Belly Dancer Ansuya

Belly Dance Debate, Cabaret vs Tribal

Belly Dancer Ansuya
Ansuya, posing for her “Cabaribalusion” series of workshops.

Dancing as a guest dancer with Wayward Tribal and now as a member is a new and invigorating process. While many purists (in either side of the cabaret/tribal fence) shout that their styles are so irreconcilably different that they can hardly share a stage, that just isn’t true. Both styles are dramatic interpretations of music, usually Middle Eastern, but not always. Both styles the traditional belly dance repertoire of movements including isolations and shimmies. Both styles are predominantly performed by women. Both styles are rooted in the same folk dances of the Middle East.

Where do they differ? In my opinion it is in the personality and purpose.

Many ATS dancers say that cabaret is too choreographed, but,  ATS (American Tribal Style) is a very regimented dance by necessity. Many cabaret dancers and troupes have elaborate choreographies for each piece of music they preform. When learning a dance it might feel like even your blinking has been timed into the music. On the other hand, the Tribal style of dance itself is highly choreographed while being on stage is not. Movements are performed one direction, one way, with a certain amount of repetitions being required before you can move to the next movement. Whether in the beginning or in the end the dance must synchronized somehow, the two styles handle this synchronization differently. Of course, when you are going solo you are completely free to dance however you wish.

In my mind, the choreography is the ‘purpose’ so now we are left with the ‘personality.’ To put it simply Egyptian Cabaret is, well, Egyptian. You dance to Arabic music, wearing a traditional (since the 1920s) bedlah or dress, your makeup, hair, jewelry and dance style are all modeled after the golden age of belly dance. Tribal on the other hand is a new American invention with a distinctly American personality. It is the rebel; new on the scene, but taking the world by storm anyway.

While the two dance forms have differences, the basics are the same: love of music, love of dance. Rather than generate more strife over what is the better dance form, perhaps we should all take a cue from Ansuya, and let the various styles mix and mingle – the US is the melting pot after all.


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