Tribal Belly Dance – The American Influence

The early years of belly dance

Raqs Sharqi or what we think of as belly dance, originated in the middle east and Egypt. Historians credit the 1893 World’s Fair for introducing the dance to us here in the west. Shocking to Victorian eyes, it was at once viewed as exotic and called a ‘Hoochy-Coochy’ dance. Certainly not acceptable for any respectable woman to be doing. Too much skin showing and suggestive body movements.

Hollywood did not improve on this image and in fact, reinforced it. Old vintage films that portray a belly dancer are all very similar in costuming and movement style. Costuming was glitzy – beads and coins and light, gauzy fabric. Movements were centered on the hips and undulating torso and arms. This was how the west saw belly dancing for many years.
This all began to change when a young circus performer learned to belly dance on her own from these old movies. By the late 60’s, Jamila Salimpour was teaching, developing her own style and changing the way we saw the belly dance.

Some consider her the mother of Tribal dance, due to the way she presented it to the public. She introduced us to the ethnic side of the dance with authentic costuming and skilled layering movements. No longer seen as a sexy, hoochy-coochy dance, Jamila made it energetically powerful and tribal when she presented her large troupe.
This video gives an excellent brief background of Jamila and how it looked as she presented her amazing talent and students to the world.


American Tribal Style

Created by Caroleena Nericcio, a student descendant of Jamila Salimpour, American Tribal Style or ATS took the earlier ethnic styling of Jamila and started a new style and interpretation of belly dance.

Caroleena, along with her new troupe, Fat Chance Belly Dance, taught a new improv or cueing language of belly dance. Beginning in the 80’s, they developed a choreography style that involved using a cue to signal to other troupe members to dance the phrase that followed and moved in formation that changed shape and switched leaders. This dance was designed to be danced in a troupe or “Tribe”. Their style was earthy, grounded and costumed much differently from the early cabaret of what we pictured as a belly dancer. Caroleena has since registered her signature ATS and has created a certification course to teach it as well as videos and publications surrounding this style of dance. Here are several videos of her and her troupe for some background and illustration of how this dance looks—->…

Since ATS has come out of San Francisco all those years ago, it is now influencing the rest of the country as well as spread across the globe. There have been many off-shoot groups of tribal style, but are called tribal fusion and not true ATS unless you have been taught the certified style. Off-shoot tribes across the country have taken the cueing style and created their own cues and moves that are similar, but not original ATS. Tribes such as Unmata of Sacramento (video here), have added their own hip hop styling and alternative music and Gypsy Caravan of Portland, Oregon (video here) have developed their own tribal language and certify their trainers in their respective signature styles.
Originally designed for a group of dancers, there are also descendants of tribal that have become acclaimed as solo artists like Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakes who have also influenced a new generation of belly dancers both with their solo dances and as their tribe The Indigo.

Tribal Fusion Today

The belly dance has come a very long way since it’s historical roots in the middle east.  Since the American influence of tribal, the fusion of styles has been very broad and diverse.  Dancers are adding hip hop, jazz, ballet, dub step, steampunk, goth, theatrics and more as both a costuming look and a new creative way to move this dance.


Your comments, questions, or feedback is always welcome.

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