Tribal Style:

Becoming a Belly Dancer

A Video Review By Shira

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Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers


Overall Rating: StarStarStarStar (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars)

This documentary tells two stories, woven together. One is the story of four women who came together as beginning students in Rachel Brice's dance class, and the other is the story of a beginning student named Andrea as she follows her own personal journey with belly dance in classes with Frédérique David and others, culminating in plans for a performance.


Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

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Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

The Chart

Formats Available NTSC
Overall Rating StarStarStarStar
Production Quality StarStarStarStarStar
Content Value StarStarStarStar
Total Video Length 1 hour, 34:00 minutes
Performance & Documentary Time 1 hour, 30:44 minutes (97%)
Amount Of "Other" 3:16 minutes (3%)
List Price $25.00
Cost Per Minute Of Information and Performance Time 28 cents
Cost For "Other" 91 cents

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers


This documentary, inspired by filmmaker Cortney Armitage's own experiences in attending belly dance classes, explores the personal stories of what belly dancing has meant on a personal level to herself and several other people.

In the first minute and a half, there is a brief "history" lesson which unfortunately contains some misinformation. It is illustrated with cute animated images of dancers representing each era. The animations themselves make me smile, but I'm disappointed by the content of the accompanying narrative.

Moving on to the next 30 minutes, the documentary looks at what belly dance has meant to Cortney and her classmates, Karen Kiser, Cybele, and Bethany Jane Hanson. In addition, this section contains extensive interviews with their teacher, Rachel Brice which are sure to be a big hit with fans of Rachel's.

The remaining 60 minutes of the documentary trace the experience of Andrea Bevilacqua, a student who signs up for her first belly dance classes with teacher Frédérique David, eventually moves on to intermediate level, and branches out to try classes with other teachers as well (Nanna Candelaria and Carolena Nericcio). Eventually Andrea is ready to make a debut performance as part of an ensemble with three other dancers, and the story follows the preparation through to its conclusion.

Throughout the video, there are many interviews. Some are brief conversations with belly dance students, but the ones receiving the most focus include:

  • Cortney Armitage (the filmmaker herself) and her classmates Karen Kiser, Cybele, and Bethany Jane Hanson. Also Karen's husband Jeff Hickey.
  • Rachel Brice, their first teacher.
  • Carolena Nericcio of FatChanceBellyDance.
  • Frédérique David, who served as the primary teacher for Andrea Bevilacqua's journey into belly dance.
  • Andrea Bevilacqua herself.
  • Alaine Haddon-Cassey, an instructor and troupe director from Perth, Australia.
  • Beth Masse and Sue Erokan, the co-directors of Clandestine.
  • Nanna Candelaria, who is shown on-camera in a private lesson with Andrea Bevilacqua.

Many of these interviews feel very personal, as if the interviewee is indeed sharing herself with the viewer. This is largely what makes this video so appealing to me. The one in which Jeff Hickey and Karen Kiser describe the experience of her surprising him with a private performance on their anniversary is particularly touching. Karen had videotaped that performance at the time she did it, and shared the footage for inclusion in this documentary. Andrea Bevilacqua also shares a great deal about herself and the difficulties she is experiencing in her personal life, outside of her dance journey.

Sprinkled throughout the documentary are several dance scenes. Some of these cut back and forth from the dancing to an interview and back to the dancing. All of them cut between multiple cameras, usually each showing a different costume (or workout clothes) and background:

  • Rachel Brice. 3 minutes. Cortney has achieved something the producers of Rachel's instructional video could not, editing a performance by Rachel in a way that allows the viewer to appreciate the artistry of the dance itself rather than hiding it behind excessive rapid cuts every few seconds.
  • FatChanceBellyDance. 2 minutes. Full ensemble. The original American Tribal Style in an outdoor performance.
  • Frédérique David. 2 1/2 minutes. Solo performance. I enjoy the subtlety of her style. She expresses the music rather than relying on athletic tricks. Her segment has beautiful lighting effects and sets! I usually hate mood lighting because it makes it too hard to see the dancer, but once again Cortney achieved something many other video producers have failed at - using mood lighting to enhance the beauty of the dance rather than masking it.
  • Nanna Candelaria. 2 1/2 minutes. Beautifully elegant solo performance in the American Classic style.
  • Clandestine (Sue Erokan and Beth Masse). 3 minutes. Duet based on American Tribal Style movement. The chemistry between the two is appealing, and they dance very well together as a team. Unfortunately, I find their orange loincloth costumes distractingly unattractive, and I don't care for the dancing they do in those costumes (especially the deep pliés in second position). I much prefer the dancing they do while wearing the more typical American Tribal Style costuming.
  • Boom Bellas. 4 minutes. This is the performance to which the entire documentary has been leading. All of the participants except Frédérique David. are students, and really show their hearts in the dance.

It's rare for me to praise videos of dance performances that use multiple cameras, or cuts of multiple scenes, or mood lighting, but I have to give this one high marks in all these areas. The editing shows a sensitivity to the dance and its music, with transitions occurring at logical places, sufficient lighting to see the dance movement at all times, perfect sound synchronization with the dancing, and each camera angle lingering long enough to appreciate the dancer's craft before switching to the next angle.

I'd have to rank the production quality as being right up there with the best dance videos I've seen. As mentioned above, the editing and lighting for the performance segments complement the dance rather than hiding it. The sound quality is also perfectly synchronized with the on-screen action. All the sets for interviews and performances are attractive. Most of the music used throughout the video is by the band Solace.

Although the DVD doesn't offer a "scene selections" menu, it does have chapter breaks everywhere I want them to be - at the beginning of each performance segment, and at key transitions in the story line. The physical DVD is glass-mastered, and therefore should play more reliably in DVD players than the purple-backed burned ones that many belly dance videos use.

Most documentaries seek to leave the viewer thinking about them long after the television has been turned off. This one has had that effect on me. I find myself thinking about the dancers featured on it, feeling as if I know them at least a little, even though I've never met any of them and wondering how they're doing now.

You Will Probably Like This Video If

  • You would appreciate a human interest story about the experience of being a beginning belly dance student, her relationship to her teacher, and her journey as she grows in the dance.
  • You would enjoy seeing 2-3 minute clips of quality performances by Rachel Brice, Frédérique David, Nanna Candelaria, FatChanceBellyDance, and / or Clandestine (Sue Erokan & Beth Masse).
  • You have a passion particularly for American Tribal Style of belly dance and Tribal Fusion.
  • You're a fan of Rachel Brice and would be interested in insights into what her first experience as a belly dance teacher was like.

You Probably Won't Care for This Video If

  • You've never been particularly interested in "personal experience" stories.
  • You feel some level of antipathy toward the Tribal flavors of belly dance.

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

What I Liked, What I Didn't

What I Liked

  • I really enjoy the up-close-and-personal look at how belly dancing has become part of the lives of women who started taking classes.
  • The clips of performances are beautifully staged and lovingly edited to showcase the dance.
  • A strong sense of sincerity comes through.
  • The story explores experiences and feelings that are universal among women who have found in themselves a passion for belly dance.
  • The production quality is excellent.

What I Didn't Like

  • One of the performance clips is not to my taste.
  • I cringe at the misinformation in the introduction's "historical" background.

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

In Conclusion

All in all, this video celebrates the belly dance community and the friendships that form within it. Cortney Armitage has shown a real gift for story telling, and offers a memorable look at how belly dancing fits into the lives of several women. Regardless of your preferred style of belly dance, you'll recognize the experiences of students who find self esteem, emotional support, and special friendships through belly dancing. This documentary would be especially meaningful to dancers who embrace Tribal, due to the interviews with well-known dancers of this style and performance clips of Tribal style dancing, but its theme is universal enough to be appealing to belly dancers of all styles.

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers


I have never met any of the dancers featured in this video. Cortney sent me a complimentary copy to use for review purposes.

Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

Contacting The Producer & Ordering The Video

To purchase this video, contact Cortney as follows:

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Bellydancing Bellydance Bellydancers

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