ classes and the steps learned in each.  It’s a great tool for home practice as you inevitably forget something no matter how thorough your after-class notes (Mimi is always telling us to bring a journal).  Mine is currently hanging next to my bed on my Inspiration Wall.

From day one, Mimi’s natural charisma and general quirkiness made me feel right at home despite the impersonal atmosphere at 440 Studios.  One of the ways in which she fosters this sense of community is through a monthly Chat & Chew.  On the last Sunday of the month after Level 3 finishes, all the dancers are invited out for some grub at a local cafe or restaurant.  I haven’t attended one myself (I’m still feeling a bit shy), but I hope to soon.

One of the best things about classes at Manhattan Tribal is that there is almost always a company member attending.  It’s a great resource having a variety of experienced dancers to watch and learn from.  Plus, the number of inside jokes in the room is hilarious (I always find myself laughing along even if I don’t get it.).  These guys have a joke for everything.  Seriously.

Starting at Level One is always a humbling experience after dancing for almost seventeen years, but I find this particularly true with ATS.  I rarely feel uncomfortable in a dance class, but when leading an ATS quartet, I’m straight up scared.  What if I do the step wrong?  What if I fail to cue correctly, and I confuse my fellow dancers?  What if no one smiles at me when we’re changing positions in that circle-thingy!?  Mimi almost always has to remind me to breathe when I’m leading (Apparently, oxygen is conducive to good dancing.  Who knew?).

The best part of our beginner group improvisation, though, is when a less experienced dancer is put in the lead.  A really beautiful transformation takes place.  At first, they look around themselves at a complete loss and feeling a bit foolish.  Then with Mimi’s assurance (sometimes it takes a few classes to reach this point), they take their first steps.  One young woman in my class this past Sunday didn’t know what to do, but all of a sudden she just went for an Egyptian on the left foot and not exactly in time with the music.  It was so awesome, and I was so excited to follow her.  I am addicted to that moment when, new dancers first trust their bodies and start Dancing with a capital-D.  I can’t wait for the day when I’m knowledgeable enough to teach.  I want everyone in the world to have that experience.  I love it.  I love it.  I love it.

The correction that I’m currently grappling with is to make my movement subtle.  I’m on the thin side, and when I was first starting, I got super jealous of the girls with more to shake.  Everything they did looked so much bigger and juicer while I bumbled around looking like an awkward twig.  So I started exaggerating.  If there was an opportunity to layer a belly roll or an extra hip lock, I took it.  However, with ATS, bigger is not always better.  Instead, it’s all about finesse and quiet precision.  Learning how to turn off all my exaggeration-switches is going to take some time, but I know it’s going to add some extremely healthy variety to my dancing.

Studying ATS has been one of my favorite bellydance experiences.  I think of ATS as a basic vocabulary that all Tribal Fusion dancers should be able to speak in the same way that ballet is universal art form. If you know your basic barre vocabulary, you’re instantly a part of a world-wide community of dancers, but you have to know your foundation before you start expressing your own artistic point of view.  Everyone knows that you can’t write an essay before you know all the letters in the alphabet, but I think a lot of dancers skip over their beginner stage because they think it’s inferior.  Little do they know that it’s the most exciting and important part of their dance training!  If you spend a lot of time perfecting those foundational movements, you’ll be a fabulous intermediate and advanced dancer.  If you jump right into the juicy stuff, it won’t be pretty.

But anyways, if you haven’t already, check out Manhattan Tribal!  You won’t regret it!


9 thoughts on “Classes at Manhattan Tribal

  1. That sounds like an awesome class, Jenna! And I agree 100% with needing to know ATS before full fusion can take place. After all… Tribal Fusion is a FUSION between ATS and other dance forms! 🙂 I actually get very frustrated when I try and explain this in a dance class, because half of the class isn’t interested. But I stick through it and teach those who want to be taught. 🙂

    Great blog!

      1. I dance and teach in Cape Town, South Africa. 🙂 So I think quite a way away from where you are!! Hehe! Great to network with dancers from all over though!

      2. Oh wow! What’s the bellydance scene like in Cape Town? I’m always fascinated by how our community changes from place to place. Are there any trends you guys are currently experiencing in Tribal Fusion?

  2. Ack! There’s no option to reply to your post!

    The belly dance scene here is surprisingly big! And growing fast! We are a pretty close knit community and over all most of the teachers from all over the country know each other. (Lets face it – South Africa isn’t huge!) 🙂
    There are only a handful of Tribal Fusion schools in the country and we all have very different styles. There are some that are into the industrial side of it – more pops and locks and that sort of thing. We have another big school thats doing the Balkan Gypsy style at the moment. We move a lot with the trends we see online, I guess. There was also a time when a lot of tribal dancers wore white/cream coloured costumes. Not sure if thats “old news” for you guys – but its pretty new here! 🙂

    What trends are you guys experiencing at the moment? Is there a big difference between what goes on on the East Coast vs the West Coast?

    1. I was actually raised in a family of Yugoslavian folk dancers so I love the new influence Balkan music is exerting on Tribal Fusion. Mardi Love and Elizabeth Strong are my two favorites in Balkan fusion. And we’re experiencing the same obsession with white costumes right now. I just started working on mine. I’ve got a beautiful cream colored skirt (with lots of sparkles), but I need to create a matching bra and belt for it. Right now I just accessorize with an antique purple Abanian vest.

      In my opinion, Tribal Fusion on the West Coast is a lot more easy-going and fluid than it is here on the East Coast. I think this has a lot to do with the work of Sera Solstice who has essentially created her own subgenre of Tribal aptly named East Coast Tribal. It’s very industrial and hard hitting. Sometimes it strikes me as a little cold but the movement vocabulary it’s built up is fascinating.

      1. I still take classes (at the same school where I teach the beginners and intermediate classes!) and my teacher is OBSESSED with Sera Solstice! 🙂 I think she’s bought every DVD of her’s thats ever come out! hehe!
        I have a very big girl-crush and slight obsession with Rachel Brice. My boyfriend once said that he’d hate it if the day came I’d have to choose between him or Rachel – because he’s not sure who I’d choose! hahaha!
        It seems like the West Coast is more based in ATS than the East coast? Or maybe I’m just imagining it?

        White/Cream costumes and plenty of lace! 🙂 Thats whats hot right now! I guess we’re also influenced greatly by fashion trends in general. A lot of nude colours are very in this last year and that reflects in our costuming! 🙂 If you have Facebook, you should add me – I’m always up for new friends! (On Facebook I’m under Alexandra Chavva Graham) 🙂

      2. I actually just did a workshop with Rachel Brice! She’s such an inspiration. I really want to do her new 8 elements certification program. And you’re totally right about the West Coast drawing from ATS more than the East Coast. Hopefully, that’ll change some over the next few years. I’ll definitely find you on FB!

  3. sorry, Jenna followed us on twitter and i followed the link to her blog…. I live on the east coast of SA in KZN and its great to interact with other studios.. overseas and local. As for our style, I guess we have our own, we use whatever music grabs us and yes the people you mentioned are all our inspirations as well… I am VERY keen to learn more ATS steps , we have one FCBD sister studio in SA and its in Joburg so its just the distance , but want to bring its director down one day for workshops in kzn.. think it would benefit our tribal community (which is NOT big in Kzn. I’m a new teacher… have had 10 yrs belldance experience but am now teaching my own class (subbed for other classes before) in tribal fusion so its interesting reading other dancers experiences:) Alexander nice to see other SA dancers also expanding their community outside SA (beleieve me its not always the case)

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