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A Brief on Masha Archer's Contributions to ATS
as told by Larissa Archer, her daughter
To the 1970's Bellydance Facebook Group

Ok, here's what I know about my mother's work, based on talking to her now and what I heard all through my growing years and old interviews, etc. Masha studied with Jamila more than 6 months (I don't know how many years; I'll ask her…), and then started to do her own thing, and established the San Francisco Classic Dance Troupe.

She was not at all interested in keeping the dance "authentic" for authenticity's sake. She wanted a dance that she felt was appropriate for the modern western woman. So she discarded certain elements that she didn't like (such as the Turkish drop--since bellydance was still something people really only associated with nightclubs and male entertainment, and she wanted to drag it up into a level at which people would rightly acknowledge it as art, she felt that women should not be dancing on the floor. also, she didn't want her dancers risking injury, and felt she couldn't teach it or even do it herself in a way that was perfectly safe). She kept elements she did like and altered them as she saw fit to suit her taste. For instance, she wanted peoples' feet close together in moves like the Egyptian basic, and she emphasized what we now think of as ATS posture (although she looks at photos of herself dancing and gasps at her own "horrible, dreadful posture and terrible feet"!) and emphasized the lifted elbows that are so important to this dance. According to her these were tweaks to the moves she learned from Jamila.

NOW, because she was not interested in keeping the dance (or dances) authentic, she didn't want any guff from people about her lack of authenticity. So she used the word "American" to describe the dance she was teaching and performing. Also, Jamila loved bellydance, but was (at the time) very pessimistic about it ever being part of a different world from the nightclubs. The Ren fair seems the most un-nightclubby event her troupe danced at. Mom wanted to present this dance in more mainstream venues. You'll see from many of the pictures I posted in "Old school belly dance" that mom had her group dancing at book fairs, gallery openings, parades, artsy parties, city hall, etc. And she disallowed her dancers from performing in nightclugs or bars (she even got an offer from the SF 49ers to dance at a party for the team, but she wasn't sure it would be safe for them so turned it down). Part of what she felt would bring bellydance out of the nightclub was the chorus, or the tribe. Rather than a lone woman out dancing by herself like in a nightclub, the chorus surrounded and protected her (figuratively, of course), and would "teach" the audience how to regard the featured dancers. Seeing the chorus support and respect the featured dancers would influence the audience to do the same. SO the "tribe" was very important to her, and when asked about her style, she said, "American Tribal." THIS DOES NOT MEAN HER DANCE WAS THE SAME AS WHAT WE KNOW OF AS ATS, OR THAT SHE IS THE CREATOR OF ATS. She may not even have strung the three words together, "american tribal style"--and in those days, since there was much less bellydance going on and it was much less known, so there was also much less need to semantically distinguish one style from the next. All that was really relevant at the time was that this was American (not Moroccan or Egyptian or anything else) and that you were going to get a whole group--a tribe-- of dancers at your gig, not just one woman.

NOW, mom did not organize the dance or codify it the way Carolena has. There were no "cues"--you just had to sort of telepathically sense when the movement was going to change. There was no set dance formation. Carolena has joked that mom would "lead from behind"--Carolena was shorter and so had to stand in front and somehow perceive what mom was doing behind her. the lack of set cues, formations, and base combinations meant the repertoire was simpler. While there were spins, there'd have been nothing like the Egyptian combo with spins, or the ASWAT. While there was a (very different) Camel Walk, there'd have been nothing like the camel walk we can do in a trio, ending up in different positions. While there was an Arabic basic, there'd have been nothing like the do-si-do. These more complicated moves are possible because of the codification of the dance, the setting down of group formations, and the establishment of cues. Carolena's codification of everything has meant that many more moves could be added to the dance form, and that the basic moves can be done in a multitude of new ways. And Carolena has also altered some of the moves that she has kept over, just as mom altered the moves she got from Jamila. But the addition of moves from kathak and flamenco, those are also all Carolena's.

SO….this is a lot of what I know about my mom's place in the evolution. I haven't talked about her influence on costuming, but you can draw conclusions from the photos in the Old School Belly Dance album. I don't know about these other styles and teachers and influences people have mentioned, but am now very curious!

See the gallery HERE