Tribal Happenings and History of Tribal in Scotland

Tribal Happenings by Devi Mamak &

The History of Tribal in Scotland by Susan Tonner

Originally published in Bellydance Oasis Magazine
Issue 53

It feels like such a long time since I last sat down to type my article. For me it has been several months of big changes, the main one being moving house after 25 years which has been hard emotionally and physically but also very exciting. I found the process somewhat surprising in that I was expecting to feel the obvious emotions of leaving a house full of memories and whilst there was some of that I was not expecting some of the other issues that arose. For starters it made me feel old! My previous house was the house of my youth, where I had my children. I realised that this will be the house of my more mature years and the house where my children will eventually leave. This has had an effect on the way I have started to live in the new house (apart from the fact that the new place has stairs which is very different in itself!). It has made me strive for more art in what ever form it may be. To not procrastinate. So I’ve been doing more choreography, more piano compositions and slowly trying to create a beautiful garden.

The space in the new house is also different. I no longer have huge mirrors to practise with (but will again). Whilst recently creating a new choreography for The Newcastle Belly Dance Festival, I had to rely on what the movement felt like rather than what it looked like. A very different way of working. I performed it last weekend for the first time and was devastated on how it felt to dance. After feeling pretty upset for a few hours I realised that I probably have enough experience under my belt that it probably looked fine which made me realise that this is not enough for me anymore…

When I started dancing I was only consumed with technique and weather or not it looked good. Now it has to FEEL good. This is not wholly hedonistic. For me as an audience member, I enjoy a performance the most when I can see that the dancer is not only enjoying what they are doing but is dancing in their own true individual style and feeling every moment. You may not always capture that on film but you sure as hell get it as an audience member. Anyway food for thought readers and more on that later.

But before I moved house, Cristie Fuller and I headed off to Europe. Our first trip was to Essex London. This was my first time in London and it was lovely to connect with so many faces I had seen on Facebook, as well as old friends from Sweden and Norway who came. Cristie and I taught my Appraisal workshops and then I had another 2 days of workshops after the 3 day intensive. The Gala show was HUGE with local dancers dancing mainly ATS®.

Next, Cristie and I headed off for another appraisal series, this time back to Edinburgh in Scotland with our lovely host Susan Tonner of Katra. I love Edinburgh. The architecture and history is something we don’t have here and the locals are just lovely…even thought at times I cant understand a word they are saying in English! There was a lovely casual hafla over the weekend with ATS® and fusion dancers from across the country. One thing Cristie and I LOVED was what they call the Tribal mash-up. This is where dancers put their name in a hat. Four names get called and those four dancers have to dance to a piece of music they don’t know for the whole piece. I loved the spirit of this. Many dancers had never danced ATS® and many had never danced together but it was great to watch and was a lot of fun!

Next I was off to Berlin, Germany by myself with my lovely sponsors Jane and Alicia from Fara La Sombra troupe. I love these girls and they have become dear friends of mine. As we speak I am trying to convince them to get over their fear of big spiders and get their butts here to one of our many great dance festivals in Australia! Its time we had more overseas guests come our way. Australians are always travelling to other countries to learn from other great dancers, which is great and I think this should continue but we too have many great teachers here with an abundance of knowledge to share.

My workshops in Berlin were well attended. There are many Tribal and ATS® dancers in Germany and many travelled from around the country to attend which I was very humbled by. It was with a sad heart I said goodbye to Europe for yet another year or so and came home and moved the next day! Yep that was interesting doing it jetlagged!

The year has started off with a bang over our way with Cristie and I presenting my appraisal course for ATS® at Amera’s Palace. Was a lovely bunch of dancers from N.S.W, S.A and QLD. Here is what one participant had to say who attended.

Dear Devi,

Thank you very much. I was very nervous and insecure about doing the workshop, but had convinced myself that no matter however bad the news was “I was big enough and ugly enough” to take it. I told myself it would all make me a better dancer. Easy to say….Anyway, I am sure you don’t need my words, (but Cristie will tell you I am not usually short of them and do love to use them) and I wanted to say thank you so much for your clear and easy to follow teaching, and your kind and praise filled feedback. I use that word advisedly. Too often “feedback” is used euphamistically to soften the blow of criticism. Your choice of wording is clearly about what I can do to make it better. Anyway, thank you again for your excellent teaching and clear and kind communication. I had feared that I would lose my confidence after reading the list of faults, but in fact, I feel more confident and hopeful and motivated to become a better dancer.

Warm regards,


Our next big event in N.S.W was the Newcastle belly dance Festival. I have to say it was probably the best one yet. This year there were no international guests as there has been in previous years. Just all Aussie, talented dancers from all across the country. The show, all be it a little long was top notch acts and I can see why Natalie Bradford {director and founder of the festival} had troubles keeping the show shorter! Workshops were interesting and diverse and well attended and the market day was filled with many great performances from beginners dancers through to seasoned professionals. And of course the stalls just get better and better which unfortunately means our wallets get smaller and smaller!

This year is packed full of events. Here are the ones I know about:

  • Nicole Kennedy from Orange, is trying to get some ATS® going in this rural area of N.S.W. This can be hard as many of you dancers and teachers from rural areas would know. I will be teaching a day of workshops over her way on the 11th of April to try and get the ball rolling. If you live in the surrounding areas and would like to come along or join Nicole’s classes please contact her at
  • The amazing Mat Jacob will be in Adelaide on the 25th and 26th of April! This will be her first time here. For more info contact Bellydance Arabesque:
    Next there is the annual Sydney Middle Eastern Dance Festival . Always a fun event with lots to see and do. This always falls on the first weekend in May. Contact info:
  • On the 16th and 17th of May Ill be in Brisbane for a full weekend of dance and a gala show. Looking forward to seeing all you Brisbane dancers there. Contact Rita:
  • Last weekend 28-31 of May and 1st of June is Western Australian Middle Eastern Dance Festival and I’m very excited to be presenting 2 workshops there this year. I have been twice before but not for some time and is one of the best festivals around. I’ll be travelling with fellow Ghawazi caravan member April Erzetich of Aprili who will have her lovely wares to sell at the bazaar. Save your pennies for her hand stamped original pieces. You can check out some of her designs here: For more info on the festival contact:
  • On 6th and 7th of June, the lovely and always elegant Colleena Shakti will be gracing our shores for the second time, this time coming up to the Blue Mountains and hosted by April Erzetich . For more info contact April on:
    On 20th and 21st of June in Sydney Kami Liddle will be returning to Australia for a weekend of workshops. For more info contact
  • On the 26th-28th of June Acushla Mkrtschjan and myself will be presenting a brand new 3 day course in Adelaide, Belly Lab 101. This course will be suitable for oriental and tribal dancers and will be one of a kind in that it is for the dancer looking to find her own voice and style in dance. Of course there will be plenty of technique and new combos and concepts to work on as well as a course handbook and photo shoots for participants.

For more info check out or contact me at:

For now please meet the lovely ladies of Katra from Edingburgh, Scotland.

ATS® in Scotland

Scotland conjures up powerful images of tartan, bagpipes and Highland Dancing, so one might be surprised to learn that with so much colour and movement already ingrained in the culture that there is room for more of the same, but with a different flavour.

I am Susan Tonner, a FCBD® Sister Studio based in Edinburgh and at the moment the only FCBD® Sister Studio in Scotland. I was seriously immersed in Hilal Style Raqs Sharqi from 1991 – 2001, stopping only when I had a baby. Then in 2003 my belly dance life, and that of Scotland’s, changed …

History of tribal belly dance in Scotland

The tribal belly dance scene in Scotland started in 2003 when Paulette Rees-Denis from Gypsy Caravan taught the first tribal workshop in Edinburgh. It was so different from the Egyptian Cabaret and Hilal Style Raqs Sharqi we were used to. It looked powerful and earthy and the costume was a rich feast for the eyes. But most of all Paulette taught about co-operation amongst women in presenting the dance as a group, in a totally improvised style. The cues and gestures to lead and follow each other seemed like a captivating secret language. This concept was completely new to our Scottish belly dance scene, used to learning choreographies.

At the same time my good friend, Lindsey MacQueen, returned from a few years stay in Arizona. With her she brought an amalgamation of the tribal styles she experienced whilst staying in the USA: those of Domba, Gypsy Caravan and FCBD®. Lindsey started a class to teach tribal group improv and in 2004 four of us started Scotland’s first tribal troupe, Gypsy Fire. The troupe increased in number to 12 over the next few years. It was an exciting time as tribal was new to the Scottish bellydance scene and the audience seemed intrigued by this new look bellydance. It meant we were in high demand to perform and Gypsy Fire performed at various summer festivals, private shows, tattoo festivals, haflas and had the privilege of dancing for the Dali Llama when he visited in 2004. Like many in the troupe, I felt like I had found my perfect dance style. I was always a shy performer but the support and co-operation absolutely inherent in tribal group improv was empowering for me.

Dierdre MacDonald also returned to Scotland from the USA around 2004, having extensively studied with Gypsy Caravan and is today a master teacher. Both Lindsey and Dierdre frequently brought many tribal group improv teachers to Scotland: members of Domba, Paulette Rees Denis and Wendy Marlatt.

Again from around 2004 with the Bellydance Superstars tour of the UK an interest in Tribal Fusion was sparked in Scotland and today we have a thriving TF scene with Sarasvati and Tigerlilly being the foremost dancers. They teach, perform and host big name stars such as Samantha Emmanuelle, Sherri Wheatley, Sharon Kihara and Onca O’leary. Tigerlilly, too, is teaching at Tribal Fest 2015.

The dance community here works together, with ATS®, Tribal Fusion and traditional middle eastern bellydance styles side by side.. In 2012 we all worked together to perform in the Club Bellydance section of Bellydance Superstars show and have worked on another show “Bellydance Scotland”. It has helped that most of the ATS® and Tribal Fusion dancers have Arabic dance in their background.

So from 2003 we had an ever growing tribal group improv and tribal fusion scene. But what of ATS®?

The birth of ATS® in Scotland

In 2009 I took over a friends generic tribal group improv class. I also hooked up with a friend from my Gypsy Fire days, Elaine Hughes, to start performing at haflas. We soon discovered that we both had a real admiration for FCBD® style and a passion to study it. We booked on to Tribal Pura® in Barcelona in 2010 and that weekend felt immersed in ATS®. Carolena and Megha are inspiring teachers and performers and the community love and spirit was amazing. Both of us on our return decided to dance that style only and do everything we could to learn more. On returning home we both changed out generic tribal classes to ATS®. It was hard to break old habits of formations and to let go of certain moves but the more ATS® we learnt, the more the flow made sense. We formed a duet, Katra and set ourselves goals to improve our ATS®

Since then I have attended several FCBD® workshops and lessons with Kristine Adams, Wendy Allen, Carolena Nerricio-Bohlman, Megha Gavin, Devi Mamak, Philippa Moirai, Jesse Stanbridge, Deana Lawman and Kae Montgomery. And in 2011 gained certificates in FCBD® General Skills for ATS® and Teacher Training.

In 2011 Katra hosted Carolena and Megha in Edinburgh for Tribal Pura®. We were committed to bringing ATS® to our own Scottish dance community. This was an amazing weekend of workshops and a fabulous theatre show showing the roots of ATS® and the offshoots from it. Carolena, Megha and Philippa danced along with a host of local talent from all different dance styles. Everyone came to see Carolena and we realised that night what a dance superstar she is! Egyptian and other non ATS® dancers wanted just to see her and they were impressed. Carolena and Megha were lovely and taught such fun workshops and the weekend was truly magical. Dance royalty was in town!

But Elaine and I often lamented at not having a regular ATS® teacher to prod and poke at our posture and technique. Workshops were great but we needed more individual feedback. By luck we got the chance to attend Devi Mamak’s workshops in Offenburg in November 2012. Devi mentioned something she was doing back home in Australia – Drills and Individual Appraisals for ATS®. Elaine and I jumped at the chance to quiz her more and find out if she was doing this in Europe, as we thought we might attend – little did we know we would indeed host the first DIA outside Australia and N.Z

So on a cold windy Scottish October day 2013, Devi Mamak and Cristie Lee Fuller arrived in Scotland. They were the easiest of people to get along with, warm and funny and made hosting them a pleasure. The workshops were held in Edinburgh and were limited to just 13 dancers and we had dancers from the UK, Finland and Canada attend. Everyone loved it! The breakdown of steps in class was exactly what I needed and the feedback encouraging and helpful. It was like being taught by your kind big sister. It was so great that everyone asked for the next level to be run the following year and in November 2014 we had 15 dancers from Finland, England, Scotland, Norway and the USA! Again it was a fantastic 3 days of dance and everyone learnt so much. Devi said she could see how everyone had improved from the previous year, a great testament to her insightful feedback and teaching. And we had the privilege of fantastic performances both years from Devi and Cristie.

Katra were also very lucky to host Kristine Adams in September 2014, as part of her world tour. We had a whole day of private lessons and the privilege of dancing with Kristine in the evening show. For me she left a lasting impression and really sparked off my new path of trying to be a more “thinking dancer”.

The ATS® scene in Scotland

As well as being one half of ATS® duet, Katra, I have my own troupe, Twisted Tails, a group of 12 very diverse women who come together for the love of this dance form. We have performed together since 2010 and dance throughout central Scotland in festivals, haflas and stage shows and love to add our own Scottish flair with a little tartan hip belt and sometimes dancing to traditional Scottish folk music. These are my dance sisters and it is them I share the ATS® experience with. I can improve my technique and ability but without the other women to dance with, it would be pointless. I have fun and laughter and great times with these ladies and we all share the ATS® bug. The dance itself creates strong bonds and the support and cooperation within the dance form, spills out into everyday life.

At the moment there are 4 ATS® groups in Scotland: Katra, Tribal Storm (Elaine’s troupe) Twisted Tails and Aarien Spirit, totalling only around 22 ATS® dancers in the country. It is a tiny community and my hope for ATS® in Scotland is that it will continue to grow and flourish. One of my own students, Wendy Holyer teaches and I hope many of my other students will start to. It would be my wish for there to be a large ATS® community who can come together to share the fabulous experience of ATS®.

So hopefully now when you think of Scotland, you will have images of tartan, bagpipes and some heavily bejewelled tassel belts shimmying on the dance floor!