Person of the Week

Carolena Nericcio

Developed and performs the American Tribal Style ® (ATS) belly dancing

The most profound aspect of the dance is when you are dancing with a group of people and you are purely responding to the music.  It’s like a moving meditation. It’s like an electrical charge that goes through everybody. It’s just so good.

1.  What led you to the mission of developing and performing American Tribal Style ® (ATS) belly dancing?

The reason I started studying belly dancing was because I was frustrated as a fourteen-year-old teenager over forty years ago.  There wasn’t a way to just go out and dance whenever I wanted.  I had to go to a social event and wait for a boy had to ask me to dance.  I found that counterintuitive to my reason for dancing.  All I wanted to do was just dance and it didn’t matter what kind of dance.  I just wanted to dance.

I found it really limiting that all these social constructs had to be in place before I got to dance.  Back then I had to look a certain way, dance a certain way, and attract a boy — who then had to give me the permission to dance before I could get up and do what I wanted to do which was just dance.  Since I wasn’t the pretty girl and wasn’t really tuned in to the social way things worked, I rarely got asked to dance.

I found those events to be really frustrating and at a certain point when I was fourteen, I decided that I wanted to belly dance.  I perceived it as a solo dance form and the dancer could dance whenever she wanted.  I found a dance class and started studying.  I ultimately ended up with a teacher who was encouraging an improvisational style of dance and two or three dancers would just improv together on the stage.  It was kind of funny that I thought I was going to be doing a solo dance form.  It ended up to be more of a partner dance form, but it still didn’t require a boy to ask me to dance.  (See the three women dance video.)

When I started teaching on my own — by the nature of watching what we were trying to do with the improv — we developed a whole new vocabulary of steps that allowed the dance troupe to send cues to each other while they are dancing.  The dance looks very seamless and choreographed, but it’s actually completely improvisational.

2.  What does this mission mean to you?

It means that I get to play with other people.  The nature of the dance form (being that I need a partner) means that while I’m on stage, I get to have the companionship of somebody else with me.  A lot of belly dance is a solo venture.  If I’m the only one who is hired out or when I teach somewhere and they want to do a show, I end up doing a solo.   I have developed a little bit of that but I don’t enjoy solos as much as I do dancing with my whole dance troupe — or at least one other person.  I have no desire to be the shining star on stage.  I want to be on the stage and playing with somebody else.  So belly dancing lets me have a playmate.  (A solo dance video.)

3.  What was your best day as an American tribal style belly dancer?

There are so many best days because I have so many aspects of my business.  If I were just describing dancing as opposed to the business of dancing, I would have to say I couldn’t say one day in particular was my best day.  (See Carolena’s Fat Chance Belly Dance video.)

The most profound aspect of the dance is when you are dancing with a group of people and you are purely responding to the music.  It’s like a moving meditation.  Everybody in the group has the same thought bubble.  The music is playing, everybody hears it, we all know the vocabulary, and we just follow the lead dancer.  You almost know what she is going to do before she cues you — because you are feeling the same thing at the same time.  So it’s literally like — it’s truly like — if you could visualize five dancers on stage and over their head is one thought bubble and the little dotted lines go to each person and they are all thinking the same thing.  It’s like that moment is so amazing that it’s the best meditation possible.  It doesn’t always happen, but when it does happen, everyone in the group just feels it.  It’s like an electrical charge that goes through everybody.  It’s kind of out of this world.  I can think of a lot of different times that it has happened.  I really can’t put my figure on one time when it was the best time because it’s the same time every time.  It’s just so good.

4.  What was your worst day as an American tribal style belly dancer?

I captured it on a film – the very worst day.  We got hired by a production company to do an event.  The Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49’ers were in a playoff game at Candlestick Park and they had hired a huge group of global ethnic dancers from the Bay area.  We ultimately were to go out on the field at halftime.  All around the field were these different set-ups for ethnic dancers to do their dances.  At the end, we all made a big circle and there was a “Kum ba yah” moment that was a kind of precursor to playing “We are the world.”

Ultimately, the event itself was very clever, but the backstage to the event was like being slaves and taken down into a Viking ship.  It was so horrible.  It was freezing.  It was very cold.  They put all of us into a giant gardening warehouse where there was equipment — like tractors.  We had to get dressed in this gardening shed.  There was no Green Room, there was no backstage, there was no heat, there were no amenities – it literally felt like we had been taken hostage and then paraded out in front of the screaming masses – like in the days of the coliseum.  It was like being held hostage in a warehouse until they wanted to show us off, we danced, and then afterwards we were put back in the warehouse.  That would be the worst day.

5.  How did you survive your worst day?

I try not to have a worst day by knowing myself and not getting into a worst day or worse possible situation.  If I get into a worst possible situation, I try to find a way to calm my brain and get a little bit of exercise.  That seems to really counter whatever craziness I’m up against.  I try to be physically active every day because it’s essential to keeping my brain healthy.  I also need quiet time to read or knit or do research to explore something new.

The way I got through my worst day was by finding the comedy in it.  I wrote down in my mind how I was going to tell this story.  Then I told the humorous story about what happened.  Other wise I’d want to punch a wall — and that’s not doing anything for anybody.  I write the funny story about it in my mind and tell it.

I was talking to my mother this morning and I told her that my new year’s resolution is to mindfully go through every action of my day and not get defensive about things.  In martial arts, when someone comes at you, instead of putting out your arm and fighting back, you can step aside and let them push their energy by you and fall down on their own.  You don’t have to fight them.  In my mind I have to do that to make sure that when something happens, I don’t have a knee jerk response and get defensive.  I need to realize that I’m in control of my response.  This is the way I prepare for the worst day.

(Click here to see a video interview with Carolena Nericcio.)