U.S. Tribal style is performed by people who prefer a less glitzy look and style. However, while "Historical/Ethnic" dancers attempt to preserve a folk form by performing dance steps, music, and clothing that would have all been used together in a traditional village dance by a particular ethnic group, U.S. Tribal takes a different approach. In U.S. Tribal, the performers combine dance movements, musical selections, and costuming from a variety of cultures and historical eras, add their own modern-day innovations, and present a made-in-the-U.S. original creation. The way I use the term in this article, U.S. Tribal includes not only the popular American Tribal Style (ATS) of belly dance, but also other interpretations of the Tribal idea.
U.S. Tribal offers dancers the freedom to employ their own creativity and create their own dance, costuming look, etc. within a loosely-defined framework that offers an alternative to the "glamorous" image conveyed by beads and sequins. Some try to convey a "woman-power" attitude, while others try to convey the mood/flavor of a village as imagined by American dancers. Some interpret the dance against the backdrop of popular cultural phenomena such as Goth, or bring in other disciplines such as yoga. U.S. Tribal combines influence from dances in Turkey, Egypt, North Africa, Persia, and other Middle Eastern countries, and leaves great freedom for personal creativity within a folkloric framework. The exact implementation of U.S. Tribal varies from one teacher or group to another, and that's okay--it's an EVOLVING art form that people are making up as we go along. The leading subsets of U.S. Tribal that I've noticed include: 1) American Tribal Style, 2) Evoking the flavor of the past, and 3) Current cultural trends.
The U.S. Tribal style originated with Jamila Salimpour in San Francisco, California, in the 1960's, with her dance company, Bal-Anat. In performing at the Renaissance Faire in the area, the group created a performance that was a fusion of ethnic influence and modern-day creativity, presented with a quasi-historical flavor. As Jamila's students eventually moved away from San Francisco, they took their dance form with them, and taught it in their new communities. PHOTO CREDIT: The above photo of Bal-Anat was made available to me for my web page by Bàraka, herself a former member of the troupe. This picture was taken in 1990 in Texas for the Bal Anat reunion show. Standing, from left to right, are: Sharifa, Aida al Adawi, Asia, Don Iocca, Bàraka, Rashid, Suhaila Salimpour, Mari, Kismet (jug on her head), Rebaba, Paula Oxman, and Annie Lippe. Seated, from left to right, are: John Compton, Mish Mish, Jamila Salimpour, Habibi (hidden), and Dariush (R.I.P.)
One of Jamila Salimpour's students, Masha Archer, was the teacher who later inspired Carolena Nericcio to create FatChanceBellyDance, which is based in San Francisco, California. Most people today associate U.S. Tribal with Carolena's own particular variation of the Tribal form, known as American Tribal Style (ATS), due partly to Carolena's own skilled marketing of her vision, and also to Kajira Djoumahna's book The Tribal Bible which describes ATS in detail. However, it's important to remember that Bal-Anat originated the "tribal" concept in the 1960's, and FatChance didn't become well-known until the late 1980's. In the interim years, people inspired by the original Bal-Anat created their own U.S. Tribal variations that were independent of the "American Tribal Style" that FatChance later promoted. There's no denying that American Tribal Style is today probably the best known of the branches on the U.S. Tribal family tree, but it's not the only one.
True to Bal Anat's San Francisco origins in the 1960's, the original "California Tribal" style particularly flourished among the counter-culture of its time. The uninhibited moves of belly dance with the earthy costuming approach of coins, tassels, and natural fibers attracted environmentalists, Pagans, hippies, herbalists, proponents of natural childbirth, gay community, feminists, free-spirited artists, and others whose lifestyles and artistic visions differed from those of the establishment. In these diverse forms, the counter-culture of the past has grown to become an alternative mainstream path today rather than a minority movement. Tribal offers an interesting option for people who want to explore belly dance, but don't care to go for the Hollywood-glamor look of sequins or don't wish to acquire the cultural knowledge needed to do ethnically-correct folk dances.
Continuing the counter-culture theme, as the 1980's progressed the Tribal style attracted the early adopters of tattoos, piercing, and henna decorations, before these trends attained the mainstream popularity they hold today. In the 1990's, a movement arose within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) to develop Middle Eastern personae, offering another breeding ground for Tribal to flourish. Over time, some SCA-dians have moved from Tribal to ethnic/historical garb and folk dances, but some SCA communities still stay with Tribal. As of 2005, some Tribal dancers still embrace the original Bal Anat approach of offering a folk-inspired fusion of dance. Others, whom I call "Artistic Experimentation Tribal" frequently incorporate whatever "cool culture" trends such as Goth, yoga, tattooing, piercing, dreadlocked hair, etc. may currently be in vogue. Some practitioners of the U.S. Tribal belly dance community welcome the broad range of these many approaches, while others prefer to stay true to the Bal Anat or FatChance implementations.
For this article, I use the term U.S. Tribal to encompass all the variations which descended from Bal-Anat's original vision and flourished in the alternative-culture environments as they evolved through the decades that followed. While American Restaurant dancers build their art on a mixture of the glitter found in Middle Eastern nightclubs and Vaudeville entertainer traditions of comedy and showmanship, Tribal dancers are more likely to follow more earthy fusion or artistically experimental directions.
Due to its San Francisco roots, the U.S. Tribal style of belly dance has the strongest penetration on the West Coast of the United States today, but it now flourishes throughout the United States, Canada, and anywhere else that its practitioners have gone to conduct workshops and share their art. Tribes have sprung up in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and other places.