The Tribal Bible is Kajira Djoumahna's second edition of her book about U.S. tribal-style belly dance. Kajira particularly emphasizes the subset known as American Tribal Style (ATS), which consists of group improvisation pioneered by Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance. However, she includes information that will be interesting and helpful to people who embrace other flavors of tribal as well, including interviews with Suhaila Salimpour, John Compton, and many others.
In this 300-page volume, Kajira offers extremely detailed information about the many aspects of tribal style belly dance.
The book opens, appropriately, with a definition of Tribal belly dance, then moves into a historical view of its origins. This includes interviews with Suhaila Salimpour (whose mother, Jamila, founded the troupe Bal Anat which pioneered this style), Carolena Nericcio (the director of FatChanceBellyDance and founder of the subset of Tribal known today as American Tribal Style, and Masha Archer, the teacher from whom Carolena learned to belly dance.
Chapter 2 covers other offshoots of Bal Anat, who took Jamila Salimpour's concept into their own directions. It begins with an extensive interview with John Compton, who together with Rita Alderucci is the director of the troupe Hahbi 'Ru. A former member of Bal Anat from the 1970's, John speaks of what it was like to be the first male dancer in the troupe and offers insight into the experience of being a member of this influential dance company. He also talks about Hahbi 'Ru, and offers tips for softening the stiff new assuit currently being made in Egypt. The chapter closes with interviews with other former members of Bal Anat, Yasmela and Jenia, who took the Bal Anat concept into their own artistic directions.
In Chapter 3, Kajira moves on to profiling the "descendants" of FatChance. She includes comments from Paulette Rees-Denis (director of Gypsy Caravan), Jill Parker (Ultra Gypsy), and other leaders in the style. Most of these are presented in the form of correspondence that Kajira received from them, rather than as interviews.
The costuming chapter is my favorite part of the book because of Kajira's extensive research and meticulous attention to detail. It contains many color photos, both of modern-day Tribal belly dancers, and also of historical dancers from the Middle East and North Africa. This helps immensely in understanding the ethnic influences that inspired many of the costume elements used in today's Tribal style. The jewelry section of this chapter shows illustrations of many ethnic pieces with information about where they are from. There is also a section on makeup, including photos of North African people with facial tattoos and diagrams with ideas for drawing on your own. While the chapter does include some how-to's (wrapping a turban, making a pop-on headdress, making a base for a tassel belt, using henna), the bulk of the chapter focuses on describing the historical garments which served as the models for today's Tribal costuming. I feel this emphasis was exactly right, because there are other books available in the market focused on how-to's.
Chapter 5 talks about how to present this style of dance. It begins with a description of the correct Tribal posture, then talks about the use of foreground dancers, chorus, and positioning of these groups. Next, Kajira describes how to do various moves including figure 8 variations, slow turns, and several others. Although I personally find it challenging to learn dance moves from printed text alone, these descriptions may be helpful in better understanding how to do moves seen on video or taught in class.
The music chapter suggests some artists, includes an article written by Natasya on rhythms, offers information on playing finger cymbals and Turkish spoons, and tips for working with live musicians.
Chapter 7 is Kajira's own response to the frequent practice among many Tribal belly dance troupes of incorporating the word "Gypsy" into their troupe name. Since many such belly dancers know little or nothing about the Roma, Kajira uses this chapter to provide some information about this ethnic group and she encourages respect for their cultural identity. It includes pieces written by Elizabeth "Artemis" Mourat and other contributors. Although I agree with the point Kajira is trying to make with this chapter, I find that it drags on too long for my taste and has too much flavor of proselytizing.
Chapter 8, titled, "Imitation, Innovation, & Ethnics", offers thoughts by Kajira and others for those who would like to jump on the Tribal bandwagon. It speaks of the importance of knowing your sources, honoring the forerunners who inspired you, and learning the foundations thoroughly before adding your own innovations.
Chapter 9, "Dance & Ritual", puts Kajira's own very personal spin on Tribal dance. She explores the use of dance in ceremonial ritual, including some information about Middle Eastern movement rituals such as the Guedra and zikr, then explores how modern dancers in the West might bring dance and ritual together. I was a little surprised to see this chapter in this book, because most Tribal dancers I know do not see ritual as part of their dance experience. However, for those who wish to bring together their dance with their spiritual sides, as Kajira does, the chapter offers historical background and ideas for how to proceed.
In its final chapter, Kajira presents the text of correspondence she has had with various additional dancers regarding what the Tribal style means to them.
At the end, Kajira offers an extensive resource guide identifying music, books, workshop instructors, and other items that she has found valuable in her journey as a dancer.
Is It Right for You?
You Will Probably Enjoy This Book If...
This Book Probably Isn't Right for You If...
What I Liked, What I Didn't
What I Liked:
What I Didn't Like:
This book describes the foundation upon which tribal-style belly dance as we know it today was built. Unfortunately, much of today's implementation of tribal has wandered far from the roots described in this book, sort of like a game of "telephone" where each teacher has lost or modified something when transmitting the style to her students.
I would urge anybody aspiring to teach this dance style today to buy or borrow a copy of this book and read it, from beginning to end, to educate herself in the foundation upon which this dance style was built. And after finishing it, I would urge her to read it two more times. I've seen a lot of well-intentioned presentation of tribal style that is lacking in some of the important basics described in this book.
When I think about the work and study Kajira performed to produce this book (researching the facts, collecting and scanning the illustrations, and learning how to publish), I am very impressed. It has been a massive undertaking for her, and she has worked hard to present a high-quality result.
For dancers of other styles of belly dance, I think this book could be a useful tool for understanding their tribal-style cousins.
Kajira sent me a complimentary copy of this book to use for the review. Kajira and I originally met over the Internet around 1997, and over the years we have become friends. I respect her on many levels: as a dancer, an event sponsor, and a writer.
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