Tribal Happenings & Elizabeth Strong Interview 2011

Tribal Corner
Tribal happenings plus Devi talks to Elizabeth Strong

Bellydance Oasis Issue 41. 2011

Well happy New Year everyone! Although doesn’t that seem like a life time ago now? I trust and hope that you all had a good break over the silly season and feel raring to go as this year seems to be as jam packed as ever.

When I left you last I was just about to embark on a tour down to Adelaide with the lovely Carolena Nericcio. Carolena once again asked me to co teach with her, and of course I said yes! Our generous host Evangeline Feary of Cinnabar Red dance Collective did a wonderful job of putting on a week long event which consisted of a show which Carolena and I performed at {and yes it was pure improvised ATS with only a quick run through on the day. Ahhh the adrenaline rush!}, followed by 4 days of general skills and to finish off Carolena conducted Teacher Training for some very excited, nervous and lucky gals from all over the country.

It was my first time experiencing the General Skills certificate as a 4 day event. In the past it had gone over 3 days. I have to say the extra day for drilling and questions was great not to mention that I was able to present my 9 ATS steps that Carolena has accepted into the FCBD format. Very exciting!

I have many people asking me “when is the next GS in Australia?” and the answer is that it will be in Moorolbark in Melbourne Victoria on the 18th,19th,20th & 21st of November. Please contact Caroline: if you are interested in coming along.

So after that it was home for a week and then off to the “Unearthed” festival in Moorolbark, Victoria, hosted by Red Earth Ghawazee. {Yep, the same ladies that will be hosting Carolena and myself later on this year}. There were many great workshops on offer including Nina from Gypsy Rain, Acushla, Melusina, Miasma, Maaisah, just to name a few. As well as all the workshops on offer there were of course 2 performance nights. Acushla from Adelaide and myself managed to somehow put a duet together from a far and I have to say it went quite well {if I do say so myself!}.

The Unearthed festival for me was a great way to finish off the year as it had that lovely low key relaxed vibe that is so hard to achieve with a festival, as the very nature of festivals is busy, busy, busy. I love these kinds of festivals as it gives you time to catch up with people that you don’t get to see very often. Well done to The Red Earth Ghawazee girls on a job well done!

Before we finished up for the year we had our very first end of year concert. I can’t believe it took me 10 years to do this! I really wanted all my students to have the opportunity to perform at a low key event for their friends and family. We had so many cute mother and daughter dances, auntie and niece dances and husbands and fathers drumming for their loved ones. The event was also in honor of Izzy who is my 9yr old student living with cancer. We were able to give all the proceeds to her and her family and I am pleased to tell you all that to date Izzy is in full remission and is back in class! {Thanks to everyone who has been enquiring about her.}

I have to say that these holidays for me felt like a really good long break. I made a point of not dancing over the January period which was great for me as I felt ready to jump back in once February rolled around. I know that while I was having a little break the Tribal belly dance world did not stop. I heard great reports about Deb Rubin’s workshops that she held in both Adelaide and Byron. Here is what Belinda Burton had to say about Deb’s trip to Byron

Deb Rubin February 2011

San Francisco’s ‘Queen of Slink’, Deb Rubin, was recently back in Australia, due to popular demand, teaching 5 tribal belly dance workshops in Byron Bay and 6 workshops in Adelaide. This was Deb’s second visit to Australia and Byron Bay and she was hosted in Byron by Belinda Burton, of the Wild Honey Dance Festival and Mira Fallon of Bellydance Amethyst in Adelaide.

Deb’s visit to Byron Bay last year (2010)  was spontaneously organised after her workshop series in Melbourne. It was a fantastic and unexpected surprise to have a world class international teacher in our midst – if only for a day! Most of us weren’t sure what to expect while some of the class had already experienced Deb’s dynamic style at the Melbourne workshops and were coming back for a second helping! We worked hard that day, we SWEATED a lot (I nicknamed it ‘bellydance bootcamp’)  and, we LOVED it, so much so that I invited Deb to come again in 2011.

This time around we had a whole weekend of full to capacity workshops with very eager participants hailing from Perth, Alice Springs, Melbourne, Brisbane and the local area. While most of the participants came from tribal backgrounds, both Gypsy Caravan and ATS, some of the students were cabaret, Egyptian style etc dancers.

Deb has a really engaging, dynamic teaching style and vast knowledge of body mechanics so I specifically asked her to teach her signature ‘dance therapeutics’  for the upper and lower body.  Deb draws on her knowledge of yoga therapy, Pilates, Feldenkrais and her own experiences of dance injuries in these workshops. I also had a private with her and she gave me specific exercises to loosen up my frozen shoulder, plus suggested some great drills and corrected my posture like no other teacher has before!

Other topics covered over the weekend included popping/locking, layering, slow/slinky moves and fancy footwork and traveling moves.

There was a fun performance event, Supa Slinky, on the Saturday night featuring Deb and some very talented local performers –  one of them, Miss Kitty La’mour (aka Elenie Smith), impressed Deb so much that she had a private with her a few days later!

By a strange and delightful co-incidence, the band Beats Antique, also from the tribal scene in San Fran, were in town and a large group of weary but inspired tribal dancers finished off a fantastic weekend with yet more dancing (yes, we managed to find the energy).

Deb rested up and enjoyed the Byron beaches and holiday ambiance for a few days then flew over to Adelaide for a highly intensive weekend of workshops before heading back home to the frosty, crisp winter weather and a full schedule of festival performances and classes.

I am planning to host Deb Rubin in Byron Bay again in 2012, please contact me for details at

– Belinda Burton

In February we were also graced with the fabulous musical group Beats Antique which by all accounts I hear were also fabulously groovy. Our very own Hilary Cinis and the Body Serpentine were lucky enough to be able to perform a pre show for them at their Sydney gig! Go girls!

For me the year started off with a bang at Newcastle’s first Bellydance Evolution festival. Unfortunately for me it was a quick trip with just arriving, teaching a workshop, performing and then having to leave as I had other family commitments on that weekend but other Ghawazi members stayed for the weekend and said that they had a great weekend trialing out just some of the very diverse workshops which included Dani’s Thetrical gothic, Ameras Egyptian Drum Solo, Indian Fusion with Shameela, Turkish Kolbasti with Leonie, Gypsy dance with Rita, and that’s just to name a few! As you can see there was a huge variety and something for everyone. The performances on both the Saturday concert night and the more casual Bazaar on the Sunday were also reflective of this. Well done to Natalie Bradford who I believe almost single handedly organized the whole shebang! Not an easy task as many of you may know from having to organize big events.

The week after, I was off to Ballarat to teach a weekend of workshops, hosted by the lovely Christine Fiscalini. It was a was a small group this time but I really enjoyed the intimate nature that a smaller group has and gave us all the opportunity to relax and get to know each other. Thanks to The Meenkeel Gypsy gals who made the huge effort and long drive to come down and dance all weekend!

Next was Katies 18th birthday party. Many of you may remember Katie from Ghawazi Caravan. She has performed with us since she was 7 years old! Yes, she is 18 now! Of course she had to have a party and of course she had to have bellydancers there! So she asked me, Jrisi and Shiva to perform. She was disappointed to not be able to have Melusina there…seeing she is one of her fav dancers, and seeing she lives in a different state and all….BUT we flew her up as a surprise for Katie anyhow! You should have seen her face! The 4 of us had so much fun hiding with Mel back stage we were thinking of starting up a troupe. The Fantastic 4! Very funny indeed!

This takes me up to last weekend and my trip to Launceston with The Miasma girls. I came back thoroughly exhausted but also feeling very grateful to be able to do what I do. It was a great weekend of sharing and working hard on ATS technique as well as Indian fusion concepts, performances [of course] and lots of laughing and getting to know each other…Oh and WAY too much chocolate! It had been a few years since I had been to visit them last and it was fantastic to see all of the students improving and working hard on their passion of dance. I can’t wait to get back there next time!

Of course there is the regular Tribal Soirées held in N.S.W. Sandy Burrow of Aziff held the last one which unfortunately I was unable to attend. By all accounts a fab time was had by all. The next Soiree will be held by Margaret Walker and the Onyx Tribal girls in Glenhaven on Sat 25th June. If you would like to find out more please contact Margo:

So the year is already in full swing and I will have plenty to tell you about in coming issues. Next issue we will be talking to Sashi from the U.S.A so should be a very exciting issue. Also once again I would really love to hear what you have all been up to!! No one has yet to write in and tell me their exciting tribal news so please do! We want the Goss!!

An Interview with Elizabeth Strong

D: How long have you been dancing and what got you started?

E: My dad took me to folk music and dance camps in California as I was growing up, so I was introduced to a very earthy style of belly dance at an early age, along with Middle Eastern music, Balkan music and folk dance. My aunt was a belly dancer and she taught my sister, my cousin and I how to do head slides and let us run around with her scarves to Balkan music. Meanwhile, my mom had me in gymnastics, jazz, tap and ballet early on.

“I felt compelled to seek the source for myself. The mystery of where the dance came from, what literally moved the music and the dance kept drawing me further in. Once I had graduated from University I traveled to Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece. I joked to a friend, ‘What did I expect to find? A great big Broadway musical, everyone bursting into song and dance on the street at every turn?’ ” – Elizabeth Strong

Two things got me interested in dance in a big way, and one had nothing to do with belly dance. I took dance classes at my high school in lieu of P.E. The teacher happened to be a world class choreographer and instructor who had made dance her life. She totally inspired me to take dance to a deeper level, and it was through her that I began to choreograph, improvise and also find a spiritual connection to movement. Around the time I was studying with Pamela Trokanski at my high school, I also saw Aywah! Ethnic Dance Company perform for the first time in my life. Here were these young ladies my age singing, playing music and dancing Egyptian, Balkan, and even Moroccan styles in full costume and with great respect for the cultures they were emulating. I started taking classes and within one year belly dance became an absolute obsession and I have never looked back!

D: You seem to have many influences in dance. Tell us a bit about your time spent with the gypsy communities in Rom and Eastern Europe.

E: Once I had studied belly dance obsessively for three years, I started having this nagging feeling that I was learning in a sort of vacuum – what was to say that people were not just making all this stuff up and telling me, “this is Egyptian, this is Tunisian, etc.”?  I felt compelled to seek the source for myself. The mystery of where the dance came from, what literally moved the music and the dance kept drawing me further in. Once I had graduated from University I traveled to Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece. I joked to a friend, “What did I expect to find? A great big Broadway musical, everyone bursting into song and dance on the street at every turn?” Of course it took a great deal of asking and searching, but I did find two lovely teachers: one in Tunisia, and one in Istanbul, Turkey. I have spent a great deal of time studying in particular with Reyhan Tuzsuz in Istanbul since that first visit, as well as her eldest daughter, Meltem, and some of their family and neighbors. My first few lessons back in the year 2000 were essentially parties with all the ladies gathering into one small room, laughing and dancing and all showing me moves at once. Some of the first Turkish words I learned were “repeat” and “slow” but it really didn’t do any good. They just kept dancing full out at full speed. But I’m glad for it now. It was good to be challenged to learn a dance in a lead and follow format – it’s the “Old World” way. From the beginning I was expected to do the whole dance together, and really get the feeling of it.

I have been back to Turkey to study a handful of times since 2000 to live and study, sometimes with Reyhan, and sometimes with other local dancers. Three years ago I visited during Hidrellez (sometimes called Herdeljezi) – a world-wide Roma celebration – and some friends and I went to the infamous Sulukule neighborhood. That was an incredible cultural experience, especially as most of that neighborhood is now torn down. The community was very inviting and friendly during the festival, though I am told it is not a neighborhood you want to visit alone, normally. There was an outdoor concert which got rained out, so everyone packed themselves into the local tea house and continued the festivities.

I have also had the good fortune to visit a Rom neighborhood in Bulgaria with my friend and his family, who are second generation in that neighborhood, or “Mahala”. I hope to go back this year for his niece’s wedding. The weddings go three days there and include a Zurna and Tupan dance procession along the dirt roads. The Rom in Gotse Delchev, Bulgaria speak Turkish, and Turkish Rom music and dance are a part of their heritage, but they also do a sort of belly dance that is somewhat related to Balkan line dancing – a little lighter on the feet, but still a lot of wiggle in the hips and shoulders.

D: What else or who else inspires you in your dance?

E: Nothing inspires my dance like music I love, and even more than Middle Eastern music, I absolutely adore Balkan music. I have been enjoying some of the beats put to Balkan music, too. Hip hop dance, Flamenco dance, old Bob Fosse stuff, and Mahmoud Reda would be high on the list of inspiring movement. Lately I am inspired to have some element of story in my dance, even if it is a loose thread, or a dream-like story.

D: You were involved with The Bellydance Super Stars in 2008 and 2009. What was that like?

E:Well, the administration leaves a lot to be desired, and that is all I will say about that aspect. The members of the cast were some of the nicest, most genuine and most humble people I have met. The pace for learning dances and creating costumes was break neck, but I knew that going in. If you spend a moment saying, “but this is impossible!” it’s a total waste of energy, so there’s nothing for it but to just dig in and make it happen. I am glad I had that experience! With any touring, sleep and good food are rarities, so it can be trying on the nerves and the body at times. But I was so grateful to do dance as my work – I AM so grateful to do dance as my work!

D: You have also been involved as part of Jillina’s new production Belly Dance Evolution. That sounds exciting! Please tell us more.

E: Jillina has created a belly dance show portraying an original story with mythological characters, and is bringing it to professional stages around the world. There is a core cast which includes Jillina, myself, Sharon Kihara, Kaeshi Chai, Louchia, Ozzy Ashkenazi, Heather Aued, and two incredible, professional male Georgian dancers. Each location we have a new troupe chosen through an online competition. I love this because truly anyone can be in the show, and everywhere we go I get to dance with new, incredible people. This year, Bellydance Evolution will go to South America, Mexico, Europe, and Japan. Some of the great things about Bellydance Evolution is that it is carried through using story, and that the styles are not so stuck in “Tribal” versus “Cabaret”. We mix it up and use a good deal of fusion in the pieces.

D: On top of all of this you have also been performing with Zoe Jakes and her dance company for Beats Antique. How has that been and how does it differ to working on Jillinas project?

E:The main difference: I would probably never wear a luchador mask and crowd surf in a Bellydance Evolution show!

Really, working with Beats Antique is doing something very close to me creatively. Zoe and I have danced together for about ten years, and we are at once very different stylistically and very similar…which is probably why we get so much from working with each other. When we both find ourselves squealing and jumping for joy, it’s usually because it’s a really good idea!  So I get a lot creatively from being part of Zoe’s group – we all get to be a part of the process and bring the pieces to fruition together.

I am so happy she started a performance group and that Beats Antique is doing so well. We have had a lot of fun performing at big festivals over the past year. Compared with performing in seated theaters, it is quite a rush to perform for thousands of people as they dance and scream and raise their arms sending energy gushing back to the stage.

D: You feature on the DVDs Evolution, Tales of Desire 1 and 2, Tribal Fusions 2 and Tribal L.A. Any plans for more DVDs?

E:I am finalizing my first instructional DVD on Turkish Roman Dance! I am producing it myself so the process has been slow as I learn the ropes. I will be announcing it’s release very soon!

D: What are your dance aspirations for the future?

E:I would like to keep creating my own work. Dan Cantrell and I just created a beautiful show using his music and my choreography along with Shadow Theatre. Zoe Jakes and Sam Emanuel were part of it. It was so fulfilling to see my brain children out on the stage! Making more dances and beautiful story is definitely where it is at for me right now.

D: You recently came to Australia for the 3rd Australian Tribal and Trance Festival. What were your impressions of Australia and its dancers?

E: Love Australia. Love the dancers. Ghawazi Caravan was great (I’m not just saying that!) I appreciated the fact that there was still a strong connection to ATS, and therefore a common language among dancers at the Festival hafla. I very much enjoyed the pieces I watched during the Gala performance, as well. And of course, Merilyn, and Debra were incredibly generous and sweet as hosts.

D: Any plans to visit us again? I am sure us Aussie dancers would love to have you back!

E: Anytime!! I would be thrilled to return.