tribal happennings and an interview with Terri Allred

Originally published in Bellydance Oasis
Issue 62 2018

Tribal happenings and an interview with Terri Allred.
I’m typing on this brisk early morning whilst on the train on my way to the airport. I’m off to Buenos Aires Argentina this time. I’m a bundle of nerves and excitement as I’ve never been anywhere in South America before but I hear that Argentina is one of the best places to start! I’ll be teaching for 3 whole days, performing some brand new solos and a duet with a dancer from Brazil who I have never met before but hey I’m up for the challenge! I’m disappointed that I will be missing the Newcastle Bellydance festival because of my trip but I hope to bring some news and photos of that in my next issue.

When I last left you last, April and I were off to Germany for the Black Forest Festival. What a quaint little event this was. In case I haven’t mentioned it before I prefer smaller more intimate events. I find it easier as a student. I can take in the information more and assimilate it into my body more easily. As a teacher you get to know the students more intimately and can give them a little more individual attention. Socially you get to spend more quality time catching up with dance friends. This is exactly what the the Black Forest Festival was like. Our lovely sponsor Claudia Dufner rented April and I the most glorious little home in the hills on the outskirts of the Forrest. It looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale. April and I had lots of fun exploring the surrounding country side and quaint little stores. There was a wide selection of workshops on offer but not so many that it became overwhelming to choose. Teachers were from around Germany, Italy, Russia, France, U.S.A and Australia of course! The shows on both Friday and Saturday night were held in an old 17th century barn and although a little squishy it was well worth it to soak in the rustic charm. Friday night the special guests for the show were the fabulous polish band Dikanda and boy did they bring the house down! I had danced to a Dikanda piece in the past so was very excited to see them live and even more so when I got to perform with them alongside Terri Allred, Elizabeth (superbeth) fish, Dawn Ruckert from the U.S.A and Gabriele Keiner from Germany. I had never danced with any of these ladies and there was no time to rehearse with the band. I had never heard the music before either so I was a little concerned, but it worked brilliantly and everyone had a complete ball. Saturday night was more of a formal set show with teachers and other dancers performing from many parts of Europe. The show was hugely diverse. There seemed to be a very strong experimental and artistic flair to this show. I somehow felt that the casual and intimate nature of the festival gave the performers a sense of security which enabled them to share their ideas ( good and bad ) with this encouraging audience. I didn’t like everything I saw but I liked a lot of it. Either way I loved that everyone felt encouraged to share. Elizabeth, April and I did a Flamenco inspired fan/ manton trio with Elizabeth and I working on the choreography through Skype. One little rehearsal and the 3 of us did a pretty good job. I love these collaborations. For me it pushes me out of my comfort zone and out of my own head.

The next week April and I were off to Berlin to visit my now dear friends Jane and Alicia from Daphnes clan and to complete the last half of the DIA intensives. 5 days, 6 hours a day is a lot but the students never missed a beat and kept their stamina for the whole time. That’s the German dancers for you! The performance night was held in a very cool steam punk bar in the middle of Berlin and I found the standard of performances to be incredibly high. The students of the DIA intensive decided that they would perform with me a flash mob in the club to a little zill choreography that I had taught them only that day. What legends! I almost forgot the choreography but they performed brilliantly!

After a much needed Christmas break that seemed way to short my first trip for the year was to sunny Brisbane to teach 3 days of my STAGECRAFT intensive. My host was the lovely Sian Bhala. Sian and I crossed paths many times over the last 10 years or so but it was so lovely to get to spend some quality time with her and her family, getting to know her better. The atmosphere that Sian created was both extremely professional but relaxed and fun at the same time which is how I like to work. I had tweaked STAGECRAFT quite a bit since the first one. I had some pretty out there ideas at times but I’m glad to say they all worked and the students did a brilliant job trying everything and seemed to really love the challenge. Next STAGECRAFT is set for Melbourne in June so I hope to see some of you dancers there.

For now I will leave with a very sweet lady, Terri Allred. Terri and I met for the first time around 5 years ago. I had been hearing so much about her from Carolena and Megha saying she was my doppelgänger so I was curious. The moment we met we hit it off. She has a lovely approach to dance and movement and in particular people and her students. A great consultant and listener. Needles to say this makes her a wonderful teacher and human being.

1) How did you start belly dancing?
About 15 years ago I had a traumatic brain injury. My physical therapist suggested that I try a dance class to help with the dizziness and vestibular problems that I was having. I had grown up dancing… ballet, jazz, modern… and loved it but had wandered away from dance as I got older.

There was a belly dance class a couple of miles from my house. It was close enough that I could have my husband drop me off because I was too dizzy to drive in those days. My first instructor was a nurse and she understood my physical symptoms and respected my need to sit down at times. I went from dancing 5 minutes to ultimately being able to dance for an entire hour without too much dizziness. I fell in love with the dance style, the community and the way it made my body feel.

2) What is your favourite thing about dancing?
I have always loved to dance. When I am dancing, I am completely focused and happy. As a young girl with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, it was one of the only times I ever felt calm. I love the way it makes my body feel… strong and flexible at the same time. I also love the community of other women. I guess that is more than one thing!

3) How did you come to be involved with FCBD(r)?
I initially studied all forms of belly dance but ultimately ended up practicing American Tribal Style. Carolena had just started offering Tribal Counsel services and I had some suggestions for her. I contacted her, pretty much out of the blue. I knew her from General Skills and Teacher Training and had even driven she and Megha around during that week, but hadn’t had any personal contact with her in a couple of years. We got to talking and realised that I had just published a book (I Belly Dance Because: The Transformative Power of Dance) and she was getting ready to publish a book (ATS® Practice Companion). We decided to work together so I quit my job as the Executive Director of a breast cancer nonprofit and flew to San Francisco to see if we would work well together. I served in the capacity of business consultant to FCBD(r) and Tribal Pura International for about 2 years. During that time I helped to create the Sister Studio Continuing Education Program, ATS® Reunion and the ATS® Magazine.

I no longer work in the capacity of a consultant for FCBD(r) anymore but I do co-produce ATS® Reunion with two new partners I just took on for this year, Cat Ellen and Erin Hillier. They have been on the planning team for the conference for several years and I am thrilled to be working with them.

4) What led to the creation of ATS Homecoming, now called ATS Reunion and why the name change?
Carolena really wanted to have an international gathering of ATS(r) dancers and she wanted it to be in San Francisco. She had recently gotten married and wanted to spend more time at home. The idea of the conference was born and I set about making it happen! The first year we only had 150 people because I wanted to start out with a manageable number. The conference has grown each year to about 250 people annually. The problem was that San Francisco was extremely expensive. I had taken over solo production of the conference and just couldn’t afford to continue having it in San Francisco. I was working all year long and not making any money at all. In fact, each year I was worried about losing money.

I decided to move it and in conversation with Carolena, re-name it to ATS Reunion. Last year we hosted it in Kansas City, MO. It is in the centre of the US and very inexpensive. We had hoped that would help more people attend. While our numbers were similar to previous years, we got a lot of feedback that people really wanted to go to more of a “destination” city so we have moved it to Phoenix, Arizona for 2019.

5) How did you decide to create a veil movement dialect for ATS(r) and tell us about your DVD?
Because I was “raised” as a cabaret dancer, studying Egyptian dance, I was very familiar with the veil and loved using it as a prop. At that point, we had just coined the term “movement dialect” (in Carolena’s car headed back from the chiropractor!) and ATS(r) was officially open to creative efforts from folks outside of FCBD. I had seen a couple of performances of ATS(r) troupes who had utilised the veil, but they were always choreographed. I just knew that I could create an improvisational dialect that would be easy for troupes to utilise.

I love collaborations so I invited Dawn Ruckert, who was doing great basket work and SuperBeth Fish, who was doing amazing fan work to join me. I figured that between the three of us, we could get the word out about the new ATS(r) with Props DVD. It was a fabulous collaboration and the DVD was a huge hit. We have traveled all over doing ATS(r) with Props workshops.

6) Can you tell us about the Belly Dance Business Academy?
The BDBA was founded 10 years ago by a dancer from the NE of the US named Julie Eason. She offered a few classes and monthly coaching for a small group of dancers seeking to professionalize their dance businesses. I was a member of her Coaching Circle when I published my book, my DVD and opened my studio. Meeting monthly with her as a coach and with other belly dancers (who have all become quite successful) was incredibly valuable for me.

She decided to retire from that work a couple of years ago and I took over. I wanted to have an online academy of classes and resources for dancers, teachers, professionals and studio owners. I knew that people could find information about marketing, business planning and other relevant topics in the general community, but I wanted targeted training for belly dancers by belly dancers. I went about identifying experts in many fields and now have about 20 instructors from all over the world and over 100 online classes. Some of the classes are free, some are $15- equivalent to one in-person belly dance class and some are $35-45- equivalent to a workshop.

It is free to become a student and many of the classes are free! We also offer monthly coaching video calls where people get to talk about their specific teaching or business needs with me and other BDBA instructors. We have people calling in from all over the world for those calls. That program is called the Coaching Circle and also includes ALL of our $15 classes for a low monthly fee.

The only thing we DON’T DO at the academy is teach any type of dance technique. You can learn how to prepare for a photo shoot, how to get good sleep while at a conference, how to write a business plan, how to use Pinterest and so much more. But you can’t learn how to do a shimmy!

We have students who are beginning instructors looking to learn how to market their classes. We also have a Mastermind group for dancers who have been at the professional level for 10 years. There is literally something for everyone!

7) With BDBA having so many members all over the world what do you think is the number one reason why people take up middle eastern dance and what is the biggest challenge teachers are having?
The biggest challenge that teachers are having is how to find their unique voice or what I call their superpower in a marketplace of other belly dancers in particular but also other movement teachers like zumba and even yoga flow. Teachers aren’t identifying and then telling others what is unique that they have to offer. Even if they know, they aren’t effectively telling others about it in a way that motivates potential students to come to their classes. My cornerstone class, How to Find Your Superpower and Tell Others About It, is a 2 part class that discusses all of those issues. It is also my most popular live workshop as well. Magic happens in a room when dance teachers get together and really “see” each other, helping to identify those superpowers in each other. It can be quite emotional.

8) What are your future goals for BDBA?
My future goals for the BDBA are to continue to provide education to belly dancers so that they can be successful in the business and teaching of belly dance. We spend so much time working on our technique but then often don’t know how to operationalise that into a successful business or teaching practice.

9) What are your personal dance goals at the moment?
My personal goals are to continue to teach and perform ATS(r) at national and international conferences, to offer BDBA classes at major events and to learn to take care of my ageing body as I continue to dance. Next week I am off to Deb Rubin’s Dance Therapeutics to help me with that goal.

10) What do you do in your free time?
I love listening to music. Both of my children are musicians and have lots of shows. I also love traveling and particularly going to any place with an ocean. I have recently started making malas. I call the business Third Eye Malas (after my Third Eye Tribal dance business). I select natural stones with healing properties, infuse them with Reiki healing energy and make them into malas. I unveiled the project at ATS(r) Reunion this year and almost sold out. Making the malas and knotting the binding after each threaded bead is really relaxing.