As far as I know, Solstice Studio is the only specifically Tribal Fusion dance studio in NYC. Sera Solstice, creator of East Coast Tribal style, has developed a strong, fully-integrated program for developing Tribal technique–something I haven’t seen in any other studio (aside from Manhattan Tribal’s ATS format) in the area. Each teacher is trained in Sera’s class format so that, from beginner to advanced, classes form a cohesive unit that gets results. This gives students the assurance that they’ve made tangible progress when they move into a higher level and that, even if their teacher changes from class to class, they’ll always remain in capable hands. Across the board, students exhibit strong posture, arms, and dexterity in their movement.
There is a great culture at the studio which promotes staying in lower levels for months at a time before progressing in difficulty. No student who is new to the studio can start above Beginner II. I’ve heard many dancers express how annoying this is saying that they already have years of training, but after seeing the method to Solstice’s madness, I think it’s a wonderful policy. You simply don’t progress without fixing all the little kinks and bad habits in your technique. To facilitate this process, all the teachers are happy to discuss your progress with you at any point in the session. I’ve been in Beginner III/Intermediate for three sessions in a row because my teacher, Jessica, keeps coming up with introductory layering combinations I can’t perform to perfection (Turns out I need to retrain my hip shimmy from scratch. Again.). I’ll probably finish out the summer with her before I even consider asking if I’m ready for a pure Intermediate level. Furthermore, all the students acknowledge the difficulty of bellydance technique and, out of respect for the art form, many take multiple classes per week. While as a whole, the studio is very expensive, taking more classes does give you special discounts so studio policy very clearly supports multi-class students.
I began studying at Solstice in Fall of last year in an attempt to clarify my Tribal stylization. While I love my work with Columbia University Bellydance, the team as a whole is a bit Cabaret/Egyptian heavy for me. I was concerned that all that Cabaret/Egyptian movement was getting ingrained in my body rather than the Tribal Fusion I loved and so I began a Beginner I/II class taught by Brenna Crowley on Saturdays. This brings us to my first caveat: Solstice Studio will NOT teach you general Tribal Fusion. You will learn East Coast Tribal EXCLUSIVELY. While aspects of the technique can certainly be expanded to Tribal Fusion as a whole, you won’t be learning how to dance like Rachel Brice. You’ll learn to dance like Sera Solstice. Once I got over this fact, I began to really love my classes at Solstice Studio. The technique contrasts so heavily with my personal style that it’s the perfect compliment to my training. It pushes me in directions I wouldn’t normally venture myself.
Perhaps because the classes are so formulaic, I find that the level of personal correction is very low. Once or twice a session, Jessica will go around and tweak everyones posture while we hold a shimmy or repeatedly execute a chest lift (Brenna was much the same), but in terms of just calling out personal correction or encouragement, the class is lacking. This could vary from teacher to teacher, but even from watching classes when I hang around the studio for make-ups, I haven’t seen truly hands on teaching. Sometimes I feel like I even annoy my current teacher, Jessica, because I stop the class to ask questions. I’m not a fan of plowing through drills when I don’t understand which muscles I should be using and I want to know why something doesn’t work when I think I’m using those muscles correctly. I never ask more than one question, but Jessica always apologizes to the class saying that she doesn’t usually talk so much. I never really had this problem with Brenna who was always happy to answer a well-conceived question, but I think it’s something to note. This is not to say that I don’t like Jessica’s class, because I am absolutely obsessed with it. She’s my favorite teacher at the studio (I’ve taken from almost all of them by playing around with make-up classes and such), and I would highly recommend her class for the Tribally inclined.
Another weird fact about the studio: Don’t expect to study with Sera herself by merit of going to her studio. She personally teaches only 4 classes (2 technique, 2 choreography), and they’re full. With a wait list. And with Jessica occasionally subbing in. I’ve been on the wait list for over 3 months now, but no one budges once they’re in. It could be months before I have a chance to study with her personally, and I find that frustrating. While I understand she has two very young and beautiful children, in some ways, by attending her studio, we’re her children too. When I first started, I thought she’d maybe stop in on some classes, not to teach but to get a sense of her student body and to make sure everything was going as planned. Sadly, that’s never happened. The students in the advanced class all seem to have such a beautiful relationship with her, and it’s hard to see that and not be a part of it. There are opportunities to work with her through the Soloist Salon or special workshops in the area. But I can’t afford more than my single class, and it feels like I’m literally being priced out of her guidance.
That being said, Solstice Studio is home to a wonderful community of dancers. I haven’t had a problem making friends or just striking up conversation with the dancer next to me. Everyone just loves the dance and opens themselves to other’s who feel the same. In all seriousness, I study at this studio because I love it there. My critiques here are nitpicks, because there isn’t much to dislike. Solstice Studio is all about integrity, and I’d recommend it to anyone. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, they’re having a Soloist Salon performance (with select group numbers) on June 25th. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for the deets! I’ll see you there!