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“American Tribal Style is an inclusive belly-dance form,” says dancer Sandi Kay. “The dancer in the lead position can cue the dancers on what move they’re going to do next, so every dance ends up being an improvisational dance even though it can look quite choreographed.”

Carolena Nericcio, the woman credited with creating this particular offshoot of belly dancing, explains the name on her website: “The word ‘American’ made it clear that it was not a traditional version; ‘tribal style’ described that the dancers were working as a group with a ‘tribal’ look.”

Tribal San Diego Style is one of over 60 dance organizations participating in the three-day Celebrate Dance Festival at Balboa Park this weekend. Cues associated with tribal style, Kay explains, can be anything from placement of the hands to a turn of the head that signals the next move to other dancers.

“What is really neat — and I’ve experienced this — is you can go to some other part of the United States or Australia or England, and if any of those people have learned American Tribal Style, you can get up and dance with people you don’t even know, and it can still come off looking choreographed.” Kay has mastered over 30 cues and their related moves, though she says there are well over 50.

Whereas tribal dancing is about hips and hands, Irish dancing is all in the legs. “The soft-shoe dance is equivalent to a very vigorous ballet, but the knees stay tight and the upper half of the body stays fully erect and the arms stay down,” says Rori Ritchie, an instructor with the Rose Academy of Irish Dance.

“The soft shoes are known as gillies. The hard shoe, known as the hard shoe, is just crazy — it’s loud, and you slam everything — which is usually an audience pleaser.” In the past, nails were used to make the clacking sound in the heels and toes of hard shoes. Today a fiberglass-and-plastic mixture is used.

“A single jig is known as the hop jig, and there’s a lot of bouncing. The movement is energetic, with big jumps,” says Ritchie. “A slip jig is like a ballet dance; it’s very graceful looking, with lots of leaps.” The difference between jigs, reels, and hornpipes is the timing of the rhythm. “Each piece of music has its own personality, and we try to portray its personality in the dance.”

“All dance is interpretive,” says Joya Powell, artistic director for the Ayoj Llewop Body Politic dance company. “It’s trying to portray something in an open way so that everyone can pretty much get something from what they’re seeing.” Powell classifies her style of dance as modern and says her New York–based group is “dedicated to unearthing historic and present sociopolitical issues that plague the world we live in through the healing elements of dance.” The method by which they do this is to choose an event from the past or present and create movement to convey the scenes.

One piece called Las Madres is based on the Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of female protestors of the military regime in 1970s Argentina. “My goal as choreographer is to make sure that as much of the historical information as possible is accurately portrayed,” says Powell. Music and costumes are relevant to the location and time of the event. At that time in Argentina, military personnel were known for destroying photos of citizens they took into custody. “As if that person didn’t exist,” says Powell. The military also kept people from congregating in groups larger than two. “Las Madres would parade around the plaza as a protest, carrying photos and posters of their missing loved ones.” To involve her dancers emotionally in the choreography, Powell asked them to carry photos of their own deceased loved ones while performing the piece.

At the festival, Powell’s group will perform two works. One, called Breathless, was inspired by last year’s succession of 50 to 60 “noose incidents” — from Louisiana to New York, anonymous intimidators left nooses in bags and lockers and on the doorknobs of their African-American neighbors. The dance, which begins without music so the audience hears only the sound of struggled breathing, was created to demonstrate how racial tension is due to a lack of education and should not be blamed on individuals.

“It’s a duet,” explains Powell. “It’s about looking at yourself. We can place blame on everyone else, but we need to actually look at ourselves as a nation and say, ‘What is it that we have not done, and what is it that we can do?’ And if we don’t do anything, we’re pretty much hanging ourselves.”

— Barbarella

12th Annual Celebrate Dance Festival
Friday, August 22
6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Saturday, August 23
11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Sunday, August 24
Noon to 9 p.m.
Casa del Prado Theater
Balboa Park
Cost: Free
Info: 619-238-1153 or www.eveoke.org/cdf.htm

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