In my tribe: dance, performance and competition

In my tribe: dance, performance and competition

Personal photographic projects are joyful, anxiety-ridden, exciting, rewarding pursuits. One of mine, is to develop a series of portraits of dancers from a relatively new and non-mainstream form of an ancient discipline.

Tribal belly dance is a very majestic and unusual strand of the art form. This beautiful and extraordinary dance is beginning to gain momentum, with a few regular classes now springing up in London. Evolving from a group improvisational dance, it encompasses a vocabulary of dance moves which a ‘leader’ selects using a series of cues to the rest of the group. The leadership voluntarily rotates between the group, thus making every show a new piece rather than a set choreography.

Alongside recognisable belly dance movements, it has fused with aspects of other styles especially flamenco and classical Indian dance. The lifted posture and ambiguous and mysterious expressions of the dancers provides an altogether unusual take on belly dance. The heavy costuming and extensive jewellery is another indication of a sense of seriousness in this dance, a step away from the more revealing costumes sometimes found in more traditional belly dance shows.

It’s a powerful dance that requires a high level of training and discipline and is still on the fringes of dance and general public awareness. This is a great to time to explore this dance form, its performers and the sumptuous visual results of a photo shoot with its performers.

This portrait was from a session with the wonderfully talented teacher and performer Philippa Moirai, who is based in London and is a high profile member of the tribal belly dance community. It was taken in a backstage area of a small theatre that features regular dance showcases. I liked the vibrant colours and patterns of the decaying wall paper as a backdrop to the colourful, ornate costume.

This shot was also my submission to the Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize this year. I was taken through to the second round of judging (the top 300 out of around 5,000 entries) but missed out on the shortlist. Still, not bad for my first attempt at a photographic competition!?

The true winning, of course, is always in the taking part in art…and I look forward to continuing with this project over the coming months.

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