Tribal belly dance is a form of belly dance which is influenced by ethnic dance traditions across the Middle East, rather than stemming from a specific cultural tradition. You may also hear tribal belly dance referred to as “tribal style belly dance.” The largest school within the tribal belly dance community is probably American tribal style belly dance (ATS), popularized by the FatChanceBellyDance troupe in San Francisco, California.
The school of tribal belly dance emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, when dancers began mixing their styles, integrating moves and techniques from various belly dance traditions to create their own distinctive style. The “tribal” in tribal style belly dance is a reference to the idea that many of the dance techniques from from ethnic tribal dancing, which is extremely diverse and varied. American tribal style originated at FatChanceBellyDance in the 1980s, and it has become one of the most widely taught tribal styles.
Some purists point out that tribal belly dance is not strictly authentic, in that it does not come from a specific school of belly dance. Tribal style belly dance incorporates elements of Egyptian-style cabaret dancing, nomadic tribal dancing, and a variety of other dance forms from the Middle East, and sometimes dancers may integrate moves from other regions such as Polynesia as well. Since tribal belly dance is a medley of styles, some people fear that it creates a wrong impression of belly dancing culture, as some of the moves and costumes are rather suggestive.
Essentially, tribal belly dance is a sort of free flowing fantasy vision of what belly dancing can be. It typically places a heavy focus on performing as a group, rather than offering solos, although a few individual solos may be included in a group performance. One dancer typically leads, with others following and accompanying the dance on hand cymbals known as zills. Tribal belly dance is characterized by an improvisational style, with dancers learning sets of steps and moves rather than choreographing entire dances.
The costumes used in tribal belly dance are often quite fanciful, with long, flowing skirts, minimal tops, and jingling jewelry in the form of necklaces, belts, and bracelets. Tribal belly dancing requires athletic skill, as the dancers must be able to perform a wide range of moves, and it also requires stamina, as good performances can be quite lengthy, but people of a wide range of body types are welcome at tribal belly dancing classes and performances.