World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival



NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: American Tribal Style Belly Dance
Carolena Nericcio
First Appearance in SF EDF:

FatChanceBellyDance performs what has become known over the years as "American Tribal Style Belly Dance." It refers to a group form that has extended beyond the customs and traditions of Arabic culture where belly dance was first born. Based on observation and interpretation, this "American form" has grown to incorporate other styles of movement, gesture, music and costumes from North African and Middle Eastern dance, as well as Spanish flamenco and East Indian dance.

In the group form offered by FatChanceBellyDance, there is an intricate connection amongst the dancers, and between dancers and musicians. The musicians watch the dancers closely for cues as dancers take turns leading and following; dancers watch each other and the audience for responses. The musical accompaniment is all performed on traditional Middle Eastern instruments: the mizmar, doumbec, bendir, riqq, and tabla beledi.

Formed in 1987 by founding director, Caroleena Nericcio, FatChanceBellyDance views belly dance as a celebration of the beauty and strength of the female spirit and form in all of its shapes and sizes.


Carolena Nericcio is a dance maverick. She is the founder of a dance style called American Tribal Style® Belly Dance, which is performed in majestic costuming with full headdresses and layers of textiles and ethnic jewelry from around the world. Her dance is deeply connected to her on-going study of folkloric textiles.

Carolena began belly dancing with Masha Archer in 1974. By 1987, she was teaching dance in a small studio in Noe Valley Ministry. Her on-going practice of belly dance led her to create what eventually became a very distinctive style within the genre. The movements of her American Tribal Style® Belly Dance are inspired by folkloric dances of the Middle East and India, and the choreography is improvisational, using a vocabulary of natural movements and cues allowing the dancers to communicate via gesture when dancing together. The “tribal style” part of the dance description is linked to how the dancers work together as a group in intricate set formations and choreographic patterns which are often described as looking “tribal” by viewers.

The dance aesthetic is rooted in the richness and patterning of the dancers’ textiles and jewelry, which originate primarily from North Africa and India. For Carolena, the dance and the textiles are inextricably linked. In addition to her dancing, she works in her textile studio, filled with looms, sewing machines, and a spinning wheel. Even when on tour, she continues this daily practice, often knitting.

DANCERS: Wendy Allen, Kristine Adams, Sandi Ball, Suzanne Elliott, Stefanie Kelly, Anita Lalwani, Carolena Nericcio, Kae Montgomery, and Marsha Poulin.
Musical group Helm.
Mark Bell (zarb or dumbek, tabla beladi or davul), Ling Shien Bell (mizmar, zumara, and kawala)
Ling Shien Bell



dancersTITLES: Maleh u Filfil, Water's Edge
DANCERS: Carolena Nericcio, Wendy Allen, Colette Hunter, Marsha Poulin, Anita Lalwani, and Sandi Ball
MUSICIANS: Musicians of Helm. Ling Shien Bell (melody instruments; mizmar), Mark Bell(Percussion; doumbec, bendir, riqq), Tobias Roberson (percussion; doumbec, tabla beledi, riqq)

Here the company offers two dances which draw on the inspiration of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. The first, Maleh u Filfil, is performed to a mesmerizing, languid taxeem (musical improvisation) where the dancers use sensual body waves, arm rolls and spiraling hip figures to draw the audience into the music. The second piece, Water's Edge, is accompanied by an up-tempo 2/4 Karachi beat. Here the dancers play with sequences that call to mind the ebb and flow of water and shorebirds dashing in and out of the ocean surf.

While born in the arid, desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East, the undulating, wave-like movements of "belly dance" are reminiscent of the currents of the sea–the rhythmic rise and falling of the ocean waves.

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