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Interview with Tribal fusion Belly dancer Rachel Brice

by Salome

"Rachel first fell in love with Belly Dance after watching Hahbi'Ru at the Northern California Renassance Faire. She immediately began taking classes with Atesh, in Orange County. Soon after, Rachel discovered a video of Suhaila Salimpour's, and began to coach herself by watching Suhaila's video.

After performing for a few years, Rachel gave up dance altogether to pursue Massage Therapy and Yoga. Four years later, a move to Santa Cruz, CA, and an accidental discovery of the performing arts community led her back to Belly Dance.

With a renewed interest in dance, she decided to study full time, and relocate for the University program in Dance Ethnology at San Francisco State. The Bay area is home to Master Teachers Carolina Nericcio, Director of Fat Chance Belly Dance, and Suhaila Salimpour, which was also influential in Rachel's decision to relocate.

Currently, Rachel is finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Dance Ethnology at San Francisco State University, where she's studied Kathak (North Indian Classical Dance), Flamenco, Afro-Haitian, Dunham Technique, Modern Dance, and Choreography. She's also touring with members of the Indigo and the Belly Dance Superstars project, and teaching Yoga in San Francisco."

Rachel Brice

Salome: I would be shorting our readers if I didn't inquire after the BDSS tour, so I won't keep anyone in suspense. Is this your first touring experience and what blessings or difficulties have you encountered with the project and within the company?

Rachel: This is my first touring experience, yes. It was always a fantasy of mine to caravan around the US or Europe, but I'm just not left brained enough to get something like that going myself.

Right before I finished school (I have one class left to graduate, but am on the road too much to make that happen this year) I remember crying, terrified that I was going to have to go out into the world and try to make it happen as a dancer, and after two years of focussing on my dance education, I didn't feel prepared. How, as a Belly Dancer, could I put food on the table and continue to grow? I was a new teacher and my classes were small, and the only venues I felt I had available to me were restaurants with no changing rooms, that pay a fraction of what they paid in the 70's. I didn't want to dance for money (in fact I once swore to myself that if it ever became just a job I would quit), but had to take jobs I didn't want to do, (like house parties for people I didn't know, which was a little scary) just to pay my bills that were always behind.

So this is one of the blessings - the ability to support myself through what I love to do. What an incredible gift. Some more of them: the venues are abundant, global, sometimes gorgeous and historical (i.e. the Folies Bergere) ... we have a lighting designer, a sound designer, a manager, several publicists, agents, office staff, clothing designer and a little bus that's too small but clean, a chance to see the world, and a group of really cool dancers that are becoming like family.

One difficulty for me is that it is such a commercial venture, and we have to "sell" our show. I don't have control over a lot of the advertising, and I'm very particular about how the dance is portrayed. Some of the write-ups of our show are very "male": they focus on the skin and sensuality and miss the power, and that's difficult to take sometimes.

I think, however, my main struggle is that of growing as a dancer when there's no time to create. We're always performing, so that leaves very little time to go watch other dance forms, find new music, sneak into the underground for costuming ideas, practice yoga with new teachers, or make new dances. Since newness is one of the things I require to feel passionate about my dancing, I am afraid that I'm lacking direction sometimes. In fact, just the other night I had a dream that I was given amazing powers, and a guide to show me how to use them, but the guide was killed. I think this is indicative of my mental state.

Salome: I was surfing a discussion board yesterday and one topic going was "How tall is Rachel Brice?" How do you feel about this sudden, large scale notoriety?

Rachel: I'm not sure, I feel differently at different times. I know how it feels to be fascinated by a dancer, and to want to know as much about them as possible, as I feel that way about a few dancers myself (namely Suhaila Salimpour and Carolena Nericcio, my teachers), but I'm not used to people feeling that way about me. I guess in a way, I don't feel ready, as I'm still learning and have really just taken my favorite things about others and put them together, none of it is uniquely mine, people are just seeing it for the first time. With this much attention, I am afraid of disappointing people. Strange how that works...

Overall, I am excited that people like what I'm doing, of course! Without interest in Tribal or The Indigo, I'd be somewhere else, so of course I'm grateful, and also taken aback, and surprised by it all.

Salome: There is considerable contention between the camps, authentic versus fusion. What is your perspective on Tribal style belly dance and what harms or positives do you see it contributing?

Rachel: Tribal Style Belly Dance is so incredible on so many levels, the most important I think being community and self-acceptance. The movements themselves are based on body language that communicates strength and poise, and I think that's an amazing partner to femininity. I remember one man telling me after a show that he'd never seen sensuality paired with elegance before, and it transformed the way he saw women. Pretty cool.

I love the individuality of Fusion, but I think sometimes it strays from the original intent of Tribal Style. Overtly seductive movement with flirtatious expression seems to be creeping back in here and there, and the lack of that is one of the things that drew me to Tribal in the first place. With the thirst for new developments, I hope we always keep striving to go deeper rather than hotter.

I don't actually see the contention, even though it may be there. I have as much respect for Carolena Nericcio as any woman I've ever met, and love her dancing. My body is different, my life experience is different, my movement is different, but I love what FCBD is doing. Carolena also supports The Indigo taking "fusion" out into the world, even though it's an interpretation of what she created.

No matter how people feel about either style, I'd hope they'd acknowledge and support the women who had to deal with all the judgement about head wraps, electronic music, facial tattoos, and African jewelry, and paved the way for thousands of women to create in a different way. Viva la Tribal!

Salome: Yoga has been an avid interest of yours, how does it play a part in your dance instruction and performance?

Rachel: Yoga is as important to my dancing as drills or any other form of practice. Without flexibilty in the spine, upper back, side ribs, hips, etc. the movement wouldn't be as "snake-y". I'm constantly encouraging dancers to take more Yoga classes. One student told me her Yoga classes were helping her dancing more than her dance classes! I believe that 100 percent. It's hard to hold your chest high when you're stressed out and your upper back won't move.

Right now I'm trying to bring more of a devotional aspect to my dancing, so I'm practicing meditation more. I get stage fright so, so badly, that I have wine before performing. I'm looking forward to the day that I sit and breathe instead, and Yoga will get me there, if I keep practicing.

Salome: Looking ahead of BDSS, what are your aspirations?

Rachel: My dream is to perform and make dances for as long as it's comfortable for my body, then go back to school to get a Masters or PhD, and teach at the University level. Maybe a house... a dog...

Salome: There is something unique in your particular costuming style. Can you tell us about the elements and inspiration for your look?

Rachel: Of course, my main inspirations are FCBD, and Mardi Love (who I think is the best costumed dancer in the business... and one of the most gorgeous dancers I've ever seen), and I go to clubs and weird parties in San Francisco to find new inspiration. There's some incredibly talented costume designers in SF that I hope to be able to commission next year for BDSS shows, but in the meantime there's always Vogue and E Bay!!