Let’s Talk About Style, Baby! “ATS: Part 1: The Basics”

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I hope you sang the title of this post, just like I did when I wrote it! Welcome to the first of my series of posts about styles of Bellydance. Building from yesterdays musings on Light and Dark I was trying to think of my next topic, when I thought what would be better than to really explore different styles and within those styles, companies and troupes. I’m not going to write a doctoral thesis on this, so don’t expect a lot of quotes and “factual” evidence. That’s just not how I write. Unless, of course, I was writing a doctoral thesis. Then I would consider it. 😉

The newest form of Bellydance that I have fallen in love with is ATS. I’ll freely admit it, for years I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. But as I have advanced in my training, just like the girl sitting in High School Algebra II, driving my teacher crazy with my questions akin to “Yes but HOW do you know that Y=24? Besides a “theory?” (He couldn’t answer and I still suck at math) I want to know the why of things, the history.

And the precursor to my beloved fusion is, of course ATS. And recently I’ve fallen in love with it. So, like all good things, let’s pick it apart and find out why! 🙂

Carolena Nericcio with FCBD.
Carolena Nericcio with Fat Chance Belly Dance

Like many parts of Bellydance, depending on who you talk to, you’re going to hear a different story of how things started and ATS is not exempt. However, it is pretty widely accepted that the creator of ATS as we know it today was Carolena Nericcio. The basic components of ATS bellydance include group improvisation that makes use of a leader who “cues” the rest of the group as to what move will come next, a lifted posture and carriage of the arms, costumes of a rich, earthy variety with an emphasis on ethnic jewelry; flowing, full skirts with multiple layers , the use of the choli and coins on bras and belt. The moves are sometimes restrained, sometimes exuberant, but always controlled. Often ATS dancers are tattooed and have piercings and many wear facial markings, a lot specific to the group they dance with, which hold significance in that group.

ATS movements are deceptive. They look easy for the most part. The hip circles are smaller than their Egyptian counter parts. The taxeems more refined and controlled. Often a move will be repeated for far longer than a good bedlah wearing Cabaret dancer would ever go. And that can lead people to think ATS is boring. I’m not going to lie. I used to be one. “Why do they do the same move so many times?” I’ve heard. But you know what? That’s part of the beauty of it. You get to fully see the move and appreciate it. And let me tell you something; the moves aren’t easy. They are actually fairly hard. The muscle control required for them means you’re going to be feeling the burn and those arm positions! Arms are most of the time in a variety of positions, but most frequently in a very strong curved “T” position about shoulder level, or held up above the head.

Devyani Dance Company
Devyani Dance Company

One of the most fascinating things about the ATS movement dictionary is that the moves are assigned tempos. Not counts, necessarily but there are “fast” moves and “slow” moves. This is the only style of Bellydance I have found with this system. Most moves are changed to go with what the dancer is dancing to. A camel can be very slow and gooey or faster and repeated rapidly.

ATS began the method of not using choreographies as a troupe, but instead, having each member of the performing company become the choreographer for a time of the dance, using physical gestures such as a slight change to the arm pattern or a flick of the wrist to indicate to the rest of the dancers the move that’s coming up. Each dancer can lead and each dancer can follow and thus the emphasis is placed on the group rather than the individual.

Props are used in ATS, zills being the most common and can be found on a large percentage of ATS dancers. The instruction of basic zill drills and playing them while dancing is introduced in week 3 of the FCBD curriculum. Another prop commonly found being used by ATS dancers are swords and less commonly used, but I have seen it are veils. (I think I saw it once, though and I don’t remember where!)

ATS brings together dancers from the world over, in that it doesn’t matter what language you speak, if you know the language of ATS, you can dance together and be sisters (and brothers!) in dance. The elegance of the form in ATS is something that is unique to this style and the sense of community among dancers is truly a wonderous thing to behold and be a part of.

Banjara
Banjara

Next in Let’s Talk About Style, Baby! “ATS: Part 2: The Companies” we will take a look at some of the companies of ATS style both big and small and the dancers that created them. Smiles and a Reverse Turn!
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2 responses »

  1. Interesting about the reason why moves are repeated for so long. I think this may be why I’m usually underwhelmed by the ATS that I see at haflas etc – because for that repetition to work as you say, all of the dancers in the group have to have really, really excellent technique. If the movement is sloppy then it loses all impact. When I had the chance to see a really top-rate ATS dancer recently, I enjoyed her performance a lot more than I normally enjoy ATS, because every one of her movements was beautiful to watch.

    I should also mention that Egyptian style dancers don’t actually have to change moves all the time either – but we usually gradually vary or ‘evolve’ them rather than doing them in exactly the same way for a long time, by changing size, speed, angles or adding a layered shimmy etc. If you watch some of the classic Egyptian dancers (Soheir Zaki & Fifi Abdou spring to mind) then you will actually often see them doing one move for quite a long time.

  2. See that’s how I used (and sometimes still do) feel when I have seen ATS dancers. If the techniques is not there it’s not going to be fun to watch, and while that is true of all dance, because of the repetition of ATS (and of course all of this is my opinion!) it can be more glaring. Of course when you see a really fabulous performance that makes it all the better.

    I love that you brought up the classic Egyptian dancers, you are absolutely right! When I saw the classics for the first time I was stunned at how simple compared to some modern Egyptian/ American Cab dancers are and I really appreciated the simplicity and the excellence of their technique. And of course even modern dancers add to the layers of a move to make it more complex! (I began as an Egyptian/ Am Cab dancer 😉

    It’s neat how even in the completely different styles of bellydance so many characteristics overlap. 🙂

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