My thoughts on ATS® – part 2

So, after the long intro explaining ATS®… what do I think about it?
I first approached ATS® because I wanted a solid grounding on safe technique and conditioning, which I felt was somehow missing from my Egyptian practice, mostly because they were either “fun” classes and attendees expected to just dance, or because they were practice sessions from the advanced troupe, and therefore were focused on choreography, and you were expected to get the conditioning and technique elsewhere. I had always loved the elegance of the arms that most ATS® dancers have, and wanted to learn how they achieved it. And of course, being me, I also had a soft spot for the costuming, that I thought from day one was amazing, and suited my goth sensibilities far more than the sequins from Cabaret.

To this day, I’ve been attending ATS® classes for about a year. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’ve stuck with it and now really, really enjoy it! What follows is my own individual experience, necessarily subjective and tinted by my background. The quality of the teaching I receive is, without a doubt, *superb*, and my teacher’s enthusiasm and respect for the form has won me over, even after the initial hard times. I feel physically safe, and during my first months injured I chose to stay with the ATS classes because of this. And I am constantly nurtured and challenged in equal measure, which is, I think, what a good teacher does. On the other hand, I do admit that I am probably a nightmare to teach, as my brain constantly tries to cash cheques that my muscle memory can’t yet deliver, I am verbose and convoluted, I constantly ask questions, I have to dissect everything to pieces, and simply put, sometimes I just fricking talk too much. But you’ve probably already guessed that if you are a regular reader of this blog.

I attended my first ATS® Level 1 class with nearly 2 years of Egyptian style under my belt. During it we learnt the very basic building blocks that are combined and expanded later on during Levels 2 and 3; the steps and technique were not that difficult, but the new stylisation did take quite some getting used to. I found the arm posture in particular nearly torturing, and I *still* struggle with it, even more if I have missed a class or if I’ve been doing some arm work and the muscles are tired. However, I do love how it looks, and doing proper conditioning work goes a LONG way towards helping with it… eventually you do get there!

Now, there was another thing that I found incredibly difficult, and it was the whole principle. I have a very strong sense of musicality, and having to submit mine to someone else’s was, during the first L1 and half of L2, challenging. To be perfectly blunt, I hated it. I found the whole concept limiting, and the group dancing sheer agony, coming as I did from a style where you are expected to embellish everything and pour your soul out with every gesture, and that is, at its core, a soloist style. Even more because my teacher, very wisely, decided to separate me from my friend, with whom I’d been dancing for quite a while, to allow me to develop the eye to to “read” other people, so we only danced together maybe a couple of times while doing Level 1. I clearly remember, during class 5 of 6, thinking during a shimmy step drill, “what am I doing here? I am not enjoying this”. And yet I knew there were things to gain, if only I persevered. So persevere I did.

Halfway through my first Level 2 term, things finally started to gel. It did help that we started expanding our vocabulary, thank goodness. And I finally realised why we were doing some things, and that dancing ATS® was not about *me* as an individual dancer, but *us* as a “tribe”; we are supposed to be individuals, but allowing ourselves to be part of a collective, by choice. We can still allow our individuality to show when we lead, but there’s also a beauty in following, allowing someone else to take charge and guide you within their own vision of how to represent the music. I still have issues, as I am stubborn and can try to “backseat drive”, by second-guessing what the leader might want to do next, or trying to go with a different flow, but I know it happens and I am working on not doing it. I also love the fluidity the conditioning has given to my arms, the strength my core has gained, and, I won’t lie, I still love the pretty costumes.

I would suggest learning ATS®, in no particular order, if you:

  • want to always dance in a group
  • don’t like working to pre-established choreographies
  • don’t want to study a traditional Middle Eastern style
  • are comfortable improvising, or want to develop the skill but want certain parameters to use
  • are comfortable with the idea of leading a group of dancers, or want to develop the skill
  • are comfortable with the idea of following a dance leader, or want to develop the skill
  • want to learn to use zills very early on
  • like the idea of using zills constantly
  • like the music used for it
  • prefer a very structured class, with clear lesson plans and goals expected for each level, and a good attention to conditioning the body to dance better
  • like the streamlined, long lined figure created by the typical ATS® posture
  • like the elegant arm work that is almost a signature of the slow ATS® style
  • are more comfortable within an environment that is primarily focused on drilling proper technique, to later be able to dance
  • like the idea of meeting with people with whom you’ve never danced before, and being able to improvise a dance on the spot, thanks to the common vocabulary
  • view the costume as more modest than typical Cabaret, and would prefer dancing wearing it

I am pretty sure I am missing quite a few reasons, but the above should give you an idea on whether this is something you might want to do.

Would I ever stop learning Cabaret/Egyptian for ATS®? No. They are different styles, they appeal to different sides of me as a dancer. I do enjoy the idea that, if I had the chance, I could go to a festival in Switzerland and once there, find my long-distance friend Natasha and have a dance or two together without preparation, simply because we both speak the same dance language. I also love that my Egyptian technique has improved substantially as my core and arms conditioning kicked in, and my camels now look very undulating, my arms a lot more graceful and controlled, my hips juicier, my posture has improved, and I can deal with props like sticks or veils in a much better manner as my arms are stronger.

Can I see myself stopping ATS®? Not for the foreseeable future. I enjoy the basic premise of group improvisation, and I really like how aesthetically pleasing it can be when done properly.

Would I recommend you do it, even if you didn’t answer yes to any of the points above? Probably. I think there’s a LOT to be said for the methodic approach, and even if you take just one term, it might give you some food for thought, or help you re-think your practice.

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