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ATS® Homecoming -
My Journey With Mothership
to the Roots of Tribal

by Freddie Kaz

When in early 2014 the “ATS Homecoming Festival” was heralded for January 2015 the concept of this event immediately catched my attention. The already existent formats “General Skills” and “Teacher Training” are to be completed by a third element, the “Homecoming Workshops”.

For three days teachers will teach all aspects of the American Tribal Style® from Classic to Modern, about Movement Dialects, challenging formations, and all sorts of props. The rich choice of workshops is embedded most comfortable between the yoga classes of Anita Lalwani and the Dancing in Flow® lesson with Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman.

Now the opportunity has knocked at my door to make my dream come true and to see, hear, feel, and smell ATS® at its birth place San Francisco. The internet is my best friend, because not only registration, payment and every other communication with the FCBD® studio work best online, but also looking for accommodation ...

... and getting a second hand bike.
So it became that one day at the beginning of January 2015 I wander over “Mission Street” like a pilgrim and after two blocks (the American method of measuring distances) I reach the sanctuary.

So this is the famous red door, which you see so often at the „selfies“ of enthusiastic ATS® dancers, and now it’s my turn to stand in front of it. Could someone please pinch me? … and does this gentleman on the other side of the street has any idea, what happens to me in these seconds? He smiles precarious, but I decide to leave him in the dark, and press the bell. I booked a private lesson with one of the FCBD® teachers.

Through a quite narrow and steep staircase I enter this long desired place, passing the ATS®-photogallery, which I have burned into my mind. I reach a … construction site! It smells very intensive of wall paint and oriental oils. Julie, the ever-friendly “shop manager” and “good spirit of the house” (as we would say in Germany), gives me a very warm welcome and excuses for the chaos at this moment of time being. She has cleared the dance studio for my private coaching already and she offers to explain to me the look of the future Studio SF, if I would be interested. Yes, please, I would be thrilled!
In spite of the bare brickwork, the paint and everything else here I can visualize it all: there’s the designer atelier for the “Bessie” collection, next to it the shop for the precious jewellery from “Nakarali”, over there the FCBD® dance studio and the monitor for virtual lessons next to the FCBD® shop and Carolena’s office, all together in one building. I would love to have a time machine now and would love to travel immediately one year into the future. The charming Sandi Ball jolts me out of my dreams. She will work with me for one hour now.
Sandi’s caring and her inviting me to a private hafla in two days boost my spirits dramatically. For tomorrow the “General Skills” are scheduled and the last thing I can make use of now is getting sick.
The Californian Winter Air ...

... smells somehow of kerosene and the rumblings of the starting aeroplanes echo in my belly, when I reach the broad curved driveway of the hotel. Although it must be around 50°F outside I can see my breath steaming up in front of me. The humidity must be enormous.

My question for a parking space for my bicycle is answered with raised eyebrows by the bellmen; but when I tell them that I’m with the dance convention they start grinning.
I seem to be not the first one for this occasion and our presence seems to have been noticed by quite some people. In the lobby I find proof for my musings. Numerous women in 25 yard skirts and black tops with the FCBD® logo plough their way through the other guests and are followed by curious stares. A quiet elderly gentleman bows before me and asks with an inquiring look if this might be an international congress. Yeah sure: We are belly-dancers! “Oh, I see,… ballet dancers … “, he murmurs respectfully and awes out of my way. Perplexed I miss the right moment to enlighten him. Instead I continue my way to the reception table of the “Homecoming Festival” to check in.
Terri Allred says hello beaming at me, when I’m standing at the entrance of the ball room. Terri is the organizer in charge of the festival.

In the next days Terri will become the epitome of organiser for me. Friendliness and professionality united in one person – talents, for which she earned the nick name „Wonder Woman“ long ago. Indeed she has the same blue eyes and dark hair of this comic character. And to me she looks as if she can also muster super powers if in need.
"Schwinn" is written on a chrome plate on my bicycle and so at dawn of January 5th I start „schwinning“ the 3.6 kilometers between my garden house and the event location. On my way to the Marriott hotel I pass the San Francisco Bay. For the next week, the Mariott will be the “Tribal Village” for dancers from all over the world.
Behind me I hear guffawing and turning around I see all sorts of colors. Gleeful and cheerful Kajira Dhoumana is waiting for her name tag, which will be handed out by Terri.

Still in thought about my first impressions I enter the dance hall. Sap green carpet spreads on an area of about 400 square meters. I’m glad to have brought my dancing shoes with me. About 40 hours of dance await me and my feet will be thankful afterwards. The ceiling is low, no daylight reaches the hall, but an air conditioning gives "fresh" air. In the centre there is a stage of about one and a half foot height - such a good idea, because the teachers can be seen from all angles.
I step backwards to the far left, where only a few dancers sit. We exchange curious looks and friendly words. Anticipation can be read on our faces. Some of us have travelled half around the world to come here. One woman even comes from Patagonia; so there is ATS® in Tierra del Fuego. I take my water bottle to refill it at the water tank near the entrance. A group of black dressed women sit there busy in an animated conversation.
Whilst the bottle in my hand is getting heavier with the minute I peek at these women and I get my second big surprise for this morning. These women are from Portland, Oregon: Rachel Brice and Colette Todorov, together with Tabra Bay, Joanna Ashleigh and Traci Stenson Hildner.

Water spills over the back of my hand. While I’m trying to drain the small deluge I created Manca Pavli waltzes in, and this is the third surprise. She sits down with the women from Portland.
"All good things come in threes," I mumble to myself and there are still 25 minutes left until the beginning of the lessons. I leave the building and take a short walk to the shore of the Bay to get fresh air into my lungs and my brain.

Watching the big birds made of steel taking off and the little birds with feathers catching fish from the water I have many questions to ponder on.

Why do all these tribal big names come to this place? Why do they want to attend General Skills? And will they also do Teacher Training? What urges them…?

Returning to the dance hall I perceive all the multi colored tattoos of the dancers.
What stories might be behind all these motives? But no time to think about that any longer: Carolena is known to start her lessons on the spot. When she enters with her co-teachers Kristine Adams and Philippa Moirai it becomes immediately quiet, while the anticipation rises. A solemn moment develops, which I witnessed already several times. Carolena never fails to impress me: her presence fills this big hall, without her doing anything.

The ritual of enumerating begins (and you better keep your number in mind!), followed by the oath never to press the glutes together while dancing and the statement of “Moving Meditation” (also known as the “Tribal prayer”), these are the parts, which I already know by heart. I’m attending General Skills not for the first time. And here we go, starting four days of no-nonsense dance work.

The first two days of „General Skills“  all the classical moves from the FCBD® repertoire are analysed and drilled as they are presented on FCBD® DVDs No. 1-4.

On afternoon of the second day I receive a message from Sandi Ball if I would feel up to join the private hafla of her friend. Of course I do! After the workshop I meet with a crowd of dancers in the lobby; all of them want to go and join for the hafla! Car pools are made and leave the hotel. Mareike Beiersdorf, Martha Mc Gonigal and I – we wait patiently for our driver, who is still stuck in a traffic jam.
Sandi Ball shows up and stops her charming car on the hotel driveway broadly beaming at us. The three of us squeeze in, again followed by the curios stares of the bellmen. I bet they would have preferred to get into our car instead of parking luxury cars to and fro in a state of bored monotony.

Sandi stops at a turning bay in a quiet suburb on one of the hills surrounding San Francisco. Which house may be it? The one with the creepy “Gartenzwerg”, the garden goblin? But of course! We just have to get directed by the summon of the sweet sound of the cymbals: Tek-ke-Dum, Tek-ke-Dum ...
Hafla at Leigh-Anne's

In the upper floor they are already dancing and silver voiced “zaghareets” fill the whole house, while the patient husband of Leigh-Anne tries to work at his computer-desk. I jump into my 25-yard-skirt and hurry upstairs. And find myself amid 14 whirling dancers.
And again the mysterious power and magic of ATS® unfolds. In seconds I am part of it. We dance for more than an hour, communicate wordless with each other, build formations, disband from them, and find together for new pairs, which have never ever danced before. And the best thing is, it works! After playful and frisky hip swings we come together in the kitchen to eat. My own feeling of being loosened and thoroughly happy is mirrored on the faces of my tribal sisters. I am absolutely certain to have found the right thing, and this knowledge is the pillow I will sleep on comfortably tonight. After being chauffeured home safely, I fall asleep on the spot.
My coyness vanishes, when I notice that the five “Northeners” turn out to be very modest, friendly and hardest working co-dancers.

As I return early from lunch and enter the ball room I get to see a impressing introduction into the dancer’s anatomy: Tabra Bay shares her rich knowledge about functional anatomy with Rachel and the way she explains the detailed approach to every single hip-muscle just blows my mind.

My friends Connie from L.A. and Marianne from France join us and grab the opportunity to ask the question, which puzzles us all: What made them come to this festival?
Rachel tells us that Carolena’s invention is for her, Rachel, the origin of all tribal bellydance. To really understand this phenomenon you have to go back to the source. When she is on tour for a long time ATS® helps her to regain the right posture and to rebuild the muscle groups, which she needs for her art.

Entranced I follow the conversation and it is Carolena’s counting ritual, which calls me back into reality. We shall work on laybacks, now …and this is a move, for which I don’t feel fit at this point of my dance training. So I pick my camera, to take some photos and to capture my impressions. It’s these moments especially, which express best, what I understand under Tribal Sisterhood!
And after four days „General Skills” come to an end. Although I underwent this intensive workshop several times already, I still could internalize new details and broaden my knowledge.

Leaving the ball room I notice that the hotel teems with newly arrived dancers. Embraces and zaghareets are all around, dancers from literally everywhere greet each other in the lobby. I join happily and I meet many people, whose paths have crossed mine already. I’m looking forward to see Emine de Cosmo from Argentina and Elena “Fifi” Wei-Dupont from Paris again. In the past we shared precious moments, which we will never forget.
ATS® Homecoming

Next morning it’s time for the three days of ATS® „Homecoming“  workshops. Those who want to join the packed day long programme, have to get up very early.

In the first light of dawn I ride along the Bayshore Highway on „Schwinnie“. From the coffee terraces of the hotels people wave at me or send sweet “zaghareets”.

I start with the yoga hour of Anita Lalwani from FCBD®: She has prepared her lessons well, because the exercises prepare our bodies for the workshops ahead of us. After that Carolena greets us with very warm words and opens the “Homecomings” with a workshop for all of us: "Energetic Body and quiet mind".

After lunch you can choose between several workshops. The first motto is "Classic ATS®", followed by "ATS® with Props".

I take my pick and join the “ATS® With Baskets” with Dawn Ruckert from Dayanisma and later an anatomic workshop about the most important muscles in ATS® with Anita Lalwani - Tabra Bay must have left a deep impact on my mind.
In the evening there will be a show for the participants. Going home now and return in the evening would make little sense, so I decide to stay in the hotel. But now I experience for my own, what has irritated some dancers in the past days: Marriott hotel is quite expensive. You’ll get free internet only in the lobby and when you sit there you have to order something to eat or to drink … for no cheap prices. Those, who have booked a room and share this with somebody else, don’t have breakfast inclusive. That’s probably the only real downer at this tribal event, but for dancers with a low budget this must have been disappointing.

For next year Terri Allred will look for a different location, that’s for sure! Being not too rich myself I take my dinner at my favourite location, where I have had lunch all these last days: In a lobster selling place, who have a fast food section included. This place is only a short walk away from the hotel and the lobsters are fresh, cheap and extremely delicious.

The Show

This culinary delight follows the treat for the eyes: dancers from 5 continents showing their art, starting at 8 pm. The openers are “Blue Diamonds”, a highest-talented student group right from the FCBD® forge followed by "MEM - Mujeres En Movimento" with my plain wonderful Emine di Cosmo, accompanied by Lore Rojas and Cecy Garcia.
Next are Sara Arrell from Australia with a solo, „Wild Card Bellydance“ with twin sabres, the "Troupe Britannia" with Sister-Studios made up completely from the British Islands including the guest of honour and world traveller Kristine Adams. Philippa Moirai showing ATS® Skirt moves with Gudrun Herold, who also performs a basket-choreography with Mareike Beiersdorf. DeAnna and Liz Malcolm from Devyani Dance Company and many more stunning performers.
Carolena, who has led through this evening, is visibly touched by all this commitment and enthusiasm. And so ends this evening at the end of a busy dancing day. I climb onto my “Schwinnie” and ride home with my safety vest, which makes me clearly visible for all traffic, through the Californian night.
Next morning comes with Yoga, 9/8 rhythm in ATS®, invented by Mimi Fontana from New York, lunch at the “lobster parlour”, workshops about ATS® formations with Sandi Ball, and ATS® Modern Moves after DVD Vol.9 by Devyani Dance Company.

Then it is 6 pm and soon there will be another show, this time with performances from the teachers. First are the "FCBD® Instructors". For those, who have learned that Carolena disbanded the FCBD® troupe last year, start rubbing their eyes. They are all here, dancing brilliantly and precisely like a clockwork, and show passion that the floor under their feet seems to catch fire. As if it were the most natural thing in the world the two “newbies” in the mother ship, Jesse Stanbridge and Janet Taylor, dance along with the others. FCBD® is dead? No way! Long live FCBD®!

Our teachers show that they are a match for FCBD®: Terri and Lisa Allred with veils, Dawn Ruckert and Dayanisma with baskets, Tamarind Tribal with fan veils, Mimi Fontana and Manhattan Tribal with ATS® in 9/8 rhythm, Kae Montgomery with sabre, Kajira Dhoumana with Black Sheep Bellydance … and many more.

In the break I meet the enchanting Masha Archer, the former dance teacher of Carolena. She is a living legend in the ATS® community and when you see photos from her old troupe "San Francisco Classical Dance Company", you haven’t to guess very hard to know who shaped Carolena’s style.
Nowadays, when it comes to the next generation the roles have changed: Masha’s daughter Larissa Archer is a student of Carolena! So it seems natural that Masha still likes to show up to watch Carolena and her daughter dance. But now it’s time for Carolena to enter stage, together with three women from Devyani Dance Company: DeAnna Freeman, Liz Malcom and Wendi O'Kelly.They start their performance with a series of Temple Poses from India, which is often labelled as “Extended Puja”, in other words an extension of the "Moving Meditation" ritual that is danced at the beginning of every ATS® workshop worldwide. This wonderful piece of art merges into a solo by Carolena. She casts a spell over the whole audience with her belly waves, belly flutters, floreos, and arm undulations. Again her expressive presence fills the great ball room and her performance becomes the highlight of the whole evening. Overwhelming and plainly beautiful.
The Last Day

What can you do, when the last day dawns? Throw yourself into a state of panic? Listening to my favorite German singer Peter Fox? Or simply ignore the facts and tear the flight ticket up? Err… OK… get onto the bike again and start riding ... Cymbal workshop with Wendy Allen starts at eight o’clock in the morning; that’s no typo: 8 am. Thank God for making the cymbals so loud. The charming teacher and the noise keeps you from falling back to sleep. Besides that, Wendy Allen’s lessons are full of details, very entertaining and demanding all of your concentration. At the end she plays a new complicated cymbal piece to every student, which is built from the parts, we have just learned. Everybody tries her best to repeat Wendy’s example. My brain starts smoking from the effort as do my fingers, but the smile on my face gets more and more toothy.

Equipped with a coffee from an famous coffee-shop-chain I’m on my way to the last workshop before the final: "Indian Temple Dance Poses for Stretching and Dancing" which means no less than a wonderful extended version of "Moving Meditation", which the women of the Devyani Dance Company performed together with Carolena on the stage last night. Unfortunately Megha Gavin can’t lead this workshop - she had to stay at home because of a case of sickness in her family. So DeAnna Freeman, assisted by Liz Malcom, sits in for her. They give us some insight into the philosophy of the Hindu religion, the original meaning of the temple dance poses, and how we can transfer these moves in our ATS® dance.
We learn the techniques and the perfect way to conduct every pose. As soon as the moves routine is finished we bring these into an proper formation. Our teachers lead us deep into the philosophy and feeling of those graceful poses. When the last note of the music fades away, tears flow freely, as well from the students as the two teachers. There is a magic inherent to this workshop, which you can’t escape.

We leave for lunch break. The last lesson on my agenda is a very special workshop with Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman: "Dancing in Flow®", which means to let yourself being led by Carolena for sixty minutes. The only form of communication possible is the dance itself. Only two short breaks (2 minutes each) for drinking are allowed. Absolute silence is required, because this is the focus of this experience. The aim is to shut the noisy and chatty thoughts out and let your body merge with the music; to be one with the rhythms and get addicted to the music without thinking or talking. For once it is very quiet in the ball room, where we experienced so much during these past days.

The music sets in and Carolena takes you with her on her very personal journey and her very personal interpretation of the sounds, which fill space.
At the beginning it is exhausting, but then you experience the metamorphosis the same way Carolena promised to us; when your body is so involved that it pushes the restless mind aside and wants to do nothing else, but to communicate with the music. Now your body isn’t important any longer, only the entirety, the movement of all these bodies in line with it matters; who cares if you are old or young, big or slim, blonde or dark, great or small? Forget it!
A long chain of good-byers queues in front of Carolena. All of them want to share there own very special moment with her and tell her “thank you”. I am no exception and my sisters see me getting emotional.
The Departure

Outside the ball room my friend Emine rushes completely decomposed to me: Her room mates have changed their travel plans and now she will have to pay the expensive fee on her own for another night in the room or sleep in the lobby. No, I won’t tolerate that and offer her to share the comfy garden shed with me. Tribal sister share everything with each other.

The following morning Sandi Ball picks up Emine and drives her to the airport. She also takes my luggage with the car. I decide to go for a last ride on “Schwinnie” from my garden shed to the hotel; meanwhile I know the route by heart. At the lobster parlour Sandi and I stop for a last meal. After preparing her station car, “Schwinnie” now will head for a new home and will be Sandi’s vehicle for her daily business in the future.
Sun is setting already, when I arrive with my luggage, but without the bike, at the hotel. I take my time to say goodbye to all those people, with whom I shared so many time and who became friends.

My plane leaves San Francisco International Airport point 8.50 pm. When it starts rolling the runway I can see the red neon sign of the Marriott hotel rushing by. Maybe somebody there watches and zaghareeeeets?

Homepage Freddie Kaz:
Homepage FCBD:
The ladies from Portland, left to right.: Joanna Ashleigh, Traci Stenson Hildner,
Tabra Bay, Colette Todorov, Rachel Brice
The famous Red Door ...
the accomodation for the next weeks
... and the narrow stairway.
Photo left: Sandi Ball,
Photo above: Freddie Kaz
within eyeshot - the airport of San Francisco
Terri Allred, the festival organizer
Photo above, the group from Portland with Rachel Brice, Colette Todorow, Tabra Bay,
Joanna Ashleigh and Traci Stenson Hildner.

Photo left:
Manca Pavli
the sapgreen carpet
Terri and Kajira
hearing cheerful laughter - Kajira Dhoumana and Terri Alred
Carolena starts teaching
The co-trainers Kristine Adams and Philippa Moirai
Carolena demonstrates a move ...
... her students are watching her excitingly
The creepy "Gartenzwerg", the garden goblin.

Will the hafla take place here?
Tabra explains some special muscle groups to Rachel
Connie and Marianne in debate with Rachel Brice
Training the "laybacks" together
Freddie (left) with Emine di Cosmo from Argentinia
and Elena "Fifi" Wei-Dupont from Paris.
Photo left: Freddie Kaz
right: "ATS With Baskets"
MEM - Mujeres En Movimento
The "Blue Diamonds"
Wild Card Bellydance
"The Lone Wolves"
The "FCBD® instructors" are opening the show
Freddie and Masha Archer
Carolena and the Devyani Dance Company
The last day of dance education - "Cymbals" with Wendy Allen
Philippa Moirai and Wendy Allen
Temple dance poses and ATS® go together well
"Indian Temple Dance Poses" with DeAnna Freeman
"Dancing in Flow" - one last class with Carolena
Carolena Nericcio-Bohlmann
My feet squeak on the famous black floor; just like I heard it for so many times on the FCBD® DVDs. It’s a surreal, but wonderful experience.

But reality pulls me back on Earth, when a violent sneeze attack ruins all my dance efforts. I am puzzled, because I never had to sneeze like that before. What breed of virus do they have in the subways over here and why did I have to volunteer, when they started spreading? Lucky me, Sandi’s mom has a lemon tree in her garden and my teacher provides me with some of its delicious fruits.
Day 3 ...

of General Skills begins and today we are starting with lessons in “GS Modern” (FCBD® DVD Vol.7). As I reach the back corner to the left I notice that the group from Portland has joined us. To dance in front of such true masters timids me at first and makes me feel shy and insecure.
What touches me most and what I will always keep dear in my memory is the spontaneously founded group "The Lone Wolves" – made up of seventeen dancers from all around the world; they all have in common that they made the journey to this place on their own. They show an absolutely improvised performance and proof to me the raw magic of ATS® "It’s ATS® gone global!" ATS® has become a worldwide phenomenon, isn’t it so?