Minneapolis Bellydance History

Totally Northern Tribal and Felahi

turkish eye

Totally Northern Tribal (TNT) was Minnesota’s first performing American Tribal Style dance troupe, and Felahi was a group of musicians who’s original focus was to play for TNT’s performances.

Founded in 2005 by Anne Farrington (Amira), TNT’s dancers came together from a variety of bellydance and folk dance backgrounds to seek and create group improvisation performances.

TNT’s main influences included Fat Chance Belly Dance and Gypsy Caravan. TNT’s movement vocabulary developed from in-person studies with these troupes and from their videos (remember videos?)   

Often performing to live music from their troupe band Felahi, they held numerous performances across the Twin Cities at events such as Earth Fusion, Banat el Kamar haflas and Annual Spring Show, the Guild of Oriental Dance Annual Show, Pagan Pride, and the Seward Art Festival. 

Many dancers comprised TNT, all coming together with the common vision of group improvisational dance:  Anne Farrington (Amira), Angie Bezek, Barb Tate-Lunde (BaBaRa), Brenda Bushinski, Cindy Kissee (Cynthia), Deb Brazil (Kamala Devi), Jackie Walker (Sisane), Lisa Bushinski, Melissa Hansen, Patricia Cumbie (Katze), Roberta Webb (Chinyere), Sarah Bell, Sherry Dean Ripplinger, Sue Lindgren and Valerie Vigdahl (Ms. Zuza).

Totally Northern Tribal at Pagan Pride
Totally Northern Tribal

Felahi was formed in 2005 by Charlie Obert, his wife Cindy Kissee, and Avni Pandya.  The band specialty was playing for amateur dancers at the monthly Banat el Kamar Community Education haflas, with the secondary goal to jump-start a community of avocational drummers wishing to perform with  local dancers of all skill levels.

The name Felahi was chosen as it stems from the Arabic word ‘fellahin’ meaning peasant or country person. The musicians took great pride in playing for avocational dancers, amateurs, and people dancing just for the fun of it. Their unofficial motto was ‘Belly dance music for the rest of us.’

Felahi’s musical style was influenced by Eddie ‘The Sheik’ Kochak, Chris Kalogerson, 1970’s Turkish bellydance music, and Led Zeppelin. Originally their music fit a ‘neo-retro’ style – an all acoustic ensemble with a folk feel. Later on the band began adding keyboards and rock guitar over traditional bellydance songs, deliberately choosing easily danceable rhythms with simple arrangements.

In 2006, Keith Spears and Rebeca Sharpe joined the group; Dave Stagner, Brian Timm, and Courtney Faragher joined in 2007. Adding new musical talent allowed Felahi to further their unique and recognizable sound.

In late 2007 Felahi decided to disband, but you can still experience their Music.

Totally Northern Tribal continued performing for a few years longer using recorded music, before disbanding.

Many thanks to Charlie Obert and Patricia Cumbie for providing the information for this article.