Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tribal Fusion and Egyptian Cabaret, what's the difference?

No matter which style you prefer, or what you call them, you have to agree that bellydance is becoming more and more divided into these two categories, each with its own strong identity and style. In this post I won't be dealing with the complex politics that surround these issues, nor do I plan on defending the legitimacy (or awesomeness) of either. That's a whole 'nother topic.

Often I think there should be a "bellydance for dummies" style summary for beginners who are trying to understand the complex world of bellydance which they are entering. Below is a chart I made a while ago to try and come up with a quick "cheat sheet" to help beginner dancers understand the difference. I would LOVE any feedback as this is a HUGE topic! Let me know your thoughts.


Tribal Fusion



Dark, Mysterious, Powerful

Sensual, Expressive, Playful


Middle Eastern Folklore, Modern, hip hop, Indian, Spanish, and African dance, the list goes on.

Middle Eastern folkoric and social dance, Russian ballet, golden era Hollywood movies and tourism

(in a nutshell)

Carolina Nericcio developed American Tribal Style (ATS) an offshoot of bellydance and world dance involving group improv using established combos and cues. Suhaila Salimpour developed her own technique out of middle eastern cabaret and modern dance using complex muscle control and isolation. These created a technical base for individual expression and freedom of style. Dancers like Rachel Brice created interpretations which have been emulated the world over. Tribal Fusion is considered by some to be the evolution of bellydance, and is experiencing a huge creative boom where almost any kind of fusion is being explored.

Middle Eastern folk and social dance was adapted for the stage by the national folkloric troupes of Egypt, (The Kowmeya and Reda Troupes) encouraging national pride and tourism. The “Oriental” or cabaret style seems to have originated in the mid 1900's mainly by Badia Masabni in her Cairo "Casino Opera", again powered by tourism. Russian ballet dancers were brought in to teach poise and elegance. Hollywood movies and American theatre exotized the dance and the Middle East, and in turn influenced the dance and costuming. Americans and dancers the world over have since created their own styling to suit their individual character and audience.


Rachel Brice, Jill Parker, Zoe Jakes, Mardi Love, Sharon Kihara, Mira Betz... Canada: Audra Simmons

Samia Gamal, Tahiya Karioka, Dina, Randa Kamel, Aziza, Tito, Jillina... Canada: Yasmina Ramzy, Hadia


Strong, proud, controlled, arms are higher, hips heavy.

Poised, relaxed, hips heavy, upper body elegant.


Folkloric/gypsy to Industrial, urban-primitive to minimalist. Leg and cleavage not as common. Influences of world dance layered in a gypsy-like collection of treasures. “Melodia” pants, antique jewelry, large hair ornaments, coin bras and low belts with medallions and tassels are common. At this point anything goes!

Feminine and sensual. Beaded bra and belt sets with flowing skirts, now common is the embellished lycra skirt and matching bra. Legs, stomach and cleavage are often artfully shown. Sparkling jewelry. Elegant beaded dresses with cut-outs are also an option. Folkloric costuming is individual to the region.


Anything you can imagine including sword, zills (finger cymbals), fans, fire, "Spanish" skirts, trays….

Veils, assaya (cane), shamadan (candelabra), zills…


Anything. Popular choices are interpretive, electronic with world music influences, strong drum beats, mysterious and dark. Circus and vaudeville elements are becoming popular. Beats Antique, Solace, Amon Tobin, Balkan Beat Box, Pentaphobe, Karsh Kale and Cheb I Sabbah, Mosavo...

Arabic music which can be instrumental, upbeat and catchy or slow and expressive, can be very powerful and beautiful, runs the gamut of moods. Uses instruments such as dumbek, nay, quanun, accordian, mizmar, oud, etc. Famous singers are Oum Kalthoum or Farid Al Attrach for the classics; and Saad El Sogheer, Hakim, Nancy Ajram, Tarkan, Amr Diab and Warda etc for upbeat pop music.

Why try this style?

Mysterious and powerful, this dance gives you freedom of expression, and is impressive and exciting to a western audience. Learn muscle control and strength. Costumes are creative, fascinating and exciting. Express your individuality!

Sensual and exciting, cabaret is considered more authentic and traditional, with a rich history and culture to explore. Express all of your emotions from joy to heartbreak. Learn muscle control and poise. Costumes are beautiful, sparkling and elegant. Express your femininity!


Laura Atma said...

For what you refer to as "Tribal" - and we can start a whole other post on names of styles - I think it's important to point out the strong emphasis on muscular technique. Even "gooey" moves come from precise muscle use. Eg - hip movements coming from the glutes and not the knees etc.
Also in 'tribal' costuming - I think you should point out that the costumes evolve in bellydance specific fashion trends. eg. ten years ago everyone wore turbins, tassel belts and harem pants because of Carolina... then the styles evolved as people emulated other dancers.

On a side note - pet peeve - a Cabaret dancer who uses Tribal music/costume and still dances "cabaret", but calls it Tribal, and visa-versa. It really comes down to the movement.

Laura said...

Excellent points Laura! I'm trying to keep this as a "cheat sheet" so unfortunately I can't go into huge detail. But your points are important ones, thank you!

Oh and interestingly some "cabaret" teachers get into specific muscle use too (I'm one of them), but i think it's the muscles used (glutes vs adductors and leg muscles like you mentioned) and the way you isolate and control the muscles that makes the difference. :)

Anonymous said...

i just want to mention this about the origins of tribal dance, which are more sculpturesque:
Carolena Nericcio began belly dancing with Masha Archer and the San Francisco Dance Troupe. Masha’s style was an eclectic blend of classic Egyptian Cabaret, Folkloric and any other influence that she found enticing. Being a trained painter and sculptor, Masha taught her dancers to create art through dance.

The tribal style seems to be more introspective, ethereal and spiritual, whereas Egyptian style is more earthy, fun, and extroverted.

Laura said...

Thanks for your input! Great info.

Lisa/Sumayah said...

Hi Laura,
Great work on the cheat sheet!
I would argue though that the adjectives you've used in the description boxes are interchangeable. Cabaret can be powerful and dark and I've seen some pretty playful tribal stuff too! Just a thought...

Audra Simmons said...

I'd have to say that in my experience, the majority of the dancers who utilize Suhaila's technique are cabaret dancers, not tribal dancers. Suhaila had been teaching her format for years before Rachel began mentioning her and thus Suhaila became known in the tribal world.

I think it may SEEM like more tribal dancers utilize her format over others as there are so many technical dancers/instructors in the cabaret style who each have a fairly unique method and manner of breaking things down. Tribal is new enough that we are just starting to have that variety.

I think that over the years I have been involved with belly dance, there as been an overall raising of the technical bar, no matter what style of belly dance you choose to study/perform.

Having said that, many FCBD movements are skeletal, not muscular (think of the Arabic for example) so I'm not sure you can generalize that 'tribal' movements are always muscular.

And awe, you listed me, thanks! :)

Laura said...

Hi Lisa! I know, it is so hard to come up with just a few words to describe the huge variety of these dance forms! I'm trying to have a very generalized overview for beginners though...and I know I haven't seen a lot of "dark" cabaret. Have definitely seen more lighthearted "tribal fusion" but it always comes across as an exception to me. What do you think?

Oh and just to clarify for everyone, this article is about the newer form of Tribal Fusion, and not really ATS. Which is often very playful!

Laura said...

Audra, thank you so much for your input! I was hoping you'd comment. You helped clarify the Suhaila situation for me a bit, but now I feel a bit more confused. I know she did have a big influence on the Tribal community (as well as cabaret) you think I could list someone else more influential as one of the originators? Jill Parker? I find that Suhaila's stacatto movements and muscular focus almost goes against the uber-relaxed feeling of Egyptian style bellydance. Although with dancers like Didem and Randa taking over, that's changing. You don't see that Fifi style loose, juicy jiggle as much. :P

I'm interested in what you mean by "skeletal". Muscles move your skeleton so...isnt it all muscular? Do you mean that there is a lot more movement in the joints and less isolated contractions?

Sharmota said...

I can't get enough belly dance is so awesome :)