An Interview with Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, Part II
By Sheri Waldrop
Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman is the director of FatChanceBellyDance, which has a unique presentation and style that are known as American Tribal Style Belly Dance. She is also an ACE Personal Trainer. In this interview, she shares with our readers about how she began dancing and the influences on her creation of this unique dance style.
DiscoverBellyDance: Carolena, first I think the readers would like to know a little about you. How did you become interested in belly dance? And how did you come to be the founder of Fat Chance Belly Dance?
Carolena: I didn’t have a formal plan when it came to dancing. When I began studying as a young girl, I just did it because I really wanted to dance. It was my teacher who insisted that I start performing.
Thirteen years later when I started the original dance class, I again had no intention of performing, I just really wanted to dance. This time it was the students who talked me into organizing the performing troupe.
We had danced casually at parties and gallery events. Eventually we were invited to the tattoo shows that were part of the Modern Primitives movement. As we became more popular I realized that we needed direction, and that’s when we became FatChanceBellyDance.
It was the business aspect that caught my attention. Although I do enjoy performing for the most part, it’s more the challenge of putting this alternative form of entertainment out into the mainstream that keeps me interested.
DBD: Were there any other dancers who influenced you, or whose teachings have affected your dance style? I understand that your teacher, Masha Archer, was a student of Jamila Salimpour. Did you also ever study with Jamila? Or with anyone else?
Carolena: My primary dance training was with Masha (Archer). I never studied with Jamila, in fact I only met her a few years ago. I realize now, after so many years in the business, that what I learned from Masha was more about art than dance.
Masha is a visual artist, and everything she touches turns to gold. When I first met her she was dancing and now currently she is designing jewelry, and is always painting and drawing. She wasn’t so concerned with the “authentic” representation of the dance, but the authentic presentation of the art of the body.
She taught us how to move to music, how to costume the body, how to stand and move on a stage. But as far as the traditional details that the purists are so bent on, that she didn’t impart. Those are the things that I learned from teachers like Aisha Ali and Edwina Nearing and from reading everything I could get my hands on.
DBD: Your style and the look made famous by FCBD are distinct. How did you come to create the style that you use when performing?
Carolena: You say “style” and “look”, I see those as two different things. “Style,” to me, is the way we dance on stage. “Look” is our appearance on stage.
Our style evolved from common sense, really. I was teaching my students what I remembered learning from Masha. I am more muscular and translated the steps and movements that way. I presented it to my students and they gave me feedback and we evolved a way of presenting the body.
For instance, we realized that because of the improvisational aspect of the dance, we needed sightlines and therefore angled to the most active hip. So, we naturally angled the body to the left to present the right hip. This is a generalization that has become a standard for all movements, simply because it makes sense when dancing in a group: it creates a viable sightline.
In regards to the music and attitude on stage, it’s really a case of “Ignorance is Bliss.” I hear slow, taxeem-style interpretations in all kinds of intense music. I think our taxeem is much slower than the traditional interpretation.
Before, when I presented taxeem, I would get carried away with the “body play” of the sound of the music. It wasn’t until later, when I studied more traditionally, that I realized that our interpretation was different.
DBD: Your distinctive and unique style of dancing has been admired by many. How did you come to develop it? What do you see as the motivation and force for you when dancing? When teaching? What do you hope to impart to your students and to accomplish through the dance?
Carolena: This set of questions is another interview entirely! I’ll try to answer it briefly. In the beginning, I like to refer to my approach as “Ignorance is Bliss.” I had danced with my teacher for a few years and then decided to start up the original class on a whim. I was functioning much the same way that the Gypsies did when they left India and traveled to North Africa. I had a sense of what I used to do, but was influenced by new music and new people. So, I just followed my intuition and created art using the foundation that my teacher had given me and embellished it with the new ideas that I had.
Eventually, I developed a style that I felt comfortable with and started looking for repeating shapes and content in the gestures. I refined the general idea and concentrated on making the posture, families of steps and content of the choreography more consistent. This led to the choreographies becoming more predictable and to the evolution of true Improvisation.
Movement Dynamics: from real life I spent a lot of time reading and researching movement dynamics and kinesiology. I wanted the dance to have a natural look. So, almost all of the movements come from daily life, walking, sitting, reaching, breathing, etc. We just take the natural gestures that everyone is familiar with and exaggerate them to make them more dramatic. That’s why our style is so appealing. The audience sees what the dancer is doing and they unconsciously make a connection to the root of the movement, deep in their middle brain. So, although they see the dancer performing something special and entertaining, they know the movements and feel as if they are dancing too.
I want my students to relax and enjoy themselves while they are learning to sculpt their bodies with the music. I want them to respect the wisdom and generosity of their teacher, whether it is myself or someone else. I want them to respect and take pleasure from dancing with the other dancers. And especially now, with world politics hanging on the brink, I want them to stop and think about the cultures that this dance came from, the Middle East and America. It’s American Tribal Style Belly Dance, which means it?s taking the best of both cultures. It may sound simple, but it’s true. We have the exoticism, provocative rhythm and costuming of the East and the ability to dance in public and express ourselves of the West.
DBD: Carolena, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts on style and dance.