ATS Official Book, FINALLY!

American Tribal Style Classic vol1 book coverYes, I haven’t updated in over a month. Bad girl, no biscuit. Been doing a few things, and will post about it soon, I promise. However, what I wanted to share today is sort of time sensitive.

Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman and Kristine L. Adams have finally released the first volume of their American Tribal Style series books. And luckily, they’ve embraced the new formats, so it is available as an epub, and as print-on-demand, which means that the shipping charges are *reasonable*. So far so good, but what’s the hurry? Well, if you’ve got an account with Lulu (the publisher), they’ve released 20% discount coupons earlier today, which means you can get the book with a considerable discount, and yes, this is valid for the e-book version too.

The e-book version is not only economical, but also, at least for me, easier to access and take along… I could have a copy on my phone when going to class in case there are questions. I could read it on the train, and I won’t need to worry about carrying around a heavy book, or reading in bed until it falls on my head. Lulu sells it as an epub, but if you use the popular Amazon Kindle, it can be converted using programs like Calibre. Kindle’s MOBI format doesn’t allow for colour images, and there’s plenty in the book, but you’ll still see them in greyscale, so the e-book is a great choice.

Will this book “teach” you ATS? No. This book was obviously planned as a companion to each of the ATS DVD volumes (they are now on #9) and should go as a companion either for regular classes or DVD training. By all means, get it if you want to take a closer look at what it is about, but don’t expect just this to be usable as your sole “teacher”. Some things you can sort of figure out, but some, like the Lotus Hand, hardly make any sense through a written description.

The *one* downside I can see is that the book is disappointingly short, coming just at 49 pages, and covering just *some* of the foundation steps that are covered on a 6-week ATS course. The printed book lists 68 pages, which is 18 more than the e-book, but I won’t have access to a printed version for a while to compare, so for the time being, my comment about the length stands. Most glaring omissions are the Circle Step and Hand Floreos, and there doesn’t seem to be any word on zills or formations. So basically they’ve stuck to what is covered in the original Vol.1 DVD. To be honest with you, more ground is covered in Carolena’s earlier book, The Art of Belly Dance, but it has now been out of print for quite a while, and fetching ridiculous prices, so this is a good alternative. Personally, I wish the book covered the “Classic” ATS taught in Levels 1-2, with far more information, regardless of how the DVDs are organised, but I understand why they decided to organise things this way.

So, the million dollar question… should you get it? Depends. If you

  • are thinking of (or already) teaching ATS
  • are already learning ATS and want to have some things in writing to complement your class
  • are already learning another ITS or Tribal style

then the answer is probably yes. I would, however, go for the e-book version, both for cost and convenience’ sake. If, however, you

  • do Cabaret/Egyptian, and want to find out what the fuss about Tribal is about
  • like the idea of belly dancing but don’t know where to start
  • have specific requirements (i.e. health concerns, joint issues, etc)
  • are a “show me, don’t tell me” person

you will be much better served heading towards a class to have a teacher guide you.
You can get the American Tribal Style Classic: Vol. 1 from Lulu

Old School ATS belt and bra set, part 2: the making

Silver and black bra Work in progressNow that I had all the bits together, it was time to start assembling. I first decided on a set decoration pattern to use for both bra and belt, using the braided black and silver trim for the top edges, followed by the rectangular Kuchi trinkets, then the Turkomen dangling buttons. It took a while to decide how to arrange those as they were not all the same, but in the end I settled on an 8-small-1-big pattern for the belt, and all jewelled ones for the bra. Silver and black bra close-upI flattened the few mangled trinkets using pliers, and for the bra, removed all the original stones and replaced them with AB Swarovskis in Cobalt and Siam to add more sparkle. The Turkomen buttons have the loops inside the domes and are rather difficult to attach directly, so I opted for stringing them on a double rattail cord before attaching the cord itself to the pieces.

Silver and black belt detailThe process was simplesimple but laborious, using extra-strong Gutterman thread. It didn’t help that I run out of the special thread after just finishing the first cup of the bra, and had to wait a few days to get more. Since both items had the same design, the process was roughly the same for both. The braid consists of 9 separate strands, so to keep it attached properly I had to sew it by hand, making sure top and bottom loops were sewn, and that the stitch also secured the strands passing under the top strand. On the belt, I sewed the trim using the machine, but on the bra cups, I had to do it by hand, in both cases making sure I kept to the very edge of the trim to avoid obscuring the silver design. Then added the rectangle metal trinkets. After these, I attached the 4-strand braided cord to each end of the belt, making sure it was firmly in place by stitching both sides of the cord for each loop, to prevent it from breaking off, as the final result would have quite a bit of weight. Then I added the Banjara mirrors to each end, and continue on adding the threaded Turkomen buttons to each piece, with a spiral stitch holding the cords in place and limiting the sideways movement of the buttons.

SIlver and black belt, ends close-upAt this point, I focused entirely on the belt. I lined the inside with a piece of black polycotton broderie anglaise, then picked a couple of tassels, sewed them to the fastening cords, and finished it all off with some Moroccan Mozumas to add a bit of extra metallic sparkle to it. But I still had 8 tassels left, so I used the leftover rattail to make another 4-stand braid, then knotted the tassels with their long cord, and sewed them in place, then added two small bits of cord to the inside of the belt to knot this tassel cord in place. This way, I can use it or remove it as needed.

Silver and black belt and bra, work in progressThe cost of the whole set came roughly to £60, but needed 40+ hours of work. Nearly all of the metal trinkets came from Birgiss Bellywear, the lovely trim was bought from Grand Bazaar, a Turkish manufacturer via Ebay, and the rattail, braid and cord were also eBay finds. Considering a typical “vintage Kuchi belt” at several places starts at £30 or so, and with my hips I’d need two of them to assemble something with the coverage of this one, and would still require all the work, I don’t think it was that bad. Even less when taking into account that bra cups are exactly to my measures and with the right support, straps won’t dig into my shoulders, and back band fits perfectly too. And it means that now I’ve got a rather “traditional” ATS set that I can wear with all my skirts, without worrying that the trim or stones or base colour of the belt will clash with any of colours of my wardrobe. Granted, I’ve removed all of the colour that the belts can add, replacing it with an abundance of sparkle and metallic detail, but my skirts are all rather intense colours anyway.

I am, overall, extremely pleased with the results, and I can’t wait to wear the lot. I hope I can take some photos with a full set soon enough, my idea is to use these two with black and white loons, layered sea-green and purple 25-yarders, the ivory and silver flowers shawl I crocheted a few weeks ago, and the purple stretch velvet choli I made and wore for the ATS World Wide Flash Mob. And of course I can’t wait to see how it will look with a mermaid skirt, or some ruffled or tribal dance trousers. SIlver and black belt, finished

Old School ATS belt and bra set, part 1: the gathering

I’ve been accumulating bits and bobs for tribal since I started dancing, and finally I’ve got everything I need. I am attending an ATS residential in January, there’s the chance of performing, and I wanted something 100% neutral so I could keep as a staple regardless of colours for cholis/skirts. Which trust me, was a difficult thing to do, considering that most tribal belts and pieces come with a rather colourful mix including, very often, complementary colours (red and green seems to be a favourite). But since my skirts so far range from sea green to purple to red, I wanted something I could use with ANYTHING, and so it had to be purely black/white/silver. And the reason I am calling it “old school ATS” is because I wanted to go as close as I could to the typical tribal belts I’ve seen online and up close, with plenty of ethnic pieces to give the right vibe, and trying to ignore as much as I can my usual penchant for using pieces outside the box.

I’ve already done the bases. The belt is fairly standard, this time it’ll be a single piece. I’ve used a double layer of calico and demin to give it strength and sturdiness and prevent stretching; I didn’t make the ends meet at the centre but opted instead to finish them off around my hipbones, to add big banjara mirrors as accents on the ends. I will be using grey and black cord to create ties, and finishing them off with dark grey and silver tassels. The bra is already half covered, I’ll make it with cross-straps again as that gives me the best support, although I haven’t decided yet whether it’ll be tied as the teal one or hooked as the black and red one.

Current plan is to machine-stitch the braid and trim to the belt, and then sit down with everything over several nights and attach all the more difficult bits and pieces. I just hope it doesn’t end being too heavy for the cord I chose.

The leftovers -and there will be leftovers- are currently planned for a short (3/4 length) Ghawazee cover up in a similar theme: black crushed velvet, with silver accents, so I can use over any of my costumes.

In the photo, from top left, clockwise in a spiral:
cotton velvet-covered bra (just cups so far), Turkomen dangle buttons, silver and black braid, silver and black Turkish trim, shisha mirrors, mini-dome Turkomen buttons, hand-beaded WIP trim for edges, round metal trinkets, black cotton velvet belt base (barely visible, it is *that* dark!), rectangular metal trinkets, big banjara mirrors.

Costume bits and bobs

Costume bits and bobs

Teal Belt, part 2: belt

Finished teal belt, showing the medallions for the front, and the decoration for the back

Finished teal belt

Much as I’d like to be verbose, and do a huge post detailing step by step what I was doing, the truth is, I pretty much followed the same steps outlined in my Tribal Belt post, here With some modifications, which I’ll outline below

  • shape: instead of having a deep V at the front, and the front and back cut equally, I made the front piece go from hipbone to hipbone, to account for the medallions, and be straight; the back piece was made with a slight curve to account for my hips, so it looks a bit like a dipped front. I am still using that first pattern I obtained ages ago, just chopping in different parts to get the shape/effect I want.
  • materials: as I suspect the very first belt I made using denim might be stretching, this time I made the base using a double layer of denim and calico, to provide extra strength and support for all the metal trinkets. I did rolled hems with the serger on each piece to make sure it didn’t fray.
  • eyelets: this time I left plenty of room for them, and laid out the panels to take the lacing area into account; next time I should try to take the eyelets closer to the bones
  • bones: I am still using cable ties
  • bones bling: I decided to use some Preciosa Czech crystals to add some extra bling to the back, and to that effect, I glued them onto small bronze flowers and sewed them over the boning channels; the ones in the front by the medallions are there to carry the motif onto the front panel
  • medallions: I described the process for these in detail here:
  • beading: same as described in the bra tutorial
  • drapes: the drapes are not shown on the photos, but are similar to the stomach drape covered in the beading progress  and are, of course, detachable; I am toying with the idea of stringing bells on a cord and make those detachable too, in case I want something a bit more ethnic and a bit less fusion/tribaret, although right now, with the amount of bling the belt has, I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for that

So, what’s left to do? A mermaid skirt in teal stretch velvet, although I will be using a different material this time. And hopefully I will also be able to use this set as part of an ATS costume, with purple and teal skirts and the white lace choli that I made back in May and haven’t photographed yet.

Teal Finished set

Teal Finished set

My thoughts on ATS® – part 2

So, after the long intro explaining ATS®… what do I think about it?
I first approached ATS® because I wanted a solid grounding on safe technique and conditioning, which I felt was somehow missing from my Egyptian practice, mostly because they were either “fun” classes and attendees expected to just dance, or because they were practice sessions from the advanced troupe, and therefore were focused on choreography, and you were expected to get the conditioning and technique elsewhere. I had always loved the elegance of the arms that most ATS® dancers have, and wanted to learn how they achieved it. And of course, being me, I also had a soft spot for the costuming, that I thought from day one was amazing, and suited my goth sensibilities far more than the sequins from Cabaret.

To this day, I’ve been attending ATS® classes for about a year. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve stuck with it and now really, really enjoy it! What follows is my own individual experience, necessarily subjective and tinted by my background. The quality of the teaching I receive is, without a doubt, *superb*, and my teacher’s enthusiasm and respect for the form has won me over, even after the initial hard times. I feel physically safe, and during my first months injured I chose to stay with the ATS classes because of this. And I am constantly nurtured and challenged in equal measure, which is, I think, what a good teacher does. On the other hand, I do admit that I am probably a nightmare to teach, as my brain constantly tries to cash cheques that my muscle memory can’t yet deliver, I am verbose and convoluted, I constantly ask questions, I have to dissect everything to pieces, and simply put, sometimes I just fricking talk too much. But you’ve probably already guessed that if you are a regular reader of this blog.

I attended my first ATS® Level 1 class with nearly 2 years of Egyptian style under my belt. During it we learnt the very basic building blocks that are combined and expanded later on during Levels 2 and 3; the steps and technique were not that difficult, but the new stylisation did take quite some getting used to. I found the arm posture in particular nearly torturing, and I *still* struggle with it, even more if I have missed a class or if I’ve been doing some arm work and the muscles are tired. However, I do love how it looks, and doing proper conditioning work goes a LONG way towards helping with it… eventually you do get there!

Now, there was another thing that I found incredibly difficult, and it was the whole principle. I have a very strong sense of musicality, and having to submit mine to someone else’s was, during the first L1 and half of L2, challenging. To be perfectly blunt, I hated it. I found the whole concept limiting, and the group dancing sheer agony, coming as I did from a style where you are expected to embellish everything and pour your soul out with every gesture, and that is, at its core, a soloist style. Even more because my teacher, very wisely, decided to separate me from my friend, with whom I’d been dancing for quite a while, to allow me to develop the eye to to “read” other people, so we only danced together maybe a couple of times while doing Level 1. I clearly remember, during class 5 of 6, thinking during a shimmy step drill, “what am I doing here? I am not enjoying this”. And yet I knew there were things to gain, if only I persevered. So persevere I did.

Halfway through my first Level 2 term, things finally started to gel. It did help that we started expanding our vocabulary, thank goodness. And I finally realised why we were doing some things, and that dancing ATS® was not about *me* as an individual dancer, but *us* as a “tribe”; we are supposed to be individuals, but allowing ourselves to be part of a collective, by choice. We can still allow our individuality to show when we lead, but there’s also a beauty in following, allowing someone else to take charge and guide you within their own vision of how to represent the music. I still have issues, as I am stubborn and can try to “backseat drive”, by second-guessing what the leader might want to do next, or trying to go with a different flow, but I know it happens and I am working on not doing it. I also love the fluidity the conditioning has given to my arms, the strength my core has gained, and, I won’t lie, I still love the pretty costumes.

I would suggest learning ATS®, in no particular order, if you:

  • want to always dance in a group
  • don’t like working to pre-established choreographies
  • don’t want to study a traditional Middle Eastern style
  • are comfortable improvising, or want to develop the skill but want certain parameters to use
  • are comfortable with the idea of leading a group of dancers, or want to develop the skill
  • are comfortable with the idea of following a dance leader, or want to develop the skill
  • want to learn to use zills very early on
  • like the idea of using zills constantly
  • like the music used for it
  • prefer a very structured class, with clear lesson plans and goals expected for each level, and a good attention to conditioning the body to dance better
  • like the streamlined, long lined figure created by the typical ATS® posture
  • like the elegant arm work that is almost a signature of the slow ATS® style
  • are more comfortable within an environment that is primarily focused on drilling proper technique, to later be able to dance
  • like the idea of meeting with people with whom you’ve never danced before, and being able to improvise a dance on the spot, thanks to the common vocabulary
  • view the costume as more modest than typical Cabaret, and would prefer dancing wearing it

I am pretty sure I am missing quite a few reasons, but the above should give you an idea on whether this is something you might want to do.

Would I ever stop learning Cabaret/Egyptian for ATS®? No. They are different styles, they appeal to different sides of me as a dancer. I do enjoy the idea that, if I had the chance, I could go to a festival in Switzerland and once there, find my long-distance friend Natasha and have a dance or two together without preparation, simply because we both speak the same dance language. I also love that my Egyptian technique has improved substantially as my core and arms conditioning kicked in, and my camels now look very undulating, my arms a lot more graceful and controlled, my hips juicier, my posture has improved, and I can deal with props like sticks or veils in a much better manner as my arms are stronger.

Can I see myself stopping ATS®? Not for the foreseeable future. I enjoy the basic premise of group improvisation, and I really like how aesthetically pleasing it can be when done properly.

Would I recommend you do it, even if you didn’t answer yes to any of the points above? Probably. I think there’s a LOT to be said for the methodic approach, and even if you take just one term, it might give you some food for thought, or help you re-think your practice.

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