Pedralta World Fusion®

We Sat on the Dock O'The Bay

(Training with Fat Chance Belly Dance)

Golden gate bridge

I’d been learning what I thought was American Tribal style for about a year but the more I discovered about the style the more I felt something was missing. Sure we wore turbans and tassels. We danced in a group with a chorus and I loved the company of the women I was dancing with. We had that tribal spirit.

What we didn't have was improvisation.

I set about trying to learn the dance alone from DVD’s but being a sociable soul and having a tendency for laziness this wasn't working too well. After a year of this I discovered Wendy Marlatt who had spent 8 years with FatChance and was now based in Dublin. I flew to Dublin for days of one-to-one tuition with her and a new world of ATS opened up for me.

Wendy is an incredibly patient and inspirational woman and she’s been a big influence in my life. This will embarrass her completely. Gotcha Wendy!

At about the same time I got together with Lesley Hogg, my dance partner. We had met through our love of Middle Eastern Dance. Lesley is an accomplished and dynamic dancer of other Middle Eastern styles and together we formed a tribal duet, taking the name I had been using for my web site and business, Pedralta. It means “high rock” and it’s a local landmark in the town where I lived in Spain. That’s a whole different story!

We danced at the Festival of World Cultures last year as part of Rashani International. As usual Wendy pushed us way beyond our comfort zones and it paid off.

Donna and Lez - pedralta dance

In November 2005 Lez and I decided to do what we’d been talking about for far too long. We boarded a plane to San Francisco and headed for the Mecca of American Tribal Style, the FatChance BellyDance studio. We stayed with another member of Rashani International, the lovely Kathleen Crowley, costumier to FatChance and now Rachel Brice and all round wonderful human being, not to mention awesome dancer. That’s another one embarrassed!

The Mission District where the studio is located is not what you might call the tourist area or upmarket. All life is there. It’s fascinating, colourful, vibrant and a little edgy.

The studio is a very low-key affair, above an auto repair shop, entered through a very plain door marked FCBD. Inside and up the stairs you enter into an enchanting world of tribal costume and jewellery, books and photos. There’s a tiny changing area that fills with an excited bustle of women just before a class.

Fat Chance Studio

Carolena arrived for our private lesson. She was calm, matter of fact and made us a cup of tea. For the first 10 minutes of the class I just grinned to myself. This was very surreal, just Lez, Carolena and me …….at the FatChance studio!

Enough of that - back to work now. The first thing I had to relearn was the taqsim, that fundamental of tribal style, that staple of the dance, the move I thought I could do in my sleep. She explained the move from first principles, the weight exchange, how to achieve that treacle type feel to the slow moves In the repertoire. We moved onto arms, oh please God, not the arms! I thought mine were pretty strong but then Carolena put them where she wanted to see them. Ouch! Thanks Carolena, now I see.

After years of martial arts (That girl’s dangerous) Lez had a few problems getting her shoulders to do what she wanted them to. I told her no good would come from kick boxing.

Over the private sessions that followed we worked on all the moves in the repertoire, arriving daily with lists of questions for Carolena. We showed her our worst and worked on putting it right.

When we weren’t in private lessons with Carolena we were in the scheduled classes at the studio. This was a marvelous opportunity to dance with other students who were experienced in the style. Some were local to the Bay Area, some were out of town visitors and others were from as far away as Japan. We were given a very warm welcome from the other students and teachers there. They were incredibly patient and friendly. One lovely lady from Maine gave me her crocheted zil covers to muffle my zils. Hang on, was she trying to tell me something?

Taking classes with different FCBD teachers was so helpful. The moves are from the same vocabulary but each teacher has her own tips, her own explanation, so you learn something new form each of them.

We were lucky enough to take part in preparations for a student salon. This was a fantastic experience, dancing in different formats and really thinking about how to present the dance to an audience.

Although dancers had asked me for ATS tuition, I’m so glad that I waited until I’d received some training in San Francisco. This was an eye-opener. I saw how dancers from around the globe can truly come together and improvise dance when they use the same vocabulary. In this way the dance truly comes alive. The effect is magical. When the dancers are comfortable with the moves, they are released to listen to and interpret the music and to connect with each other.

We spent almost 20 hours in all dancing intensively, which was almost as long as we spent shopping.( I recommend Height St) and eating (I recommend everything from Mexican to Sushi - we tried it all.)

For anyone interested undergoing a similar training Carolena has now formalised this into two certificates of competency:

  • The General Skills Certificate for which you need to audition and then have 15 hours of training in a small group. This includes dance moves, rhythms anatomy and physiology.
  • The FatChance Teacher Accreditation is reserved for those teachers who only want to teach the FatChance format and nothing else. This decision has sparked controversy within the dance community, as many dancers also teach fusion and other Middle Eastern styles. lf the FatChance format is all you ever intend to teach, then this one’s for you.

These training courses are new this year and the situation seems to be very fluid with them at the moment. If you’re thinking of taking the plunge it’s best to contact Carolena directly and check everything out, including costs, before you commit.

From a personal point of view the FCBD teacher accreditation would be far too limiting. I believe that the FCBD is probably the best foundation you can have for ATS and it will be at the core of what I dance and teach.

Returning to the UK I have used all my notes to put together a syllabus based on the FCBD format. I now teach a small group of students in Lichfield, Staffordshire. After some 15 weeks so far of lessons, they are able to use the foundation moves to improvise…result!

Lesley and I will continue however to develop and perform a very distinctive style for Pedralta, borrowing heavily from our other great dance inspiration, Flamenco.

Donna Gardner April 2006

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