Monday, June 15, 2015

A Tribal Fest History & Homecoming

2015 - Photo by Carrie Meyer
(A little late in posting this - but have been on tour for the last month, so not much time to collect my thoughts! And there are a lot of them...)This year marks 13 years of attending Tribal Fest.  The only ones I have missed were the very first one and Tribal Fest 14 (last year - as the band was hired to play at Steampunk World's Fair in NJ - which is alas, always the same weekend as TF - but we did make a 2 week tour of it!).

My journey into the world of bellydance came via a friend's recommendation that I check out this amazing troupe she had seen performing at a San Francisco street fair.  That troupe was Fat Chance and even in the way back early days of the internet, I found myself going down a fantastic rabbit hole of pictures, articles, and discussion threads.  I read (and re-read) numerous articles and interviews by Kajira Djoumahna, author of The Tribal Bible and founder of United We Dance (which evolved into BlackSheep BellyDance). Through following her work, I found out about the first Tribal Festival that was about to take place - in some place called Sebastopol, California.  A recent college graduate, supporting 2 on an hourly wage as a gallery assistant and having no idea of how to even financially manage a trip to CA, I felt miserably stuck all the way in Rhode Island, unable to attend this mystical event.

2015 - Tish, Nathaniel, and Tempest
So you can bet your binti bells, when I moved to the Bay Area of California the following November, Tribal Fest was top of my list! When TF2 rolled around finally, the same friend who had introduced me to FCBD and I set off towards Sebastopol to see what it was all about. The drive up was a comedy of errors, including getting ourselves trapped and detoured by the Bay to Breakers run and the infamous 101 traffic - but we did eventually make it up there that rainy afternoon.  I remember being overwhelmed by the amount of beautifulshiny things for sale and the amazing performances.

And after that, every year, I have been involved in some shape or form - first with performing and vending, and then adding teaching to the list a couple of years down the line, organizing gatherings (the first Motif in 2007, and live music afterparties at Aubergine) - as well as helping out graphic design in some shape or another.  Through Tribal Fest I have studied with amazing legends of the dance - and shared the stage with them(!), met countless wonderful people from all over the world, shared my ideas with fantastic students, my designs and art with even more folks.  I have encouraged so many folks to attend, including dragging friends out from the far reaches of the East Coast! And even when I moved all the way back East in mid 2007, I still trekked out every year from NJ or RI - to be reunited with my extended bellydance family.

Though I also have to say, it wasn't all butterflies and hipdrops. As I advanced along in my dance journey/career, the vibe started to change for me - I think around 2007. There are so many factors contributing to that feeling over the next 6 years that it's unfair to place the weight of it on one thing in particular.  Instead a culmination of personal issues stemming from relationships, a feeling that there was more of a focus on "what's cool/popular/how weird" by performers/audience than of "what makes good bellydance," making for a stressed greenroom and terrifying stage (unless I was dueting with Anaar, then everything was peachy), less of the super friendly folks from the midwest/east coast attending (due to the rise of some really great events out those ways), dealing with other people's drama llamas, and the stress of having a vending table directly in the auditorium - as it got more and more crowded each year, and the show grew longer hours. (Not ideal for an introvert who relishes quiet.) The mix of all these things made my experiences bittersweet - there were things I truly still enjoyed, but I was also stressed about a lot of things too.
The Decision - Photo by Geish Moth

When 2013 rolled around, being in a new and healthy relationship - and moving to an outdoor vending spot made a huge difference in my outlook.  I was focusing on being more positive and putting negative experiences in the past. However, a few of the folks I encountered weren't on the same page, and that was extremely disheartening.  So I have to confess to being a tiny bit relieved when we were booked for the east coast in 2014.  But it was definitely weird being surrounded by steampunks instead of dancers for that weekend - and watching friends post TF photos of everything that was going on! I felt displaced.

With an invitation to teach in 2015 and the theme of family reunion, I wondered how this year's experience would be.  How would it differ from previous years? How would the changing bellydance economy effect everything? How would it go with some of the "usual suspects" missing? I mentally tried to brace myself for it all.

Didi and Tempest in the Green Room
And you know what?  It was WONDERFUL. Not only did it have all of the sweet parts from years before, but there was an overwhelming positive vibe surrounding everything (at least to me).  Vending went extremely well - probably due to the new Mago Djinn line and focusing more on my artwork.  My workshops were well-attended with enthusiastic students, and I felt great about my performance (which had felt a bit risky coming into it). But what really was the icing on the cake was all of the positive interactions I had with so many people - old and new faces alike.  On one hand, there were so many new folks, coming to Tribal Fest for the first year - and they brought their excitement with them! (Hilary from PA gave me several beautiful flower crowns over the course of the event, that she handmade from the local wildflowers ;))  On the other side, there were long-term folks reaching out, and starting new positive threads. And other folks in my close circle of friends also reported the same.  This news lifts my heart so much on what it means for the bellydance community in general.
The Mago Djinn/Owlkeyme Arts Booth

Some of my favorite moments: watching the opening ritual with Guedra Blessing with Amel Tafsout, catching some of our Waking Persephone teachers perform, spending time with old and new friends, doing some incredible shopping at the Tuareg Jewelry booth (I may have sold my soul to Terri, but I am OK with that), hanging out with Geisha Moth and making use of her special lounge area, and lots of good discussions with fabulous people.

And I'm stupid excited already for next year. I really am!  If you haven't been to Tribal Fest yet - or perhaps haven't been in a while, then I would seriously consider coming in 2016.  And the theme has a sci-fi twist to it: "Dance Long & Prosper" - what's not to love? I think it's going to be a blast!

Lastly, here is my performance, music is "When The Wolves Return" by Ego Likeness - thanks so much to Donna and Steven for letting me dance to it before it was "officially" released:

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