There’s a beautiful piece of music that inspired me to dance recently. (Not gonna tell which, no spoilers!) Suffice to say it’s a powerful lyrical tune that brought me to my knees – literally. I found myself spending the majority of the choreography in floorwork, which is totally out of character for me. So as I was trying to create aesthetically-pleasing interpretations of the primitive movements my body improvised on its own, I realized I don’t have a very deep toolbox of movement vocabulary that fits in the realm of “bellydance floorwork” to rely on. Then I thought,
Does anyone do floorwork anymore in tribal bellydance?
Ok, I’m sorry if you’ve got that Paula Cole song stuck in your head now. ( “Where have all the cowboys gooooonnnneee?”) You didn’t? Well you do now.
It just is my personal perception that floorwork dance techniques so popular in American cabaret and folkloric styles are sort of petering out in the more contemporary tribal fusion pieces and classes I’m witnessing.
So first I took a little poll of dancers online and got these responses regarding their view of floorwork:
” I don’t, but I believe it’s mostly because I perform in medieval fairs or in places where I’m on the same level of the crowd, and if you do floor work you’re going to get on the crotch level and also who is standing behind won’t be able to see you” -Diane
” I love floorwork!! But don’t get to do it much because of performance locations. There’s not often surfaces that work well with floorwork. And many of my students are not able to do it, due to knee issues, etc. But when I can, I do it.”– Emerald
A lot of dancers report injuries that limit their ability to execute floor work:
“I’m not against floor work, but I need some good/slim profile knee pads.” – Kim
“ I personally don’t do it because I have a knee injury from playing roller derby, plus I’ve never been able to gracefully get up off the floor.” – Erica
“Back in the day I did some floorwork- would never attempt it” -Brenda
“I never have because I was never taught to.” – Rebecca
“All of my major teachers did floorwork in their personal routines, but it was just never my personal style.” – Debra
So I set out to find samples of dancers who do floorwork beautifully and often. Of course there are a few that come to my mind quickly – Urban Tribal, Heather Stants and Jules Downum have always incorporated seamless floorwork in their movement styles. You can definitely see their passion for contemporary dance and how it has shaped their movement vocabulary.
*Urban Tribal Bellydance led by Heather Stants, 2003
You would think that as an early pupil of Jules,’ I might have picked up some of that tradition of floorwork, but it really just was never a big part of class or choreography. (And to be fair to Jules, she was my teacher for about a second before she moved from Memphis to California where she met up with Heather Stants.)
Alright, so then who else can I look to as a pillar of the tribal fusion community…
The Indigo in the Bellydance Superstars tour 2005. Shown here Rachel Brice, Sharon Kihara, and Michelle Campbell doing the infamous move known as the Turkish drop, followed by some lovely kneeling undulations and (not shown in this clip) Berber crawls.
And then check out this impressive feat of floorwork performed by Moria Chappell on the 2007 DVD Tribal Fusions: The Exotic Art of of Tribal Bellydance It’s just a snippet of a long sequence of floorwork she does in this piece:
So now, of course, I had to go digging a bit further back to get my floorwork-throughout-the-ages creative juices flowing even more:
In 1993, Morrocco published an article in Habibi called “Getting Down to Floorwork” in which she addresses a comment from a show spectactor who claimed that floorwork was not a traditional element of Middle Eastern dance. With a sarcasm and humor that is quintessenetially Morroccan (the dancer, not the country), she lists about a dozen varieties of folk dances and regional variations of raqs sharqi around the Middle East and North Africa that include dancing on the ground in some version. In your FACE, floorwork doubters! (Seriously, its pretty scathing…read it.)
To round out my own education in the history and evolution of floorwork in the tribal dance community, I did a little more poking around – enjoy!
Here’s Bal Anat performance in the mid-70s showcases a dancer (around 21:00) who does a long and impressive floorwork segment. The comments in the video name the dancer as Aida Al Adawi, who is one of the greats, and who blurs the line between “cabaret” “tribal” and “folks” styles.
And I had completely forgotten that the mothership hub of ATS even produced an instructional DVD dedicated solely to ATS floorwork technique and tips : FatChance Bellydance’s ATS Basics Volume 8 (circa 2005).
I’m not an ATS® dancer per se (I know the basics and that’s about it!) so I never got around to learning that there are a few floorwork group improvisational floorwork sequences! Here’s a video of dancer Malayka in a solo performance that includes two of the ATS® floorwork sequences around 2:30:
And finally, I found the current queen of fusion floorwork. I’m declaring her title today, here and now. I give to you, Silvia Salamanca. I couldn’t find a clip to isolate on this one – you need to just watch this whole thing and see why floorwork is not dead and why it mustn’t be forgotten as an ultimately impressive way to keep your audience’s attention:
And for anyone else interested in joining me in a floorwork challenge, Datura Online has a section of their online tutorials for floorwork, including choreographies that feature it – check it out here.