originally published January 24, 2012 in fuse: a tribal and tribal fusion belly dance magazine
by Britta Visser Stumpp
The ladies of Davina Tribal Collective have been solid FatChance Bellydance® American Tribal Style® performers and instructors for over four years with performances at the Massive Spectacular in Las Vegas and a DVD sanctioned by Carolena Nericcio. Members Amina, Jen, Temis, Maia, and Wendy shared some of their experiences in the ATS world with us in this candid interview:
Britta: Ladies, tell me how you got started with American Tribal Style and what was it about ATS that drew you in?
Davina Tribal Collective: We all started dancing other styles of belly dance before we came to ATS. We also began dancing ATS at different times and in different places. The costumes, the textiles and jewelry of ATS were appealing, but it was the image of strong, empowered, graceful women dancing together that was the draw for all of us. We were each enjoying dance in our own ways, and then we found that we loved dancing together even more. There is a sense of connection and play in ATS that keeps it fun and fresh for us and provides an opportunity for creativity within the framework of ATS. Everything that we do is a shared expression of those things.
BS: How did Davina form? What has your partnership been like over the years?
DTC: We came together through a common interest in exploring and challenging the possibilities of this form. Some of us had danced in other groups together. We found that we shared a passion about ATS and a desire to explore and grow together. When we were dancing with a group that dissolved, we decided to go on as a collective together. Our relationships predate Davina and that has helped us create a strong collaboration that is flexible like ATS. We improvise, we trade off leadership and we draw on each other’s strengths. Wendy moved to the area a few years ago and we invited her to join because we felt she was a great fit. We know that our lives – work, school and family – will mean that we move around, but we plan to keep Davina going as it all unfolds.
BS: Individually, you have different styles of dance experience and you have over 55 years of dance experience collectively. How has that played out in your choreography and camaraderie together?
DTC: We have far more than 55 years now. At some point we quit adding those up. Because we are an ATS troupe, we follow the style of group improvisation rather than choreography. Our previous dance experience in other styles does benefit us in terms of understanding visual design, presentation, movement, stage presence, costuming, etc., both in our performances and as we developed the modifications for sword. Dancing ATS strengthens the group. We know we depend on each other, we follow, we lead, we need each other because you can’t do ATS alone.
BS: Your base is in Logan, Utah. How has dancing in Utah been a blessing or a challenge?
DTC: Dancing in Utah is a blessing because there are so many opportunities. It’s hard to imagine that Utah is a hotbed of belly dance, but there is a lot going on here. Our challenge lately has been the geographic distribution. We live spread across more than 100 miles in the northern part of the state, and Jen has left Utah for the Pacific Northwest, so we now have sister instructors in the Tacoma/Seattle, Washington area. Perhaps the curse is the snowy winter road conditions that we have to deal with to get to shows and practices in the winter.
BS: How do you approach teaching? What’s the best advice you can give to your students?
DTC: We are all certified ATS instructors and FatChance BellyDance Sister Studios. The intent is to provide ATS training that is true to Carolena’s vision. Any student of ours should be capable of dancing with other ATS students. We often do just that – put our students from the different studios in shows together. The best advice – practice! ATS relies on muscle memory and a comfort level that can only come with practice. The more you practice the more you will enjoy the dance.
BS: Tell us more about your experiences with Carolena Nericcio.
DTC: As a teacher Carolena is kind but tough and she has been an extraordinary mentor. Making a video with her was a rewarding experience. We worked hard but never forgot that it was a labor of love. We learned a lot from her guidance and experience. Carolena has been instrumental for us. She created the dance, and she brought encouragement, expertise and her faith in us to accomplish the DVD project.
BS: Tell us about the DVD project.
DTC: ATS with an Edge is the instructional video for our modifications of the ATS slow vocabulary for swords. Dancing with a sword brings a new element to ATS. Our intent was to use the sword as another layer in the dance and to stay as true to the original steps as possible. Making a DVD is a lot of work, most of which is never seen on camera. We were lucky to have Matt Hepworth and Carolena Nericcio working with us. We couldn’t have done this without them. Carolena does an introduction and performance with us on the DVD. It is currently available in the US and Canada, and we are in the process of converting the video for international sales. There were a lot of people – friends, students and family members – who supported us and we owe them our gratitude.
BS: Tell us about your costuming. How do you develop your own unique look? Where do you shop? Do you make your own costumes?
DTC: We choose to wear bright colors because it makes us feel happy and energetic, and our audiences love the visual impact. We started wearing white cholis when we wanted a unifying look without matching, but we don’t wear them always. We like to play with the costumes, to mix it up. The colors and adornment of tribal women are our inspirations.
We buy our skirts primarily from online vendors but many of the other pieces we make. For instance we have all made our own coin bras. Other costume items are left to the individual dancer’s style. We stick with the basic ATS pieces with a lot of room to personalize the costumes. Everyone has some special pieces they purchased or were given. Some of the things we wear have personal meanings or symbolism. We can never leave things alone, either. We are always remodeling, remaking, or reinventing costume pieces.
BS: What are some great resources for the ATS student who can’t always make it to a class due to locality or budget?
DTC: Attend workshops if you can. Get the FatChance basics on video. Because ATS is not a solo dance, you need to learn to do it with another person. Find somebody and practice together. Be prepared to make mistakes because you will learn a lot from them.
BS: What is one of the most memorable performances for you and why?
DTC: The Tribal Massive show in Las Vegas was the first time we took the ATS modifications for sword to the stage. We had worked on the adaptations for about a year before that performance. That was the first big show for something we were really excited about.
BS: What’s in store for your future?
DTC: In the short term, we are teaching sold-out workshops at Tribal Fest and Cues and Tattoos in the spring. We will be scheduling workshops and we will expand the sword work. We intend to stay with the ATS format. In the longer term, there may be new dancers and existing collective members are likely to move around. What we are doing works well for us, and we plan to keep it going.
For more information about Davina Tribal Collective and their work, visit:https://www.facebook.com/DavinaTribalCollective