US Fusion Dancer wiggles in

This weekend's inaugural Carnivale of Curiosity will be headlined by American fusion belly dancer Tabra Bay. IMAGE: Tabra Bay (supplied)

This weekend’s inaugural Carnivale of Curiosity won’t just showcase the best of Townsville’s belly dance and tribal fusion performers such as Scimitar Moon and Nomadica, but will inspire audiences with the best acts from out of town as well: Kush Cabaret (Sydney) and Alice Knox (Brisbane) are just two of the performers at the festival’s Night of Mischief. Festival headliner and US fusion dancer Tabra Bay will also bring a wealth of experience to share. We caught up with Tabra to find out what to expect from her workshops and performances over the weekend.

Welcome to Australia! Is this your first time headlining a festival?
This is my first time in Australia; I haven’t been a headliner as a soloist before, but have been a part of several dance companies back in the states that were headlining groups.

How did you get started dancing?
I started belly dance in Oregon – Portland is a mecca for belly dance; a lot of big names in the dance community moved there including Rachel Brice who opened Studio Datura there, and that became a hotspot for people to travel to – which is actually how I came to meet Jordan (Galliott, Townsville belly dancer). She went and took Rachel’s intensive course – where you dance for hours upon hours. I started learning the danceform, learnt under a lot of different teachers, and then had the opportunity to perform with them. I did a couple of larger events with their companies and flourished from there.

I read that you learn a range of dance styles including ballet and jazz on top of belly dance – why is that?
I think the best advice I’ve ever received is ‘you find your true voice the more languages you learn’ – so very much like dance, the more artforms you study, the more you can say, express or move. I think there’s something so personal and unique about each danceform. When you start working with a lot of Westernised dance forms like ballet and contemporary, a lot of the basis is usually ballet – very structured and technical. Every form has its own language outside of that, but the structure, regimen, the freeness and the uniqueness of each create their own stories, so creating an amalgamation of each and creating your own style is so special and important.

And what is your style?
I’ve been asked what my style is before and I had to think just as long that time too! I would say my personal style is fluid, technical and intentional. I always try to say something – maybe not anything that anyone else can depict or understand, but I know what I’m trying to say. Then other times I’m trying to convey things that I do really hope people pick up on.

Is that something you’ll be touching on in your workshops this weekend?
Absolutely! One of the pieces I’m teaching this weekend is one I choreographed for the Allegro production in Portland just before I came here. It was a very stressful time choreographing five things before I left the country. The show was about perceptions; the forced perceptions on current society and how people are supposed to be perceived, how we hide certain things to fit in and how society affects us in many of those facets; how we present ourselves, how we dress, how we act. This particular piece I choreographed was about the shadow self – how we have this façade in certain social situations, who our true self is, and if we’re living an authentic life with ourselves. For what I’m teaching here, because it isn’t part of the larger production, I don’t think the students will maybe quite understand the context, but that’s the meaning behind what I’ve pieced together.

Do you see dance as an important way of communicating?
Language can be really confusing, and taken many ways – out of context. I think movement, body language, energy and intention can say a lot more in a much more effective manner than words can. You can take personal, emotional, biased or structured opinions in conversations and have them be a brick wall. But if you’re watching someone move and pick up things that way, it’s less abrasive and more impactful.

How did you come to be involved in this festival on the opposite side of the world?
When Jordan was visiting, I absolutely fell in love with her – she’s a fantastic human being. We took quite a few classes together, and she was mentioning back then that she was thinking about running a festival here and asked if I’d be interested – coming to Australia definitely wasn’t a difficult choice to make! When she started putting this together and told me it was actually happening and asking if I meant what I said, I said of course – I was really excited to come over here. I tried being as supportive as I could from across the world, but am so happy to be here now and grateful for the opportunity to teach and perform here.

What are you hoping to take away from your time here?
You get so comfortable with the community you’re used to working with – I’m very close friends with a lot of dancers in the community back home, and have worked with most of them; I’ve studied with some of them and look up to a lot of them. So I think in those situations you get comfortable and don’t push yourself as much to get outside of that. Here, I’m excited and hope dancers can take something away from what I do and that I can push my own comfort boundaries, picking things up from the people I watch and talk to here, and just feel a bit more challenged. To be pushed, challenged, meet a new community, bring some things to the community, and hopefully take some things away as well.

What would you say to people who haven’t given belly dance a chance before?
You’d be very surprised how welcoming it is – I think one of the greatest things about the artform is the inclusive community. It doesn’t matter what your age, background, dance experience, flexibility or anything else is, it’s a way to express yourself and say things; a way to feel comfortable, happy and present in your body, which can be hard to find in society these days – especially for lady dancers. I think if you were to try it, you’d find a place in the community, enjoy it and realise a lot of benefits.

When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue?
I was asked by one of my greatest inspirations, Rachel Brice, to perform with her project in what used to be called Tribal Fest – a huge belly dance festival in California. She’s this person that really took belly dance to this amazing place it is now – she’s looked up on by most people in the community if not all of them, and when she asked me to do the project with her I was really taken aback – this person who I admire so much chose me to perform with her in this project, and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

And what’s next for you?
In the future I’ll continue to cross-train as much as possible – I think everything has its cycles, so I dug deep into belly dance for a few years and then have been digging deep into ballet, contemporary and jazz for a few years now, so I’ll either bring things full circle or continue to try new things to expand my repertoire and just be happy. If I’m doing something I love then it makes me feel fulfilled as a human being, so as long as I’m continuing to do that I’ll know I’m on the right track.

Catch Tabra Bay at the Carnivale of Curiosities this weekend, with tickets and information available here

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