Moving Away From Tribal and Belly Dance
*Please note this is written from a North American, specifically U.S., and white perspective*
One of the benefits of an increasingly connected world is the sharing of knowledge. With that knowledge comes awareness of our impacts on marginalized communities and sometimes we have to stop and analyze the words we’ve been using. In our dance community there has been much conversation about the terms “tribe” or “tribal” in our lexicon. Also it has come up whether or not those of us who dance ATS® can even call ourselves belly dancers.
Many have positive associations with “tribe” either in dance or elsewhere. It’s often been used to denote a closeness we share with others or a means of moving towards a common goal. This is great on an individual basis, however the word has nuance and means different things to different people. There are cultural associations with the term. Using tribe to represent a group with a shared interest undermines the political, legal and social status of tribes. It also carries the prejudice of colonialist history – that “other people” are lesser and primitive.
From Teaching Tolerance “The Trouble with Tribe”: “The general sense of tribe as most people understand it is associated with primitiveness. To be in a tribal state is to live in an uncomplicated, traditional condition.”
“Social scientists in the 19th century viewed societies as "evolving" along a sequence of organizational stages. One widespread theory saw a progression from hunting to herding to agriculture to mechanical industry. By this account, city-building -- the root of "civilization" -- arose from agriculture, and all forms of social organization and government that "preceded" this stage were considered tribal.”
There are pages and pages of work that has been done by people much more qualified than I that analyze the 19th century social theory mentioned able as well as the terms tribe and tribal in general. What I have learned is enough to make me feel uncomfortable using it in relation to this dance. In my opinion, an interest group does not constitute a tribe and it is problematic to refer to themselves as such. Therefore the community of dancers gathering for ATS at any level, whether a troupe or those gathering at a workshop are not a tribe. We are able to remove our dancer label. To resume our normal lives. Others cannot. Donna Meija’s letter, Transnational Fusion Dance… An Open Letter to My Dance Community explores this further.
At Bashri Collective, we also believe in a ground up model of social change. While changing our vocabulary doesn’t fix the root of the problem, it is a start. We don’t want to wait until our leaders step up either. While the long name of our format contains the word “tribal”, we will refer to the acronym only as much as we can. You will still see it in our url for a little while as finances stick us with it for now. We have seen others refer to their format as FatChance® format or Global Inspired Group Improv and we may adopt this at some point and encourage others to do so if they feel inclined to one or the other.
We also want to note that we may begin moving away from the label of “belly dance” as well. This is a modern dance and inspired by many forms of world dance. We still feel a connection to belly dance but feel it’s important to recognize that we are not solely MENAT dancers.
All in all, we all need to start challenging ourselves to use words that reflect how we want to connect to each other in a way that’s authentic to who we are and inclusive of all people. It costs very little to reconsider your choice of words, as a beginning of deeper change. What this comes down to is an opportunity to be compassionate.