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CTS Overview


CTS’s roots are Middle Eastern, North African, Hellas (Greek) and Turkish (aka MENAHT) dance, and known in the West as Belly Dance. This includes traditional Egyptian Raqs Sharqui and social / folk dances common in that region. Many of the movements, especially in our early years, came from, or were inspired by MENAHT dance, rhythms and music. Whatever their style, oriental / belly dancers all snake (undulate), shake (shimmy) and isolate (move specific parts of the body in particular ways). While originally inspired by those MENAHT dances, we were also inspired by other ethnic cultural traditions and teachers. CTS is now an eclectic-ethnic style. We have our own movement vocabulary; we fuse various dance movements, and we move to a wide range of retro and contemporary world music. CTS’ distinct movement vocabulary allows dancers to choose music that moves them and compose dances on the spot (i.e. improvise) using low impact but continuous movement. It is a Team style, because we usually dance as a group – not surprising, given our roots. This is a social dance style that evolves as the dancers communicate through movement with each other.

Click on the video below to see a sample CTS performance.

Middle Eastern Circular Mandala Design | About CTS | Overview

CTS is Low Impact and Heart-Healthy.
CTS is Fun, Easy-to-Learn and a Great Workout!

Go to the Instruction page HERE to be able to watch CTS videos and practice at home.

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CTS and the Eight Elements Framework

RJ and Pam have been influenced most recently by Rachel Brice through training in her Eight Elements Program. The description of CTS below uses the Eight Elements framework.

Element 1: Movement Fundamentals. The fundamental and foundational movements of CTS are shared with all the other belly dance styles. Like all belly dancers, in CTS we snake, shake and isolate; we use undulations (snaky moves), shimmies (shaking moves), and isolations mostly of the torso and pelvis. So many of the movements in CTS are just like those we see in other belly dance forms – Egyptian Cabaret, Lebanese, Turkish, ATS (American Tribal Style), etc. CTS has evolved over time to include movements from other ethnic dance traditions – including Bollywood, African, Latin, Caribbean, and Polynesian dances – as well as more contemporary urban dance moves.

Element 2: Musicality. The music we use includes middle eastern rhythms, but we also use modern, retro, electronic and world music for our routines. We do teach and play finger cymbals (zils). Learning to dance with the finger cymbals really helps musicality because we play the cymbals in a way that helps people learn the counts and significant accents in a given rhythm.

Element 3: Vocabulary. What differentiates most of the belly dance styles from each other is typically the movement vocabulary. CTS has its own dance vocabulary – combinations of movements. The vocabulary was developed by RJ, influenced by a wide range of styles from belly dance teachers over the last 20 years – styles including classical Egyptian, folkloric, ATS, ITS (Improvisational Team Sync), Global (Gypsy) Caravan, Datura Method, etc. CTS has 25 core combinations. The CTS workout teaches you the foot patterns and basic movements for the 25 core combinations. If you decide to move into a CTS Belly Dance class, you learn more dance techniques for those combinations, how to use finger cymbals and dance at the same time, and how to use props – swords, fans, skirts, etc. We note when a combination or movement has strong influence from Datura Method / Rachel Brice, ATS, ITS, or other teachers. In many cases, combinations are named for the people who inspired them or just loved them.

Foot patterns: CTS foot patterns and timing go together. It’s the basic 1 … 2 of walking. We have a few combinations where you kind of stand in one place, but not that many. Syncing up with foot patterns – both placement and timing – is fairly important for group dancing.

Isolations: Isolations can mean moving any body part by itself. In CTS, we definitely isolate the hips, chest, torso, shoulders and head. We frequently undulate the spine or abdomen. This undulation could be from up to down, down to up, side to side, side up to side down, etc. There’s room to do isolations in ways that express you as an individual and that work for your range of movement.

Arms: CTS Arms are not as prominent as in some dance styles. Nor do we use as many hand gestures and embellishments as you might see in some ethnic dance styles. The center of gravity with CTS tends to be lower in the body, consistent with my emphasis on ethnic, social dancing. The quality of most of our movements is more grounded and flowing than lyrical. We do have some combinations that are basically poses or turns where the arm pattern is prominent. Most often these are slow combinations used with a prop such as the sword. With our faster moves, I prefer that people can see the isolations. Thus, the arms are either framing that isolation, or out of the way. Many of our fast combinations also will be danced playing finger cymbals (zils) so the hands and arms are in a place that makes it comfortable to dance and play at the same time, while being able to see and do a cue from one combination to the next.

Element 4: Improvisation. Most of the individual improvisation for CTS is done by RJ when she’s in the process of developing new combos and routines. The “T” in CTS is because we dance as a group (a Team) using cues for each of the combinations. When the combos are cued in random order, the dance is a form of Synchronized Group Improvisation (SGI) with a lead and follow component. Of course, an individual could also improvise using the combinations. We don’t do much individual improvising in CTS. (Zaltana does a bit more)

Element 5: Choreography. RJ arranges routines that she shares with the CTS Dance Crew (students from our classes) and with subscribers to the CTS format. In CTS lingo, combos are dance phrases – usually 2 x 8 or 4 x 8 counts. Routines repeat 3 – 4 combos within a given song to help you learn and practice the combos while dancing and having fun. Cued choreos are dance compositions that use a larger number of combos and will often have transitional basic movements to sync with and interpret a given song. The choreography will also include variations in Timing, Relationships, Action, Quality and Spacing for the dances if we are performing it as Zaltana or as the CTS Crew. Pam teaches most of the routines, workout and cued choreos to students.

Cues: CTS is at heart a synchronized group improvisational dance style. This means we use non-verbal cues to signal which dance combination (dance phrase) we are going to do together. When you start CTS, the leader will cue the next combo a few beats before you dance it. You learn to pay attention to the cue and then follow by doing the signaled dance phrase. We try to have a unique cue for each combination, usually somewhere in the upper body so you can see it easily. It might be a turn of the leader’s head, a lift of the wrist, raising the arms, turning palms in or out, etc. We also have some directional cues – right, left, turn in place, move forward or back – that are used with a range of basic movements. And some combinations have internal cues so we can improvise within a dance phrase (grapevines, hip lifts, etc.).

For practicing the routines, you’ll have verbal cues on the audio, in addition to the visual cues you see in the video. Over time you’ll memorize both. When we have a flash mob, we will usually let people know in advance which combos we will use, but we won’t necessarily tell the order in advance (we improvise). Flash mobs may be to recorded music or live drumming, improvised team sync or a cued choreo.

Element 6: Practice. Students learn CTS combinations in live classes, with a teacher live on Zoom, and via online videos. The intent of this website is to assist you with your practice. Students find it most effective to take a class with Pam, or workshop with RJ first. Then you get the subscription to this website that will provide you with demonstrations of the combinations and routines so you can practice what you learned. We also strongly encourage our students to subscribe to for specific technique instruction and to take live workshops when they attend dance events.

Element 7: Costuming. Historically the costuming was one of the most attractive aspects of this dance form. The ethnic fabrics are truly works of art. And we appreciate greatly the work of artisans at various events. However, costuming in CTS is about comfort – clothing that allows you to move and breathe, that you feel looks good on you, and that works with the dance movements while not obstructing others in the group. Zaltana, our CTS dance troupe, is typically covered, including the midriff, and wearing harem pants or a skirt. Many CTS dancers have told us they are not comfortable baring their midriffs or being in provocative costuming so you’re not likely to Zaltana or the CTS Crew in those kinds of costumes. At the moment we’re loving the faux assuit by Melodia because the bamboo fabric breathes, washes, and packs well. The CTS crew often wears a CTS T-Shirt with harem pants or skirts when they perform. We do not use glass beads because they tend to fall off potentially harming your, or others’ feet. Costuming when you dance alone or with your friends is totally up to you.

Historically, the costuming in Tribal Belly Dance was far more elaborate and covered when compared with belly dance costumes seen in restaurant dancing. It was typically an eclectic ethnic costume – a blend of African, Indian, Spanish-Flamenco-Romani, Asian, and Middle-Eastern elements – in layers with pantaloons, wide skirts, belts and cholis made of ethnic textiles and ornate tribal style jewelry. The heavy costumes emphasized the movements and added to the earthy, grounded feel of Tribal Style belly dancing. It was common to see one of more of the following elements in the costuming:

  • Cowrie Shell Ornaments (especially combined with dreadlocks for the hair)
  • Body Art-Tattoos-Henna
  • Melodia’s Pants (for the pared-down urban look … Melodia Designs)
  • Belts, Vests and Tribal Bras (usually coin, rarely glass beads)
  • Wide-Bottom Skirts (10-yards or more)

Sometimes Zaltana will get a request to dance in this type of ornate, colorful tribal – and we do.

Element 8: Performance. Performance is also up to you. You can take the classes and workshops and never perform. You can join us for a flash mob at a benefit, or for a local friends-family hafla we attend several times a year. You can be part of our annual performance at Cairo Shimmy Quake in Glendale, CA. And you are welcome to audition for our performance troupe Zaltana. When we perform, we do have required rehearsals to manage staging, formations, spacing, etc.

CTS History: From Troupe Mélangées to Zaltana
Tribal belly dance had several streams including American Tribal Style (ATS), Improvisational Tribal Style (ITS) and Cardio Tribal Style (CTS). All of them were fusions of belly dance with other dance styles. American Tribal Style evolved from traditional belly dance in the 1980s in the U.S. American Tribal Style (ATS), took the isolations and belly dance moves seen in MENAHT dance, and arranged the moves so that the group, or tribe, could dance as a unit. Carolena Nerricio of Fat Chance Belly Dance, Kajira Djoumana of Black Sheep Belly Dance, and Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan (now Global Caravan) were all instrumental in teaching, publishing and promoting Tribal Style Belly Dance. They emphasized the dancing team, shared movement vocabulary, rotation of leaders and followers, specific costuming, and synchronized improvisation (SGI), using middle-eastern rhythms.

ITS and CTS evolved from ATS when dancers who were part of, or influenced by, ATS began to add their own creativity to the ATS foundation – usually modifying or departing from one or more of the signature aspects of ATS. Black Sheep Belly Dance (directed by Kajira Djoumana, author of the Tribal Bible, and who also produced the popular global Tribalfest for many years) and Gypsy Caravan were two of the early spin-offs.

What is now called Tribal fusion also spun off ATS. Early Tribal Fusion often changed their costuming to reflect the Tribal eclectic ethnic aesthetic, and blended in tribal style moves with Cabaret / Raqs Sharqui moves. And this fusion tended to be done more often by soloists rather than groups (Rachel Brice and Kami Liddle of the Belly Dance Superstars being among the most well-known). Other fusions came along with Urban-Hip Hip-Modern dance moves, music with streamlined costumes (for example Heather Stants of Urban Tribal, Jill Parker of Ultra Gypsy, Amy Sigil of Unmata), African dance fusion (Heidi of Domba), Goth fusion (Marjhani of Oojham, Ariellah and Tempest), Theatricality-Burlesque fusion (Rachel Lazarus Soto of Blue Damsel, and one of LA’s favorite teachers, Leela), etc. There are still troupes that keep the ATS model of synchronized improvisation with a shared movement vocabulary, but these troupes often add their own dance movement vocabulary or use different music.

Robin’s first group, Troupe Mélangées (TM), was one of those ATS / SGI spin-offs. TM built on Tribal Belly dance foundations and philosophy, but used different combinations, cueing, plus a wider range of music, moves and costuming. TM also used what became the CTS combination system to design and develop group improvisational routines from the beginning. For years TM performed in the Inland Empire of Southern California at SoCal Rennasiance Faire, the LA County Fair, Upland Lemon Festival, Cancer Relays, haflas, and other social events – often with the Village Mandala drumming group. The first two workout videos – Cardio Tribal Belly Dance volumes 1 and 2 were made with TM members. The original combinations were named after TM members who liked those moves. Robin structured the combos so that larger groups could dance them together at events.

Mélangées in French means ‘mixed’. TM was explicitly inclusive and ethnically, age,and size mixed. It was designed to social dancers who enjoyed the occasional performance for friends and family. We worked hard to make the movements accessible for a range of body types and fitness levels, understanding that hobby dancers still benefitted from doing heart-healthy movement. TM dancers danced for the fun of the dance – rarely aspiring to be professional performers. CTS dancers still maintain that basic approach to the dance. Remember – everyBODY dances!

When Robin moved to the Palm Springs area, TM separated. A number of TM dancers and members of Village Mandala who still live in the Inland Empire joined Suzanne Cable as part of a new group called Tribal Beats. Suzanne opened her studio with the same name, and they continue to have CTS classes, and to dance at festivals and events in the Inland Empire. Robin and Pam Coleman teamed up to continue creating new combinations and routines, a more structured cueing system for CTS combos, and the performance group, Zaltana. Pam is a Certified CTS Teacher in the Riverside area. Her students and the CTS students from Tribal Beats make up the CTS Crew. We all continue to perform separately and together at various events in SoCal.

CTS Inspiration
In addition to MENAHT influences, CTS is informed by my African-American cultural roots, ballroom / Argentine tango, 5 Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth, Zumba, ATS (American Tribal Style), ITS (formerly Improvisational Tribal Style) and Datura Style training. Key influential teachers include Najwa (Egyptian), Mesmera (Cabaret), Aziza Sa’id (Cabaret and Tribal), Heidi (Domba – AfroBelly), Paulette Rees Denis (Global Caravan), Amy Sigil (ITS), Carolena (ATS), Jill Parker and Rachel Brice (Datura).

With increased awareness and sensitivity to cultural appropriation, inspired in part by the work of Dr. Donna Meija, we dance teachers / leaders are acknowledging our roots and re-framing / re-naming our dance to reflect our artistic evolution. What we share is our intent to attract people who want grounded dance steps, movements typical of ethnic dance, and no-limits to the music used to express their dance. Most of us are culturally ‘American’ in that do what Americans are known for doing – start with a foundation and then borrow from various ethnic traditions, and blend them together ingeniously to create something new. That is certainly my view of CTS.

While I respect the traditions from which we’ve learned and borrowed, the drive and focus in CTS today is to create and express through movement / music in our present multicultural world, rather than preserve or demonstrate any particular cultural dance tradition. In this way, Tribal-Fusion differs from Danse Oriental-Egyptian-Folkloric dance. ATS, ITS, CTS, and the other forms of dance fusion are among the fastest growing dance trends in North America (and now Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.) because these eclectic ethnic styles provide so much room for creative expression.

CTS Fusion: Afrobelly, Bollywood, Latin-Caribbean

Afro-Belly Dance

While we use some moves inspired by sub-Saharan African dance, it is important to note that we are not attempting to do authentic African dance. African dance is frequently tied to spiritual-religious activities, and like Polynesian dance, many of the movements are a specific language telling a (hi)story. We enjoy the energy African dance inspires and have a set of movements our teachers say allows us to express our joy in the movement to the music in a respectful way. It is also important to remember, that Egypt and Morocco – two major influences in Middle-Eastern dance – are actually on the African content. So, we connect to root rhythms from Northern and sub-saharan African dance in some of our dances.

Bollywood / Bhangra in CTS Dance

CTS also has a few routines that add elements of Bollywood and Bhangra dance. The dancing in older Bollywood films was modeled on Indian dance: classical dance styles, dances of historic northern Indian dancers, or folk dances. In modern Bollywood films, Indian dance elements often blend with Western dance styles (as seen on MTV or in Broadway musicals), though it is common to see Western pop, global and pure classical dance numbers side-by-side in the same film. The dancers are often doing moves related to the dialog in the songs.

Bhangra – originally folk dancing from the Punjab region of India – is often characterized by a fusion with Western dance styles. In the West, unlike in the Punjab, there is less emphasis on traditional songs and more focus on the flow of a mix of traditional bhangra music with hip-hop or rock songs. This synergy of the bhangra dance with other cultures parallels the music’s fusion with different genres. University competitions have experienced an explosion in popularity over the last few years and have helped to promote the dance and music in today’s mainstream culture. Bhangra in Los Angeles has become one of the biggest bhangra competitions in the U.S. Teams from all over United States and Canada come together to compete and show their talent.

Latin / Caribbean Moves in CTS

Given their historical and artistic connections, it is no surprise that Latin and MENAHT dances mutually inspire each other. Moreover, I (Robin), have always enjoyed Afro-Caribbean music and moves, and I was a certified Zumba instructor for many years. Therefore, CTS has a number of combinations, routines and cued choreographies that are inspired by Latin rhythms and grooves.