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Bloomington’s Two Belly Dance Troupes Forge Unique Paths

Bloomington's two belly dance troupes, Different Drummer Belly Dancers and Dark Side Tribal, have very different ways of conceptualizing the art form.

dark side tribal belly dancers

Photo: Anna Schink/WFIU

Heather Perry (center) is joined by fellow Dark Side Tribal belly dancers Virginia Hojes (right) and Sara Akemon. The group performed at the Arts Fair on the Square in Bloomington, Indiana.

Rock ‘N’ Roll In The Hips

Music by the pop band Maroon 5 isn’t the sort of thing one would typically associate with belly dancing, but that’s part of what Different Drummer Belly Dancers is all about — finding common ground with their audience members.

“We did our first dance to some rock n’ roll and we got a huge response,” says founder and director Margaret Lion. “We’re dancing for a western crowd to music they know. When you shake your booty to Elvis people get it!”

While their choice of music may be a defining characteristic of Different Drummer, for Dark Side Tribal, the music is secondary to the movements. They dance American Tribal Style, which is a modern form of belly dance that emphasizes improvisation.

Dress The Part

Despite their differing styles, the two troupes share one thing in common — a love of costuming.

Teri Herron, who performed a solo dance to Maroon 5 at Bloomington’s Arts Fair on the Square, says her look is inspired by everything from Spanish flamenco to Northern Egyptian belly dance. “We’re borrowing from everybody, and we make a look that’s comfortable and beautiful that makes us feel good.”

But beauty does not necessarily equal comfort.

Sara Akemon of Dark Side Tribal says her outfit from that very hot summer afternoon at the Arts Fair consisted of two skirts, scarves, harem pants, tassels, a coin bra and a large flowered head piece.

“It weighed seven pounds, everything altogether,” she adds.

A Physical Language

That’s in addition to all the noise-making elements of the outfits: bracelets with bells, tassels with cowrie shells and fingers cymbals called zils.

The dancers make a lot of noise with all their accoutrements, but no words are actually exchanged. According to Virginia Hojes, a certified instructor of American Tribal Style, the leader communicates with hand or head gestures to let the other dancers know what move comes next. As the dancers become more experienced, the cues become more subtle. “Things like eye contact can be one of the cues,” she says. “It’s like learning a language.”

“It’s choreography on the fly, so you’re always making up what comes next,” says Scott Matthew Myers, co-owner Panache Dance Studio and the only male student in the intermediate belly dance class. “It’s like a chess game. You’re always planning out moves ahead.”

International Language Of Belly Dance

In today’s intermediate class, instructor Heather Perry covered box step with a double-hip bump, three variations on camel step and a barrel turn.

She explains that all belly dance uses these terms, but American Tribal Style “stylizes them so that if you go to Australia and you say I’d like to do a barrel turn, they’ll do the same barrel turn that you learned in Indiana, Michigan, California or New York.”

different drummer belly dancers

Photo: Anna Schink/WFIU

Teri Herron (right) performs with a fellow member of Different Drummer Belly Dancers at the Arts Fair on the Square.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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  • Life Lessons

    Thanks for the fun article! Plus there are several troupes and dancers in Bloomington. It is a diverse and amazing community! :) Thanks WFIU for taking some time to showcase belly dance!

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