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On a bellydance discussion group, there was a thread about what tribal is, and one member made the following offhanded comment:

"One good thing I find about Tribal is that you don't have to worry about remembering choreography."

To which I had a reply to, which follows. ~Shay Moore - Deep Roots Dance -

"Oh gosh, that makes it sound so easy! But no, rather than having to remember a choreography, you just have to keep every single move in your repertoire at the ready in case someone pulls it out. You have to know the body line specific to each move, the cue for each, and one must have have honed the ability to transition smoothly from every move into every other possible move it might transition into...on the fly and at the whim of the person you are following, or in such a way that you can be cleanly followed by others--every move must be considered carefully in the few seconds leading up to it for it to come off cleanly as a group.

Dancers also must take into account changes in formations/dancer order which can be executed at any time, which incidentally may affect not only change in leadership roles and the sight lines but also the execution of a given move. For instance: "If I am in this formation, then my arm needs to be positioned this way so as to not block the hip, where if I am in this formation, I can have it here, where it will not be in the way and compliment the change in the footwork..."

Additionally, little things we take for granted as soloists or choreographed groups, such as lighting conditions, can throw off an entire show. Too dim? Sun in your eyes? Space doesn't allow for good sight lines? You struggle to be able to see your leader well enough to follow them, but without looking like you are watching them! Remember, you are trying to make it look synchronized/choreographed, but it's being made up on the spot. So don't get caught staring!

And then, as mentioned above, there is still the concept of combos. These are essentially mini choreographies which, just like other moves, can be pulled out any time, anywhere the leader feels appropriate, but is 16-64 counts in length of set moves placed in a specific order, often incorporating moves or concepts that are not commonly used in your regular repertoire (giving you the opportunity to use moves or ideas that don't translate well into an on-the-fly cueing system). So now, not only are you watching for cues, but there is memorization of a dozen little choreographies that can come out anytime.

And then there is the fact that there are a dozen possible formations any leader may choose to place the group in, the order (or random order) of the performers coming out and the musical cues used to indicate that change is coming, entrances and exits that may be choreographed or completely improvised...and then keeping your zills going or props balanced while keeping all that straight! Whew!

You're right. It sure is great we don't have to remember any darn choreographies!

Oh wait. My troupe does choreographies too.


I sound emphatic, I know. And I am being silly, yet serious. Being a skilled tribal improv dancer takes so much more work than most people realize. So many details, so many nuances. So much PRACTICE, yet you can't just go home and practice on your own effectively like you can with choreographies! So we have to make the most of our rehearsal time together to make it work. And the connection needed between us, the trust that we can be lead by someone confidently, and the trust that they will follow us faithfully, creates a very unique bond which translates into that unique connectedness and tribal energy that so many people clue into. And on top of all this, a piece that many "young" tribal groups do not master until years into their dance studies, is the ability and *need* to divide your concentration and focus on your troupe and all the interworkings that makes improv possible...with your audience. To be able to engage them, make eye contact with them, to smile and appear to be free and funloving, while all the rest of the mental and physical demands are being pressed upon you...that is harder than any choreographed form of dance I have ever done (and I have done a lot!)"

© Shay Moore 2004-2016


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