Tribal Happenings & Tribal in Russia


By Devi Mamak and Oksana Peslyak

As I type Belly dancers around Australia and indeed around the world are watching auditions for Belly Dance Evolution Australia. Oriental and Fusion Dancers alike will have the opportunity to perform in this world class show. I’m so excited and grateful that Jrisi Jusakos has taken the huge financial risk not to mention stress involved to put on this event. By the time you are all reading this article the competition side of things will be over and Jillina would have announced the winners. I urge you all to book your ticket to the show [there’s only one show in Australia} as well as book yourself into the huge array of fabulous workshops on offer by the leading cast members of Belly Dance Evolution. For more information

I have recently come back from my yearly European trip and this one was the biggest so far. Four countries in three and half weeks. Needless to say it was exhausting but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I feel very privileged that I am lucky enough to travel doing what I love to do.

My assistant Cristie Lee Fuller came with me to Edinburgh for Drills and Individual Appraisal, Levles 1/2. 13 ladies came from around Scotland, England and Canada to attend. They were a very enthusiastic bunch and very keen to absorb “the science of ATS”. We pulled apart all the classic steps and concepts. Cristie drilled and I wrote. Each participant has now received their appraisal and has a clearer picture of how to improve their dancing from here. Participants were really happy with what Cristie and I shared with them as well as what I wrote in their appraisals and almost all of them have already booked in for levels 3/4 next year! This event was hosted by the lovely Susan Tonner and Elaine Hughes of Katra Tribe. Cristie and I got to know the ladies from the troupe a little better at a casual show/dinner at a local Middle Eastern restaurant which had the most amazing home made Turkish bread! Anyone who has ever been to Edinburgh will agree with me that it is one of the most beautiful cities. Steeped in history with ancient cobble stoned roads and of course the castles! We managed to spend a day looking at these. Well worth the trip just to go Edinburgh castle and walk the royal mile.

Once DIA was over I left Cristie in Scotland to sightsee and I headed off to Pori Finland to stay with Hannele Aaltonen who always organizes my trips to Europe. I had wanted to see Hannele’s house for some time now as she lives simply in the old Finish tradition complete with outside Sauna and collecting water from the well! Pori is a very small town but it was nice to spend a few quite days there resting before I started teaching again. I started by teaching private lessons for a few days before we had a gala show which sold out which apparently is unusual in Finland. Performs performed a variety of different styles from Oriental, to ATS to Bollywood and Tango fusion. The next day workshops began. Dancers in Finland were lovely and polite but incredibly shy and stoic. At times I found it hard to work out weather or not they were enjoying themselves or not but afterwards the translator told me that they were very happy and that it is the Finish way to be polite to the teacher and not ask questions or speak too much. Although I didn’t see much of Finland I enjoyed the piece and quiet of Pori, the beautiful [but freezing!} see and quaint traditional Finish red or yellow houses. One thing I really noticed was the lack of verandas in Finish houses which of course makes sense as they need to keep the cold out. A very different way of living than here is Australia.

Next stop was Stockholm Sweden. My teaching days were Monday and Tuesday and was a part of the Layali Oriental dance Festival with other special guests Aziza of Cairo and Ibrahim el Suezi. My sponsor was Ulla Edenmark who has a very similar dance back ground to me. Ulla had started in the same year with Surya Hilal style before finding ATS in 1999. Workshop participants had come from around Sweden, Italy and France and were a lovely enthusiastic bunch of ladies ready for anything! Unfortunately my trip to Stockholm was brief so I didn’t see much of it but what I did see I thoroughly enjoyed.

Last stop was St Petersburg, Russia. This was particularly special for me as I am from Russian descent but had never been there before. Although I was excited to go I was not expecting to feel like I had found my people. Growing up as a child in Australia with migrant parents I always felt different to the other kids. Different foods, languages, cultures and traditions and in general we did things differently in day to day life to the other Australian families, or so it seemed as a child. So walking into the St Petersburg airport, hearing the language and seeing a woman wailing on the phone in Russian loud enough for the whole airport to hear I felt at home! My lovely host Oksana Peslyak greeted me with flowers at the airport and I was struck how much she looked like my cousin and my sister. It was really uncanny and I couldn’t stop staring at her! The other exciting realization for me was that I understood a little more of the language than I realized. I could at least in some instances understand the topic of conversation.

Most of my workshops were huge with dancers coming all the way from across the country and the Ukraine. The dancers were good, sharp, on the ball and ready to learn. The participants were surprised to hear me greet them in Russian and to be able to give some simple words of instruction to them. I was very happy to hear that I had good intonation! The workshops I taught there was a wide variety starting with ATS and then moving onto my stylistic influences as well as a fun funk fusion choreography. No ATS there but fun never the less! The dancers in Russia were GOOD! They were quick to pick things up and gave everything a go and were very appreciative of everything I shared with them. The Saturday night concert was MASSIVE. It was long with many different styles of performances from ATS, to Oriental, to ITS, to Jazz Fusion, Vintage Tribal Fusion, Hip Hop Fusion, Bollywood and I’m sure there was a few more that I missed whilst having a costume change. What struck me most was that ALL performers were fantastic! I performed a couple of solos but the most fun performance of the night was when I got to perform ATS improve with Oxana, Svetlana and Nadiya. No rehearsal, our music stuffed up so we had to use a random piece that we didn’t know and it was perfect and fun! Ahh the beauty of ATS!

The Russian dancers have a very good grasp on technique across all genres of Belly dance and it’s off shoots. They also have a good eye for costuming aesthetics and stage presence. Needless to say I was impressed! As many of you know there are many fantastic Oriental dancers performing professionally in Egypt from Russia. Oriental dance has been a big part of the Russian scene for many years now but Tribal in its varying forms has only been there for a few years but you cannot tell. These dancers are GOOD!

I absolutely Loved St Petersburg. Not a particularly Russian looking city in terms of architecture as Peter the Great was heavily influenced by the Italian aesthetic but these gorgeous European buildings are everywhere and they are stunning. I managed a day with a guide to look around at some of the local sites and by far the most impressive thing I have ever seen in my life was the Resurrection of Christ Church or as the locals prefer to call it The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This magnificent church both inside and out is just breathtaking. Inside the ornately decorated church are depictions of Jesus and various saints all done in tiny mosaic tiles with immense detail. I have really never seen anything like it. But St Petersburg elegance did not stop for me there. I finished my whole European tour with a trip to the Russian Ballet to see La Sylphide at the famous Marlinsky Opera and Ballet Theater. What more can I say? I came home a happy camper.

So now like you all, myself and Ghawazi Caravan are in full swing Christmas shows mode. Rehearsing with musicians and nailing new steps and choreographies and believe it or not starting to think of what we have planned for next year.

 There will be plenty on next year starting with Ashley Lopez in Byron in January. For more info check out

Next we have The Newcastle Belly dance Evolution Festival in February. This festival keeps getting bigger and better so check the great workshops and shows on offer here:

Ill also be in Tassie in Febuary so if you are from that part of the world would love to see you. You can find info for that here:

Ill leave you with a little article on the Tribal scene in Russia from the lovely Oxana. I wish you all a safe and relaxing time with your loved ones over Christmas and catch up with you all next year.

TRIBAL IN RUSSIA by Oksana Peslyak aka “Milana”

I started to learn tribal style at the beginning of 2008 in Moscow with Tribal teachers, Svetlana.Dvoretskaya, Niafa and Ksenia Harridan. I fell in love with this style and started to learn from DVDs and videos because we didn’t have any teacher in this style in Saint Petersburg at the time. I really felt I needed more, so I went to study with Carolena Nericcio and Megha Gavin when they were teaching in Finland. I was so inspired with ATS that I wanted to share it with my dance community (at the time I was teaching Oriental Bellydance) so I opened up a class.

In the beginning, there were only a few students who didn’t really understood what they were doing, but after we started to perform at dance events more and more people came to class to learn. In August 2009 I went to Finland again for General Skills and Teacher Training with Carolena and Megha. After that myself and Svetlana Dvoretskaya (Moscow) became the first Sister Studios in Russia. By that time I already had so many students in the classes that I decided to open my own studio specializing in ATS with one of my co-teacher’s Nadya.

Since then, the popularity of Tribal in Saint Petersburg has really started to grow. In 2009 we formed a student troupe called Sirin Tribe, which consisted of the best students within the studio. In the beginning of 2011 we had our first tribal show on a professional level. It was a huge success with about 250 people coming along to watch the show. Since then we create a new dance program every year and every year the show gets bigger and better with rave reviews.

Russian dancers have always been very hard working and go deep into details when learning. Probably because of this Russian dancers are very technical and well trained. When Tribal first appeared in Russia there were of course a lot of copies of Rachel Brice’s style. But over time, dancers started to learn more and to fuse different techniques and styles and added their own inspirations to Tribal.

This year in St Petersburg we were really lucky to host the incredible teacher Devi Mamak from Australia. This was a really great opportunity for our students to learn from such a great master and for people to see her performing.

Most Russian Tribal dancers really respect ATS. I think that the majority of tribal teachers here know ATS and understand that this style is where tribal fusion has come from. Next year Russia will host Carolena Nericcio and Megha Gavin for the first time. Myself and Svetlana are organizing this event together and are really happy that Russia will be able to see and learn from the Mother of Tribal. We are really looking forward to this event!

At this time in our studio we teach a range of different tribal styles such as ATS, tribal fusion, ITS Unmata Hot Pot style and Tribal Foundations {Suhalia Salimpour format}. We have 4 teachers in the studio and every one of them has her own unique style. We have some interesting classes that are really unique for Saint Petersburg, for example Tribal Fusion with props, Vintage Tribal Fusion and Hip Hop Tribal Fusion. Our studio is dedicated to bringing more overseas teachers into Russia. Our goal is to give to our students the opportunity to learn from the best teachers from around the world and to show them how beautiful and different tribal can be.

“Two women – Carolena & Rina – dancing together, their expressions of absolute joy. Their postures proud and strong, but beautiful. Their movements were so confident yet elegant. It was the most powerful display of feminine energy I have ever seen. And their costumes! OH MY GOD!!! YES! That was me.” – Susan Brown


When did you start MED?
Did you commence with ATS or work through Raks Sharqi first?
Do you have a background in dance?

  • Susan: 1998. Raks first. Yes… I’ve been dancing since the age of nine, studying classical ballet, international dance, and jazz. In my high school years I performed Kapa Haka (Maori culture).I moved to Australia in 1988 and saw a bellydancer for the first time in a restaurant. She made her way around the tables, and me being extremely cocky, thought “I can do that”. Then when she got to my table, she just stood there, and I thought “how boring”, until I realised she was just rolling her belly! Well, there was no way in hell I could do that, and I decided right there and then I would learn to bellydance!In 1997 I lived up in Tonga, and learned their Taulunga. When I returned home to NZ, in 1998, I started lessons with Sandra Bogart, in her American West Coast style. And, I loved it! I felt good doing it and my body loved it. I was hooked immediately. The following year, I had an opportunity to learn Tahitian and Hula with an Hawaiian woman, Naya.
  • Devi: I did ballet for a number of years as a child. Last year I was studying classical Indian dance (Odissi style) and recently I started Flamenco classes. I started with MED in the Blue Mountains,about 7 years ago. My teacher, Kaiya Seaton taught a variety of styles but mainly the traditional Raks Sharqi flavour. Then I saw the Fat Chance “Live” video! I was fortunate to be able to spend 2 months in San Francisco in 1999. Naturally I took as many dance classes as I could and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What captured your interest in ATS? What do you love about it?

  • Susan: EVERYTHING! EVERYTHING!… Someone sent me a copy of FCBD’s Live video. It hadn’t been rewound, and before I even turned the TV on I could here the music through the speakers. Just a simple folk song backed up by two drums . When the picture came on, what I saw has remained etched in my memory to this day. It stirred something deep in me, I connected to its magic. (I can’t tell you how many times I have told this story!) Two women (Carolena & Rina), dancing together, their expressions of absolute joy. Their postures proud and strong, but beautiful. Their movements were so confident yet elegant. It was the most powerful display of feminine energy I have ever seen. And their costumes! OH MY GOD!!! YES! That was me. I wanted to be just like them. I love the make-up; it’s often been said, but it is a ritual painting your face. I love the costume. I love the heaviness of all the layers. I love to feel laden. I love the sound it all makes. I love my choli’s. I wanted one of those so badly.And my belts, they are my favourites, my creations. I love how they anchor everything else down. When dancing Raks Sharqi in front of other belly dancers I loved my two sparkly cabaret costumes, but dancing in them out in public I felt vulnerable and I didn’t appreciate the behaviour and comments I heard from men. (It sucks, I know, but that is the reality).I love the music ATS uses. (I can tolerate a full Egyptian Orchestra for about, oh, 2 point 5 seconds!). I am on the endless search for the perfect piece… I also love the community. It has a secret magic that can only be experienced. And, of course, I love the dance itself. I love dancing with other women. I love that bond we have. Dancing together, you can’t help but smile at each other. It’s more than a smile though, it’s deeper than that. Oh, and, no choreography, nothing to have to remember and stress over. Just coming together to share that magic. I love the discipline and the precision of ATS, it totally suits my personality and teaching philosophy. This dance is my passion, I literally live it.
  • Devi: At first glance it was the costumes, but really it was much more than that. The posture, elegance and synchronicity of the dancers. The hands (I love the hands), and the zills. I am a classical piano teacher and to be able to dance and play music (my two passions) at the same time is what makes it really gel for me. I also love the philosophy of being ‘at one’ with your fellow dancers, so that not one dancer stands out from the other, loving your body no matter what shape, size or age you are and finally, dancing a style which can only be described as strong and sensual.

How do you see ATS as differing or being similar to ‘traditional’ MED group or troupe work or folkloric styles?

  • Susan: This is a hard question to answer. Firstly, I have not had enough experience with MED group/troupe or folkloric styles to really comment. So, from the experience I have had and drawing from the experience of my students who dance both ATS and Orientale, ATS, to me, seems more structured and more controlled. It’s a precise team effort and it’s often arythmic.
  • Devi: Folkloric styles are culturally based and are a representation of a particular region. ATS is a collection of different styles spanning the globe. This is reflected in the costume. The similarity lies firstly in the group performance and secondly in improvisation – although troupe or folkloric styles presented today seem to be choreographed.

How do the students react to the discipline of ATS?

  • Susan: They love it! Yes, totally. The answer to this is in the question. It is the discipline. It’s a whole different like-minded mindset – you either ‘get it or you don’t’. 
  • Devi: I think most students find the arm work most difficult. The improvisational choreography can also be daunting for some – especially those accustomed to choreography. It takes a certain amount of discipline to be aware of your fellow dancers and surroundings; this is crucial to ATS. However, the payoff is the real connection that grows between all the dancers.

What are the main challenges for a ME dancer learning ATS for the first time?

  • Susan: The immediate obvious challenges are zills, arm work, basic shimmy and zhagareeting freely. Everyone has put on a set of zills and had a go with them, but to actually ring out a rhythm while dancing the right steps, is another story. Arm work – having them lifted 99% of the time new students find excruciating. Practise builds strength… Getting a clear ‘up, down, up’ on each hip in our ¾ shimmy, without that shake/vibration in it is a mission. And letting a zhagareet rip without crumpling with embarrassment is a confidence trip in itself. My students add this: “getting the moves exactly right, because they have to be, because that’s the whole look”, “to remember to differentiate between ATS and Raks Shaqi, and remember they’re separate genres”. And once again, “it’s a whole different mindset – you either get it or you don’t”.
  • Devi: Arms, the posture, doing movements on the right and not following through on the left, keeping the elbow up and still (not flapping it about) and the ‘stillness’ of the upper body.

Do you see ATS as being a series of steps and movements or is there something else that distinguishes it?

  • Susan: Once you get beyond those steps and movements there is something that distinguishes it from anything else. It’s the something that words cannot describe. It’s some form of tangible energy that I can only describe as magic.
  • Devi: ATS is definitely a series of very structured steps but there are elements to the style that make it different from other dance genres. These are principally improvisation, zilling, strong arm movements and posture. Put together these elements provide for a very ‘strong’ dance style which is not how many audiences view MED. There s little veil or stick work.There are very few solos as the beauty of ATS largely falls on the synchronicity of the group as a whole. In relation to other differences, ATS only uses music in certain time signatures.

How do you find audiences react to ATS?

  • Susan: THEY LOVE IT! Women especially. They don’t hesitate to tell you how beautiful you are, how inspiring you are, how sensual it is, how powerful it is, what incredible energy it has, how it’s done something to them but they can’t explain it. They will open themselves right up and quite emotionally describe how they feel about what they have just seen and experienced. Older women gush for ages, there is something about it that takes them back to what might have been. And then, they want to learn it. It stirs something ancient within them. An awakening. Men, on the other hand, will comment on the technique, the music behind it, or ask whether I’ve been to Egypt. 
  • Devi: So far everyone I have talked to loves it. It is not what they expect. Most people think of cabaret when they think of belly dance. Not just the dance style, but the costume as well. The most common comment is how elegant and strong it appears.