Manca Pavli is a renowned tribal fusion belly dance instructor, choreographer, performer, and much MUCH more. She is based in Ljubljana (Slovenia), where she runs her dance and yoga studio and directs her dance company.
Previously, Manca was the teaching assistant of Rachel Brice, for many years, at the annual Belly Dance Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica. On top of all that – Manca runs and edits THE TRIBAL TIMES magazine, and is the director of the Tribal Bliss Festival in Ljubljana.
There is so much to talk about with Manca. I felt truly inspired during our chat, and I simply had to ask for permission to share her story with you.
Why did she start Tribal Fusion dance? How did tribal style inspire her?
Sandra: Tell us the story - why did you start Tribal Fusion dance?
Manca: I started dancing when I was about 17. Before that, I wasn’t really physically active. Simply, I wasn’t into working out. Although I had some jazz ballet training, I didn’t have any serious dance education, nor did I see myself as a dancer. Had anyone told me that, one day, dancing will be my profession… even the thought would seem completely crazy. But you never know where your life takes you.
So, at 17, I started Oriental Belly Dance. And, to be honest, I liked it, but never really loved it. In the beginning, I just didn’t know any better. But now, comparing Oriental and Tribal Fusion dance – it is simply a different quality of movements. They are on different levels.
At some point, while I was still attending my Oriental Belly Dance classes, I saw a video of Rachel Brice on the Internet. Back then I didn’t know about Tribal Fusion. (Mind you – that was the era before Youtube. It was not that easy to find videos, and Rachel was certainly not as famous as she is today). Her video completely blew me away. The moment I saw her moves, I thought – THIS is what belly dance actually IS, and how it SHOULD BE danced.
S: Rachel Brice was a big influence in your life?
M: It took me nearly 15 years to finally understand why Rachel’s video left such an impression on me. Watching Rachel dance was (and still is) pure emotional experience. On one side, Rachel’s dance embodies raw female power. I am not sure if I can fully explain it, but for me – it represents true and unlimited divine force. I nearly felt a certain god-like presence.
Yet, on the other hand, the dance was not about being arrogant and egoistic. Tribal Fusion is not about having a sense of superiority. It harbours pride, and yet it bears humility. It is soft and elegant, yet you can FEEL fusion dancers’ dominance on a stage.
And now, I don’t believe I have ever seen or felt any woman like that before (like Rachel). Including my family and friends. Rachel has shown me a certain feminine side that I never knew existed, through the sheer power of Tribal Fusion dance.
Please don’t get me wrong – I have known, and know, pretty great and strong women. Women in my life were often very successful, hardworking, graceful, nice and beautiful. But Rachel somehow managed to combine all of that, yet STILL retain humility, while displaying her sense of pride.
Seeing all that in dance has completely taken me over. For me, it wasn’t just about a certain style. I didn’t actually decide to switch to Tribal Fusion. Nor did I want to be a professional dancer. I just started to practice Tribal Style every day. It was a purely emotional experience.
So that is how my story starts 🙂 From there, I applied for a few workshops (as many as I was able to). I started getting up early in the morning and practiced daily for a few hours. I do my drills and practice every day.
"The moment I saw Rachel's moves, I thought - THIS is what belly dance actually IS, and how it SHOULD BE danced..."
S: When did you decide to start teaching?
M: Well, I didn’t really decide. At first, it was just a couple of friends of mine who were already teaching belly dance. They realized I was interested in Tribal Fusion, and saw me performing once. Shortly after, they invited me to teach Tribal Fusion with their group.
I never imagined I would be teaching anything after only a year of practice. But there I was – since nobody else was dedicated to Tribal style at the time in Slovenia. So that’s how I started teaching Tribal Fusion belly dance.
S: Why did you choose Tribal Fusion, over all other dance styles?
M: As mentioned in the first question – I feel Tribal Fusion radiates complete feminine power and energy.
Moreover, I think all other dance forms are more focused on external expression. The energy flows to the outside. Take ballet, for example – it is an impressive display of human strength. And nearly all aspects of it are pointing from the dancer to the audience.
Tribal Fusion, on the other hand, channels dancers’ energy more to the inside. You can feel that from the dance moves. Overall, tribal fusion seems like it is not from this world. That is why it struck me so much, on both the emotional and physical level.
S: What is Tribal Fusion style for you?
M: Personally, I feel Tribal Fusion Belly Dance evolved from the American Tribal Style (the ATS). Naturally, Tribal Fusion borrows lots of elements from the ATS. Further, there are very specific arm movements, lifted elbows, strong posture – all inspired by the Flamenco. Next, there are belly dance movements. Contrary to the oriental style, belly dance movements in Tribal Fusion are much more isolated.
Moreover, Tribal Fusion movements do not necessarily utilize the skeletal structure. They are driven by the internal muscles and are much more powerful. They require more focus, lots of strength, and flexibility. In Tribal style, dancers often have to discover how to activate certain muscle groups separately. There are many characteristics of Tribal Fusion. If I had to choose one unique trait, I would go for isolations in movements.
It is important to know where Tribal Fusion comes from, and its roots. We should all have lots of respect for the American Tribal Style, whose originator is Carolena Nericcio.
However, while dancing Tribal Fusion, you can develop your own unique style. In addition to isolations and muscular movements, Tribal also has lots of rhythmic movements. Depending on your preferences, you can take Tribal Fusion more in the direction of contemporary belly dance, fusion belly dance, etc.
Finally, I don’t think it is very important how one names a dance style. The beauty of the (tribal fusion) dance is what matters to me the most. If it makes you happy – just dance – and call it any name you like.
But that is just my view, in brief, of course.
S: You also teach Yoga. Does yoga improve your belly dance technique? Can yoga benefit tribal fusion dancers?
M: Absolutely – yoga helps me very much. Although, I wouldn’t say all yoga styles have the same effect. For example, I didn’t see many benefits to my tribal fusion style from Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga. However, Alignment based styles (e.g Anusara and Iyengar) were a different story. These incorporate lots of knowledge about anatomy, and how a body works. There are certain moves that are easier to execute if you have had some exposure to yoga.
And yes, I am still learning myself. After I finished my yoga training for instructors, I continued with my education. Yoga is amazing on so many levels – not only physically. Meditation helps me a lot with my focus, and my work.
S: Tell us about THE TRIBAL TIMES magazine. Why did you start it? Where did the idea come from?
M: Some time ago I wondered if there was any publication about tribal style belly dance. Personally, I couldn’t think of any, so I dug deeper and found some localized efforts. But I did not find any international magazines, and I just thought – why not.
Initially, we wanted to do a version for the local Slovenian market. But my friends encouraged me to think bigger. So we started publishing in English. And even though the first edition talks more about our local community, our plan now is to be more international.
My mission is to spread Tribal Fusion belly dance values and knowledge. However, it is very important to have a platform for sharing not only what we do, and our experience of tribal fusion, but also more scientific topics. For example, we should talk about anthropological roots and the value of tribal style. Also, where do the moves come from? And how about the costumes, the jewellery… all of that is pretty interesting, and I want THE TRIBAL TIMES to be a place where all of us share our collective knowledge about Tribal Fusion Belly Dance.
For some of our future editions, I look forward to contributions in the area of the psychology of dance.
So far, we have gathered lots of interest and I hope to grow it much further 🙂 I am very happy with it thus far.
S: What is IZPLESANA? Would you tell us a bit more?
M: IZPLESANA is my attempt to bring belly dance shows to a high professional level. Currently, I think it is a problem that there are many, mostly festival shows on (tribal fusion) belly dance. And festivals often gather participants of various levels – from masters (instructors) to beginners.
Furthermore, more often than not, festivals have very low production levels (if any). There is no story, no scripting, no scenography, lighting work is very basic. All that is nowhere near a real theatre production.
And why do I consider that a problem? Well, for one, if we want to make belly dance (and tribal fusion, in particular) more more appreciated as an art form, we really need to work on the above qualities. We need the general public to see high-quality belly dance shows, and to say – “WOW – belly dance is really amazing!”
Right now, people mostly have a chance to see a bunch of students on stage without any structure. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is also usually the only thing they ever see. Thus, they are likely not to take such shows seriously. It is our responsibility to solve this problem if we are to grow as a community.
So, that is why I have created IZPLESANA. We have got some access to theatre facilities, and put lots of effort in the scenography, light effects, scripting… It wasn’t easy, but it was very fulfilling. I think the next step would be to take it internationally. Imagine – professional dancers from all over the globe (or at least Europe) working together to create a top quality theatre show.
We can do it. I can definitely see it in my mind’s eye.
"I discovered a feminine side that I never knew existed, through the sheer power of Tribal Fusion dance...."
S: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects or trips?
M: There are already so many things going on, in parallel. I have my studio to run, the magazine, etc. Yet, I still want to start a programme for tribal fusion teachers.
In my vision, those classes should be for qualified attendees only. For example, an audition could vet proper candidates, who would go through the programme. I would create a serious programme that is backed by governmental educational institutions.
However, I only have so many hours in a day. I will certainly give my best. Yes – I do have big plans 🙂
It’s certainly been a pleasure to chat with Manca. If you too dance Tribal Fusion, and have a story that you would like to share – hit me up at [email protected]. Until next time!