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AMERICAN TRIBAL STYLE MAKE UP AND COSTUMING

An Interview with Carolena Nericcio, Part I
By Sheri Waldrop

Carolena Nericcio is the director of FatChanceBellyDance (FCBD), which has a unique presentation and style that are known as American Tribal Style Belly Dance. In this interview, she discusses make up technique and the unique style and costuming that characterize this special form of dance.

DiscoverBellyDance: The dancers in your troop wear distinctive tattoos. How did this occur? Do the tattoos mean anything? Are they culturally related in any way? Do you create them yourself, and if so, how have you decided on the patterns?

Carolena Nericcio: The dancers being tattooed has nothing to do with the dance. Originally, several of us discovered that we were tattooed (before ever coming to my classes) by the tattoo artist Vyvyn LaZonga.

I think that we attract women that are already tattooed, or are interested in getting tattooed, because the "traditional" style of belly dance doesn't support this kind of body ornamentation. We all design our own patterns. Some patterns connect with the culture of North African tribalism, and some are abstract. We generally work with the individual tattoo artist to produce a piece of art.

DBD: Could you share about your personal philosophy on make up and what makes it distinctive from other styles? What do you look for in your troupe's make up and what do you try to avoid? Do you have any tips or tricks to get the look that you want?

Carolena: Our philosophy of stage make up is to create a dramatic look that is both unified with the group and individual performer. FCBD has chosen a palette that includes foundation, powder, and highlighted brows in brown or some other neutral shade of shadow. We also use red lips and accented cheeks, black eye liner and mascara. When we line our eyes, we choose a set of lines that bring out the natural shape of the eye and then magnify it for drama. Bindis and facial tattoos complete the effect.

We use cosmetics that have a strong opaque quality, staying away from drugstore brands that are too moist and evaporate on stage.

I'm not sure what makes us distinctive from other styles, maybe just that fact that we do it so often that it's second nature.

Makeup tips include finding a brand or several brands that you feel comfortable using and coming up with a system of applying it so you don't waste time. We cover this process in the video "Tribal Basics Make Up and Costume." Also, don't try to draw a new face, but learn to accentuate your strongest features and make them your signature.

In addition to make-up, the video mentioned above covers how to wrap a headdress, the jewelry, parts of the costume and includes a little performance at the end.

DBD: LetÍs talk about costumes. How do you feel that the tribal costuming style evolved?

Carolena: I can only speak for my troupe in terms of the evolution of costuming style. My teacher, Masha, encouraged us to wear a choli and pantaloons, a fringe shawl, lots of big chunky jewelry and a headdress or some sort of embellished hair worn up. The coin bra was optional. When FCBD first started we used that format, but the dancers started finding other pieces, like the full skirts and tassel belts. It was a bit of a mish-mash at first, but we eventually standardized our look to be choli, bra, pantaloons, skirt, shawl and/or tassel belt, headdress mandatory and of course lots of jewelry.

DBD: What factors influenced the turbans, yarn belts, and long skirts, along with the individual tunics?

Carolena: As I said above, it was experimenting that brought the elements together, but also our desire to flatter the movements via the costume (i.e. a long fringe that sways with the steps, tassels that "pop" with the hips, close-fitting long sleeve cholis that accent the line of the arms). At one point, after auditioning for the SF Ethnic Dance Festival, the judges commented that our look was too diverse, so we really worked on a costume that was consistent but not a uniform.

DBD: What are important points to consider when pulling together a costume in this style? What do you try to avoid?

Carolena: Hmmmm...I would say a group should consult with each other as to what works for all the members as opposed to each dancer just picking what she feels flatters her the most.

DBD: How does jewelry affect the look? Are there distinctive jewelry styles that you prefer?

Carolena: I feel that the jewelry brings in an element of opulence and elegance. Historically, dancers wore their dowries and displayed their wealth while keeping it secure on their bodies. My favorite jewelry is old Afghan and Indian silver, the really massive pieces that are getting rare. But, the most affordable is the low-end mixed metal (Afghan and Indian) jewelry that we sell in the FCBD Mail Order Catalog. It's "real" in that it's not costume jewelry, but the same thing as the more expensive collector's pieces, just made of a lower cost metal.

DBD: How does the costuming affect performance? Often, the style is a more natural, and modest look, such as a panel or multi-tiered skirt with the legs and abdomen covered. How did this occur? Were there any factors that affected the evolution of this look?

Carolena: Costuming affects the performance in many ways. It makes the dancer feel the movement, as in the difference between wearing a tee shirt to class or wearing a choli. It just feels right when the costume is part of the presentation. The swish of the skirt,the snug fit of the shawl and belt, the formality of the headdress, the uplift of the bra, or the weight of the jewelry can all cause the dancer to present with more purpose. It affects the audience, usually because they are not expecting such a detailed and lush costume. The costume looks like a Mucha print or a Bakst painting. The eye is drawn over and over the costume, finding something new each time.

The covering of the legs can be seen as a modest look, but I see it as part of the line of the costume. We want to emphasize the use of the upper body. The arms, torso, the face make a statement. Although there is motion in the hips and the steps come from the feet and legs, we want to draw the audience's eye upward instead of down.

As far as the abdomen being covered, we don't do that as much any more, but that I would see as modesty. I covered myself during the filming of Tattooed One because I wasn?t feeling well. I was developing the symptoms that would eventually be diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis, but we didn't know that at the time.

The evolution of the costume was both chance and intent. Sometimes one of the troupe members will bring in something and we all like it. Other times I get an idea and experiment with shapes and textures until I get what I want.

DBD: Many of the costumes are made of striped fabric. Is this by design, and if so, what do they mean?

Carolena: I believe that the striped fabric has something to do with dancers who want to appear in period costume. Woven stripes were one of the first patterns to appear on fabric. Printing came later. So, I think stripes show up at the Renaissance Fairs and SCA events for that reason.

DBD: Carolena, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts on style and dance.