The first year I attended Tribal Fest in Sebastapol, CA I was about 14 years old – a young cabaret dancer unaware of the wide world that is the many genres and global communities of bellydance. My dance partner, an eccentric woman who taught me theatrical choreographies in her garage and took me along to dance at private parties, drove us the three hours west of Sacramento to Tribal Fest and we poked around the vendors and watched performances for the day before heading home. I don’t remember much of my experience or impressions of the festival, other than that I didn’t understand the significance of the event I was attending, the effort and energy put into the organization and performances or the hand-made wares. I didn’t understand the temporal and geographic significance of the event: that is was situated in the Bay Area tribal and fusion bellydance Mecca or the shift that the event propelled in the direction of American bellydance, the space it allowed for experimentation and innovation and how that space opened up some of the possibilities that bellydancers enjoy and play with today.
Since that year I have made the road-trip pilgrimage to Tribal Fest almost every year. In the earlier years I attended as a student and onlooker with my friends at Hot Pot in Sacramento – taking workshops, watching performances, and laying low in the sun outside with friends – too nervous to meet new people and too happy to be spending time with close friends to branch very far outward.
In my senior year of high school I had returned to Sacramento from the long bus trip to Disney Land where my graduating class had an all-night lock-in style rager for our class trip. Dazed from the long night and marathon drive to LA and back, I spilled out onto the lawn of my high school, bag packed for a weekend at Tribal Fest, and once the bus pulled away the UNMATA-mobile pulled up. An old milk-truck with leaky exhaust and wood bench seats, I got into the back of the door-less old truck (before many of its kinks had been worked out and it got a swanky paint job) and fell asleep in the back as we made our way to Sebastopol. I remember Shelly kept waking me up, worried if I was actually just that exhausted or if I was literally exhaust-ed from the fumes filling the back of the vehicle.
In years after those I attended the festival as a member of UNMATA, filled with excitement to assist in Amy’s workshops and performance anxiety as I made the 8 hour drive solo from Los Angeles where I had been estranged from my bellydance communities when I first moved to attend college. In those long post-rush-hour night-time drives I listened to music and palpably felt the fluid space of driving on the I-5, moving further from the life I was struggling to create and identity I was trying to find in LA and toward the life I had struggled to separate myself from in Northern California where my identity was set and slow to change. In those years I crashed on the floor of hotels each night crammed with way too many people, all exhausted from a day of dancing and partying, too cheap and too uninterested to sleep the standard 4 people to a room. We danced our military set one year and Nascar set the next. Once my life in LA became more
entrenched with dancing and work and joy, I couldn’t make those sets happen from such a long distance anymore, leaving the choreography to UNMATA and keeping up with our Improvisational Tribal Style.
In later years as a director of my own Los Angeles-based dance company, The Nautch Project, I made the trip from LA to Tribal Fest with a car full of new friends, sewing costumes along the way, filled with pride that we would be exhibiting my choreography, costume idea, and group of friends and dancers that had been culled together in my classes.
The only year I missed Tribal Fest was one when I was traveling with Bellydance Superstars in Tokyoand Osaka. Even then, I remember watching youtube vigilantly, waiting to see the sets of my favorite dancers as they would be posted online. Watching the videos late at night after the BDSS shows in my Tokyo hotel room, I could feel the energy of the festival and I knew that watching online was nowhere near to the experience of being there live.
This last year I began preparing my ideas for Tribal Fest in September of the year before. I had just returned back to LA to finish my 6th year of college after taking a year off to tour with Bellydance Superstars. Excited to create a set of my own imagining and utilize the amazing wealth of trained professional bellydancers in LA, I called my friends and pitched my idea. I hand-wrote the Tribal Fest application, knowing all the details of what would go into the choreography, how the movement would be influenced, the music I would use, the message behind the piece. With such gratitude and excitement Kajira and Chuck placed us in the last hour of the entire festival – a spot sandwiched by Tjarda and Sam and Ilian and Rachel – an amazing slot to share the hard work we had been engaged in for months. I still feel light in my heart and chills down my spine when I think of my experiences at this last Tribal Fest.
Each year I have attended TF I have taken amazing workshops with some of the best teachers that exist. These workshops have inspired and challenged me for the remainder of the year. When Kajira, Chuck, and Maverick emailed me this weekend asking if I would teach at Tribal Fest 13, all of these memories I have listed came flooding into my brain and body. Each Tribal Fest has left me with a visceral memory that has served as a bookmark for my development as a dancer, student, teacher, choreographer, and member of the bellydance community. I find it very surreal that I will be teaching next year and I am very grateful. I know that I am a better teacher than performer, and with many years of university dance technique and composition training I am excited to share the unique set of knowledge I have with other dancers at the fest. To think that I may leave a bookmark in the development of other dancers, a visceral memory in someone’s mind of a performance or class experience, is very exciting.
See you at Tribal Fest 13 “Halfway to Halloween”!
Syllabus and all those goodies will be announced soon.