Let’s Talk About the Dreaded Word “Tribal”

on Mon, 17 Jul, 2023

Fusion Fascination performs a style in between fusion (an eclectic mix of modern and contemporary dances as well as other dances I have studied and can teach) and a folkloric-inspired style termed ATS. This abbreviation, ATS used to be called American Tribal Style or tribal. The problem with the term “tribal,” is that word is both confusing and inaccurate. Some people have outright stopped saying it because they feel the mere word is cultural appropriation of people in Africa. Since I have never been attempting to evoke the feel of African tribes in my dance style, and I have felt the term tribal is more about the aspect of social dance and community connection, I am unsatisfied not having this term, but I recognize the need for showing respect to other cultures.

I am even more dissatisfied with my belly dance community is replacing ATS with the term fusion. That term is already being used. It was created by Rachel Brice. I perform both styles and I need two separate terms to separate them.

I have coined the term American Transcontinental Style in the hope people might use it to separate it from fusion, which is a distinctly modern style developed by Rachel Brice that incorporates the popping and locking of contemporary dance and an alternative, punk aesthetic. Ironically, I discovered when I was watching Rachel Brice’s instructional video series that when she first created fusion, she was going for a combination of cabaret and Fat Chance Belly Dance’s “tribal” in moves and aesthetics. She might not have intended it, but she created a following of goth punk alternative dancers. When I was taking classes as a student twenty years ago in Portland from Severina, I was told the combination of cabaret and tribal styles wasn’t fusion but was “tribaret,” and it is style very separate in my mind.

In any case, Rachel Brice created a distinct aesthetic with fusion. Remember that. It is a name and brand with popping, locking, tattoos, and an alternative look. She might not have intended it, but that is what the audience expects from that style.

Those original days when I was studying belly dance, I was taking  classes 7 hours a week, 6 days a week because I was determined to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could before I moved to Japan. I also was taking a Middle Eastern drumming class to be a better belly dancer. I leaned a lot and was taking as many styles as I could in Portland. Then I took different styles in Japan—including break dance and salsa. And when I returned to America, I took flamenco and tango in addition to belly dance. But everything I did was for belly dance.

This is the article Rachel Brice cites as all the reasons why we shouldn’t use the term “tribal” and why it is cultural appropriation.


If you want to read a little bit about Fat Chance Belly Dance’s word choice of what they call their style, you can read it here: https://fcbd.com/what-is-fcbdstyle/

ATS or American Tribal Style dancers are now like lost planetoids like Pluto who have lost their identities and don’t have a better name for themselves. Unfortunately the FCBD dancers in my local community are using the name “fusion” because they don’t know what to call themselves because they claim their moves are a fusion of cultures. Although I sympathize with their situation, and it is technically true their moves are a fusion of cultures, it is also just confusing to call FCBD fusion. Why not just replace the name “ATS” or “tribal” with the term “folkloric-inspired” instead of “fusion?”

This is why I am suggesting the dancers formerly known as tribal keep the same acronym but substitute a different word. What ATS is at its essence is a social dance and improvisational dance instead of the showy nightclub dance with glittery costumes of cabaret or Raqs sharqi, which is usually choreographed (except for when it isn’t like drum solos and live musicians! but I am trying not to over complicate things here.)

Although I think it would be great to rename ATS American Improvisational Style or American Social Style, I have a feeling ASS is just not going to stick. I am going to give an example of an organization that recently changed their name that I am a member of. SFWA. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, decided the “A” should be Association because they wanted to extend their membership outside of America, and really they already had, so they felt it was time to expand to a bigger and better A.

I understand these are confusing times as people try to navigate political correctness. Everyone wants to be respectful and doesn’t want to use the wrong word. But it is just as important to find accurate terminology to differentiate each style that will last.

What are your thoughts? Is there a better “T” for ATS?

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