In many ways, I have always been a big fan of tradition. Of course, this time of year usually makes us think about tradition a lot: family traditions, cultural traditions, religious traditions… but as my ATS students and I prepare for our very first performance together at next week’s Ottawa Community Class Party, I’ve been thinking a lot about tradition as it relates to dance.
Dance is intrinsically linked to tradition and lineage. There is a reason that many ATS practices or performances will start with the“puja” (“ritual” in Hindi) that some of you will see open our choreography on Monday. The Puja is meant to prepare the dancers to move, connecting them to each other, to the space they dance in, to the music, and to the legacy that we carry through dance. While this might all sound a little intense, it is simply to take the time to acknowledge that we all come from somewhere. Just as we have parents and grandparents, we have teachers and our teachers’ teachers to thank.
Every week I teach, I am reminded not only of the joy I took in learning the ATS steps passed on to me years ago by my teacher, Lisa, but also of the strength of character and mindset she passed on. (And to teach without mirrors!!!) Every week, I also feel blessed by the ongoing mentorship of Natasha, who is both a teacher and a friend, and of course the one whose space I teach in every week. As a contemporary dance student of hers, I used to wonder why she would always take the time to say “this is what Martha Graham did,” “this is what Joseph Pilates believed,” or “this is what Isadora Duncan would say.”
A part of my young bratty mind would sometimes think “what does it matter?” but she made me realize how important it is to pass on these small legacies. After all, how else are we remembered? It’s like your mother telling you that story about your great grandparents for the 100th time; you might hate it as a child, but as you grow up, you realize the importance of these stories both to you and to those who will come after you. Now when I tell my students, “I learned this from Rachel Brice” or “Person X uses this drill all the time”, it’s not to name drop, but to give them a sense of where you and ultimately where they are coming from.
As I grow as a teacher and dancer, I am more and more aware of the words, teachings, and movements of every teacher and mentor I have ever worked with, regardless of dance style. And every week, regardless of how tired, out of it, or on top of things I may be, I feel privileged to be passing on this knowledge to my students. We each carry our own dance legacy, no matter how brief or how long, and in ATS and Fusion and really in any dance style, it is so very important for us to be aware of those.
It makes me really happy to see my ATS students wanting to go so “traditional” in our ATS look this time, especially as it’s my first time performing pure ATS as teacher rather than as a student. It’s not only taking me back to my roots, but also making me so aware of where we are coming from as Tribal dancers. As ATS is a more folkloric dance, the origins behind the costumes, the makeup, and the often-used facial markings are all reminiscent of the many cultures ATS is founded on.
In particular, facial markings in ATS (usually painted dots and lines on the chin, forehead, or cheeks) that you might see us sporting on Monday, have been taken on to emulate the tribal tattoos or paints worn by many different cultures around the world. For centuries, these types of markings have been worn as a sign of belonging to a certain group or tribe, to show a certain status, a right of passage, or as sacred symbols (amongst many other reasons). In ATS, the marking you wear on your chin usually specifies “your tribe”. Whenever, I have done ATS in the past, I always wore Lisa’s Tribal Pulse markings. Whenever I have danced since, and as I form my own tribe now, I have kept hers to show my past, but also added to it as a sign that I am now a new branch of her original tribe.
As dancers go on and form their own groups, I encourage all of you to acknowledge where you come from as dancers. If you wear markings, or even through the steps that make up your choreographies, please take the time to recognize where you are coming from and how you have grown of your own right as a dancer. The beauty of any dance form is to watch how it has evolved over generations, using the same base elements, sometimes changing them into something new and wonderful, and sometimes experimenting with them far outside their boundaries.
In being more folkloric, I so appreciate that ATS takes the time both as a dance form and through its performances to acknowledge tradition. So next time you perform, I encourage you to feel out your dance lineage. Allow the costume, the makeup, and even just the energy between you and the other dancers to give you focus, strength, and groundedness… and of course, celebrate it!
(For a similar article, Miranda recently also shared this awesome article back from 2008 written by my first tribal fusion teacher, Asharah. It's about the potential identity crisis or lack of lineage in some Tribal Fusion dancers.)