TTF & Urban Tribal Dance Company 2008

Tribal Corner
Devi Mamak talks to Heather Stants and Sara Plaisted from Urban Tribal Dance Company, U.S.A

Bellydance Oasis Issue 34. October to December 2008

Well it never stops does it – and do we really want it to? In this issue of Tribal Corner I talk to Heather Stants and Sara Plaisted of Urban Tribal Dance Company based in San Diego. They came out for the recent 2nd Australian Tribal and Trance Festival. We have also had a visit from Carolena Nericcio and will tell you all the gossip of what actually went on at the festival.

I had a relatively quiet couple of months before the two big weekends which was great. I needed to rest up before it all started! July saw me in Newcastle for Festival Mystique hosted by Anne Dunston. The weekend offered many varied workshops and performances from Tribal to Oriental, Burlesque and even Samba. I really enjoyed the diversity and I loved the band Samba Frog. I am particularly fond of Samba as my son Kalon plays with a Samba group and what is special about the Samba groups from the Blue Mountains, Sydney and Newcastle is that they have a real sense of community with all the groups often performing together. Not unlike our tribal soirees really and man do they have a BIG HAPPY sound or what!

That same weekend myself and the rest of Ghawazi Caravan participated in Jrisi’s latest Hafla on the side. These are always sell out events with some of the best in bellydance and beyond performing and we always enjoy being part of this event. Jrisi and I got to perform our latest duet which was so much fun – height difference aside!

At the end of August Carolena was here to conduct the General Skills certificate. This was once again a huge success with people attending from all over Australia, N.Z. and New Caledonia. This was the third time I attended the General Skills and I have to say I am still getting something out of it. Carolena’s knowledge of how the body works is amazing and very interesting. As far as the actual ATS steps are concerned, who better to get it from than the creator herself? Next year we plan to have her out here for Teacher Training so watch this space for more details.

A week later there was the much anticipated 2nd Australian Tribal and Trance Festival. When I gave up the reigns of festival host to Debra Napier I knew without a doubt that she would do a fabulous job and I was right.

There was a wide variety of workshops and the Urban Tribal of San Diego workshops I attended were great and I came home with something from each. The market stalls were wonderful and the Red Carpet night on Saturday was truly inspirational. Heather Stants and Sara Plaisted of Urban Tribal of San Diego were magnificent but so were many of the Aussie acts. I have to say that the standard of ATS, Tribal and Tribal fusion dance has improved greatly in Australia in the last few years.

The highlight for me was right at the very end of an exhausting couple of days watching everyone from jam together to live music. The look of pure joy and exhaustion written all over their faces.

Here is what Richelle from W.A had to say about the festival:


After many, many months of relentless fund-raising and intricate planning, we are finally here at Tribal and Trance Fest 2oo8!!

Sixteen gorgeous gypsies from Free Spirit, Tribalive and Spirit Sisters of WA embarked on another amazing journey.

What an incredible line up of talented teachers once again, these included the unforgettable, awe inspiring HeatherStants and Sara  from Urban Tribal of San Diego, Melusina from Underbelly, Devi from Ghawazi Caravan, Aradia, Dee from Tribal blossoms, Fiona, the list goes on offering workshops in fire, poi, sword, veil, tribal formations,  flamenco, zills, industrial just to name a few. Every workshop I attended was truly inspiring.

The Tribal Trivia night on Friday was a blast.  An intimate gathering that gave us an opportunity to catch up with our Tribal sisters from afar and learn a little more about each other. A big pat on the back to Dee and Tribal Blossoms for organising a fun and fabulous event.

The Red carpet night or The Chakras’ was a stunning display of tribal dancers at their best. Highlights for me were Melusina, she is always amazing, Heather and Sara had me totally mesmerised with their incredible style, so beautiful and breathtaking to watch, Aradia, love the popping queen, Tribal Blossoms they rock – and Evangeline and Cush with their slow ATS improv, it was seamless and stunning. Well done to everyone who performed.

A highlight for me was performing at the bazaar with Spirit Sisters, Amy and Julie our cute little neoburlesque dance which went over a treat. I think we were running on adrenaline but what a rush -then it was over to the Sydney Tribal Alumni to dance joyously together as one, a real treat for the eyes and ears.

Overall it was a well organised, awe inspiring weekend in which we take away a few little pieces of magic, my brain and body are still trying to process all the information. To Deb, Sue, Dee, Urban Qabila and everyone who gave a helping hand in gratitude we appreciate your organisational abilities.” – Richelle

So now that we have heard all about Carolena’s visit and Tribal and Trance fest I did get a chance to sit down and have a chat with Heather and Sara from Urban Tribal San Diego. Here is what they had to say…

1] When did you both start dancing?

H: I have danced all of my life but did not have a classical dance background. Dance has always been a part of my life. I started studying bellydance when I was 24 and living in Chicago.

S: I started dancing at three years old in your basic pre-school after-school setting, where I studied ballet, tap and jazz, along with gymnastics. I didn’t study consistently because I was always trying new things; sports, cheer, theatre, etc. I think they all contribute to co-ordination, performance and athleticism. In college I also studied a bit of ballroom and salsa when I was in Mexico for a summer.

2] What styles of dance have you both studied?

H: Bellydance (various styles) hip hop, a little modern, bhangra, tango, gymnastics, yoga, pilates
S: Along with the styles just mentioned, I must say that my movement training in theatre has been a great asset, along with cheer and dance, as taboo as it sounds. They trained me to keep in sync and learn to mimic, especially in improv when following a partner/leader.

3] What inspires you both?

H: Yoga, photography, seeing dance and theatre shows, movies, pop culture.

S: Music and art, film and theatre.  Watching other dancers in any form.  Nature.

4] How would you describe UTDC?

H: Contemporary world fusion dance

S: Organic. Abstract. Layered. Unexpected. After the show in Sydney a woman came up to Heather and said she was made of chewing gum! That was a new one. Usually we get “you have no bones” or “you’re an alien.”

5] How did UTDC start out?

H: I moved to San Diego in September 1999. On November 3rd, I started teaching a tribal bellydance class there. Within a month I had developed a friendship with my student Mardi Love. Mardi was quite a lovely dancer and already had a bit of a cabaret bellydance background. We were sitting at my house after class and I said “Do you want to start dancing together?” Mardi said “Ok.” UTDC was born. Then I asked a few girls in class who seemed enthusiastic and seemed like they would mesh well together to join in. For the first couple of months we just practiced. We did mostly ATS back then. My experience was in ATS so we stuck to that at first.

“I have always been influenced by club culture. I spent a lot of time out in the clubs. It took us a year to start to grow into our name. We were getting excited about all of the Asian underground music that was becoming very popular. We were invited to do some stage shows that we felt required choreography rather than ATS improv so we started working on this. Mardi Love has always been a talented choreographer and she set us in that direction. We mixed her love of hip work with my interest in breaks and without even realising it came up with something new.” – Heather Stants


6] How did UTDC evolve?

H: When I named the company it was with the intention of evolving into something different than ATS. I have always been influenced by club culture. I spent a lot of time out in the clubs. It took us a year to start to grow into our name. We were getting excited about all of the Asian underground music that was becoming very popular. We were invited to do some stage shows that we felt required choreography rather than ATS improv so we started working on this. Mardi Love has always been a talented choreographer and she set us in that direction. We mixed her love of hip work with my interest in breaks and without even realising it came up with something new. The first time we went to tribal fest in Sebastopol, CA most of the troupes were very into ATS. We presented what we were working on and people seemed to really like it. It was exciting. We then thoroughly developed our hip hop fusion stuff and did some things performing with live djs. As time has passed I have chosen to take our style to a more scaled down costume to better facilitate my love of floor work and athletic moves. I have been very interested in taking our stuff in a more theatrical and interpretive direction. We have been into that for a few years now. Some of our dancers have theatre backgrounds. Sina is now my main choreography partner and she produces theatrical shows and also dances with Desert Sin. I have also been working for a theatrical performance company called “The Living Garden.” These influences have helped to shape our interest in more interactive staging. We are also very inspired by contemporary dance and some of us take classes in modern styles. This is where we are at now. A little bellydance, a little yoga, a little theatricality, a little modern dance.

7] Sara could you tell us how and when you started with UTDC?

I had been looking for a bellydance class when I was up in LA but never quite found what I was looking for. In 2001, I moved to San Diego and a friend of mine brought me to Heather’s class and BAM, I knew this was it.  The music and the movement were so different from what I had been seeing and it really excited me. I would take classes in between plays that I was doing at the time, along with studying Fat Chance videos at home. I became an Urban Tribal Dance Company stalker and showed up wherever they were performing, and would drag along anyone that would come with me. I had the bug. In 2004 Heather held auditions and I was so excited and honoured to be accepted. I think by the next year Heather asked me to join her on the Spark tour along with Jill and Rose of Ultra Gypsy.

8] UTDC has been a major player in the changing shape of Tribal style bellydance. Was it a plan to push the boundaries?

H: It wasn’t necessarily a plan. I think it just happened. I have always had a strong vision. By following that and working with like minded individuals it has happened. I never sat down and said how can we push it. I just follow what feels right to me. I am grateful to have found partners who have been cool with that and grateful that a lot of the tribal community has embraced our creations.

S: We’re always trying to push ourselves beyond what we’ve just done so that we continue to build and evolve. It keeps things fresh and interesting.

9] There are so many off-shoots of Tribal bellydance nowadays. Where do you see it going in the future?

H: I think it will keep going in many directions. I see people getting back to basics and really focusing on being bellydancers and I also see people taking it more theatrical like the Indigo and Barbary Coast Shakedown with the vaudeville style of show. I think that it is quite open and that the things that show skill and are well presented will have some shelf life. Strong dancing technique will always be important.

10] Could you tell us a little bit about the music UTDC likes to use?

H: I’m into so many things. Right now I’m very into strings. Anything with a violin makes me dance. It changes constantly though. I will always be drawn to songs with a bit of a down tempo hip hop beat. I usually use songs without lyrics. I feel it imposes too much on the interpretation of the piece. It’s so weird that we have one piece to a song with lyrics right now. I’m not sure how I got so into that song. That is rare.

S: Layers and variations in the music are always fun to play with, no matter what style it is. It keeps us and the audience on our toes.

11] UTDC have become increasingly popular not just in the U.S.A but around the globe. Can you tell us where you have travelled to?

H: I have been to England, Germany, Australia, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. I have trips booked to Germany, Italy, Holland, Spain and France in the next six months. The one place I have been trying to go for a long time is Japan. I was supposed to go last June but the plans fell through.

12] This is your first time in Australia. I trust you have had a wonderful time. Any plans to come back here in the future?

H: It was great. I hope we can make it back. I’ll have to harass the Urban Qabilla ladies until they ask us back again.

S: We had a GREAT time! Thanks for having us out here. We don’t have any plans or invitations to come back YET, but we would love to come again!

Well that’s it for Tribal & Trance Fest but was that it for the Festivals….NO! A Few weeks after Tribal & Trance Festival Jrisi & I were privileged enough to be invited as a special guests to the WAMED festival hosted this year by the lovely Renate. I have to say that this was one of the best festivals I have ever been to. Very well organised and all the venues for workshops and shows were really top notch. There was a very wide choice for dancers of all persuasion, so everyone was catered for. Unfortunately for me I came down with a killer flu the day before the festival and so therefore couldn’t enjoy the whole event as much as I would have liked to. The Sunday concert was really very spectacular, well what I saw of it as I was also performing. Catherine & Kate from Ghawazi Caravan had flown across to join me in performing, which shows true dedication…thanks guys. Jrisi & I also performed our Tribal/Oriental number together and I performed solo. Once again there was a wide variety of styles on showcase with other Tribal troupes from W.A performing such as Beckys troupe?, Vicky & friend?, Tribal Spirit?..the burlesque number…was there any more? I have to say that I found the burlesquey number very engaging & entertaining….and to a Traditional Russian tune! Well done girls!

So two weeks after the WAMED festival I was suppose to visit Melbourne but was still so ill I had to postpone. SORRY MELBOURNE GIRLS!! Anyway not to worry we have postponed the trip to March so I look forward to catching up with all you Melbournians at that time.

November was the much anticipated FARHA tour which was also fabulous. Once again well organised. Well done Amera & all the team…you know who you are! It was a month after the WAMED festival & I was still recovering from dreadful flu but I did manage to drag myself to the concert and I have to say that it was one of the best things I have ever seen. Sayed El Tura the fabulous Zill player had me in stiches, Sayed Amar the whirling Dervish amazed me, Amera made me feel happy, Yasmina and kazafy were inspiring & Randa made me pick my jaw off the floor!

Ghawazi caravan performed in the foyer of the Riverside theartre on the Friday night to a great audience and from what I could tell many had not seen any tribal before. Unfortunately as far as I know there was only us and Hilary and kellie that perfomed a tribal duet at the Farha tour. So for you Tribal guys and gals out there, you should think about coming & strutting your stuff at the next Farha tour [if Amera is hosting another one?], …we want to see you! Not to mention the great folkloric workshops that were on, after all where does Tribal originate from? I personally went to a great workshop that weekend hosted by Kazafy. WOW!! Those hips!…and what a performer!

And still it doesn’t stop. After the Farha tour and performances galore in between, I was off to the U.S.A for a few weeks…but you’ll have to wait for the next issue to hear the goss on that one! Happy new Year everyone! MWAH!

We can all have a nice little rest, although we do have all those Christmas parties coming up. Please send me any pics or bits of info you may have of your Tribal events. Look forward to hearing from you all. Bye for now. Devi.xx