Belarusian tribal dance only began around ten years ago, and resembles yoga, meditation and even self-cognition practices

Magic of dance

Whether the new dancing style, which attracts packed audiences in Belarus, will continue rich folk traditions, remains to be judged by choreographers with time. They will surely find in this unusual borrowing even those national special features, which are typical of Belarusian dances only. As of now, tribal dance, especially in the summer season, leads an active festival life. For example, not so long ago, we could watch a fiery show arranged by Belarusian dancers in the centre of Minsk, near the City Hall. 

“We dance to be happy”

Тribal dance appeared in the 1960s, in the US, as a mix of Indian, Spanish, and Egyptian dance styles, and is credited to Jamila Salimpour, an American of Italian origin. Every gesture is symbolic, representing ritualistic or sacred elements, creating a new direction for choreography.

Jamila’s student, bellydancer Carolena Nericcio, is responsible for the latest craze in Belarus. Anna Yermakovich, who heads the Nimfeya Dance School, tells me that Belarusian tribal dance only began around ten years ago, and resembles yoga, meditation and even self-cognition practices. The ultimate goal is to manage your stream of unconscious thoughts. One aspect of the dance is to focus on one body part at a time so, if your thighs are flexing, the rest of you remains static.

Improvisation is essential, with dancers moving simultaneously with their leader, via a ‘system of signs’ (there are about a hundred). The dance moves encourage upright posture, chin-raising, and expression (as seen by Indian Gypsies and the founders of Flamenco).  

Dancers wear complicated multi-layered outfits, with skirts, baggy pants, cholis, bodices, belts, and decorations made from coins, flowers and ribbons. Each detail has meaning, while the music is ethereal. Ms. Yermakovich believes that this style will become increasingly popular.

Anna, when did Belarusian audiences first see tribal dancers?

“At the First International Tribal Festival, in 2010. It was my first performance. Viewers liked the bright, rousing dancing. One year later, I opened the Nimfeya Dance School. I remember that only two people came for the first class but, soon, the group grew larger. Now, we give many performances at festivals and concerts, delivering master classes, and engaging in charity events, touring all over Belarus. Sometimes, we have so many concerts that my head spins. However, I dreamt of living an active life, and dreams tend to come true, as you know.”

Where is tribal dance taught in Belarus? How do you see its future in our country?

“There are four schools in Minsk, and Grodno and Gomel each have a school. As for the future, I dream of seeing more people happy, rather than tired. I don’t want to hear phrases like ‘I don’t have time for myself’ or ‘we’re too old to dance’. Changing this situation for the better and living amidst successful and joyful people is my true, pragmatic wish. We, women, have to bring beauty, joy and femininity into the world. Tribal dancing can help in this noble mission.”

Why does the tribal style attract you as a dancer?

“When you feel rejuvenated, energised, self-confident and full of self-love after a class, isn’t it great? Living in its ‘magnetic field’, you look at the world differently; you gain strength to change for the better. Tribal dance allows you to submerse yourself. It’s not about attracting attention, like bellydancing. For me, tribal dance is a tool of self-development.”

How can movements in time with music bring on the desire to change?  

“What is the reason for meditation but meditation itself? Similarly, tribal dance exists for the pleasure of dancing. It’s not about seducing, fighting or making sophisticated poses; it’s about creating a marvelous reality and understanding the links between the body and the soul. It’s hard to explain, but understanding comes while dancing.  I tried bellydancing but felt that I lacked room for self-realisation and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I had the feeling that the techniques and beauty of bellydancing weren’t enough. Once, I was at the concert of American star Rachel Brice, who was dancing in tribal fusion style. I understood that her performance had no coquetry; it was just her ‘self’. As she danced, she was creating a magic world that lured me with its depth and spirituality. After that revelation, my dancing became filled with meaning.”

Dancing solo is one thing, but you lead your Nimfeya School…  

“Indeed, this is an interesting experience. By the way, it’s easy to open a school. Being always confident in your strengths is harder. To lead people who aspire to be happy you need a lot of energy and you need to be a professional. I started teaching in 2011, thanks to my own teacher, gifted choreographer Leonid Ignatenkov. Most importantly, I like my work, so no obstacle can halt me.”  

I hear that there are more than 100 elements in American tribal style…

“Right, it has more than 100 specified movements, even the angle of the head bend is regulated. But don’t be afraid: the basic movements are less than half as numerous. All the rest are variations and combinations. When you move with pleasure, plunging into tribal dance, you stop noticing the elements and thinking about their number.”

How long does it take to remember everything?

“It depends on the student. If you study the basic elements thoroughly, you can master the fundamentals within three months.”

Tribal dancers always wear complicated, fancy outfits. Does this help them express themselves?

“It’s a sort of escape from the ‘cursory’ glamorous appearance of an oriental dancer. Bellydancing is a competitive performance, as every dancer seeks attention. Tribal dance intentionly avoids this: a woman dances for herself, although others may admire her. A tribal dancer is strong, independent, wise and mysterious. Therefore, we avoid costumes which use transparent fabrics or which are cut revealingly.  I’m not belittling oriental dance, which is beautiful, but it’s different. Bellydancing lets women feel like seducing oriental beauties, while tribal dance suggests integrity, independence and friendship, not rivalry.”

What about dance competitions?

“We don’t have tribal contests. Competitiveness kills the spirit of the inner search, and the freedom of self-realisation, support and sincerity. How is it possible to measure a woman’s creativity or the uplifting of her soul, deciding that one is superior? It’s like saying `my mother is a better cook than my wife`. Do you think your wife will cook better and, most importantly, with love, on hearing this?”

Still, you have festivals, don’t you?

“Of course! We love them! We especially enjoy the International Tribal Festival, attended by coaches from various countries, who give master classes. We’ve welcomed Manca Pavli from Slovenia, Edenia and Moria Chappell from the US, and other tribal stars. Another large festival, Tribal Light, takes place in February and March. It’s always a big event for us.”

We’ve been talking about tribal style as a woman’s dance. What about men?

“Leonid Ignatenkov was the first to dance it in Belarus. He’s an astonishingly energetic man, as well as brave, interesting, bright and masculine. It’s time to break the stereotype that real men don’t dance. They do!”

Can children perform tribal dance?

“They should! By the way, I’m opening special groups.”

I’ve also heard about Slavic tribal style.   

“Tribal dance involves experimenting. It emerged out of a desire to mix ethnic dance styles. So, it’s quite logical to complement it with something from a different dancing culture, such as Belarusian elements. Some dancers add national elements into their performance. It can be music or movements or outfits.”

Do you think that tribal dance popularity will be long lasting? It might be interesting to people until it’s a trend but then it’ll go out of fashion…

“Indeed, fashion is capricious and ever changing, while style is eternal. Tribal dance is a style. While aspiration for spirituality remains, and while women want to be womanly and happy and men support their desire, tribal dance will stay.”

By Alisa Krasovskaya
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