Ok bellydancers, raise your hand if you have ALWAYS wondered why there are two seemingly very different belly dance movements called “choo choo.”   If you’re a tribal dancer who’s taken a classical workshop and they say “Ok, we’re going to focus on the choo choo shimmy!” and you’re like, “Oh, there’s a shimmy you can do with it?!” I bet ten minutes later you are cursing both your ignorance and your sore thighs.  Or maybe you’re a raqs sharqi dancer who signed up for a “choo choo” class at a big convention, thinking you were going to get some great shimmy practice but instead you learned a bunch of ATS® combos featuring what you call a hip bump.

I’m here to put this whole confusion to bed once and for all.   I spent the last couple of months researching and emailing and waiting and I’ve tracked down the explanation from the source.
I first learned the choo choo as this little diddy right here, which shows myself and two troupemates of Memphis Raqs , Adrianne and Cassi, utilizing it as an ITS combo.  I learned and shared it as 8 counts of right hip bumps traveling to the right followed by 8 counts on the left traveling to the left.  A cute little hip accent that travels along a line, like a “choo choo train.”  In fact, sometimes in beginner classes, I made everyone say “chugga chugga chugga, choo choo” to the 8-count beat.  Good times.
Then one day putzing around on the internet to create a vocabulary list for my students, I found someone listing Choo Choo 1, Choo Choo 2, and Choo Choo 3. Well ok, then. Choo choo 1 was described as a standing single-sided hip bump. Choo Choo 2 was described as a twisting bump forward and back, so you bump one count forward and one count back, creating a little U-shaped twisting bump.  Choo choo 3 was the same but with two bumps per position.   I can’t find that list online anymore, but I know I didn’t make it up.
The standardizers over at FatChance Bellydance®, show this as the reference on their website to “Choo Choo” in their format description:
And then there’s the “choo choo” shimmy that looks like this:
So which is the ORIGINAL choo choo?   As it turns out, they both are.
So first of all, I went to the source of ATS® standardization of movements – FatChance Bellydance’s®  Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, who tells me,
“I learned the Choo-choo from my teacher Masha Archer, who learned it from Jamila.”  
Alrighty then – so I contacted Salimpour School International to see if I could get some detail about Jamila’s nomenclature on this one. The team there did some chatting and poking and got this put together for me:
Jamila used the term “choo choo” as imagery meaning the steady, strong movement of a train.
“Jamila’s original Step Families have two different Choo Choo steps:  the Choo Choo (as part of the Shimmy Family) and the Running Choo Choo (which is part of the same-named Running Choo Choo Family). 
The default Choo Choo is flat-footed with doubletime feet and glutes (both with the same downbeat).  Variations can be slower, faster, etc.
The default Running Choo Choo travels right with the left foot flat and right foot in releve; although you start the movement by stepping on right, the feet are fulltime downbeat left.  The hip work is alternating glutes fulltime downbeat left.  Variations are also done including changing direction, timing etc. “
Here is Hahbi’Ru, John Compton’s next generation of Jamila’s Bal Anat.  Since you can’t hear the music, you can’t tell that the downbeat is where the drop of the movement is in this video, so I can see how this can be misinterpreted (or REinterpreted otherwise!) as a bumping movement
There’s more:
“Jamila had defaults for the steps. Once students understood the default, then Jamila encouraged variations by increasing or decreasing tempo, changing direction, changing the tempo of the feet but keeping the hip work the same, etc. etc.  All of these were viewed simply as variations of the default step, but they weren’t considered new steps.”
For example, here are some of the variations listed in the Salimpour Movement Family handbook:
Running Choo -Choo Family
Running Choo -Choo (L1 – 4th )
4 Forward, 4 Back (L1 – 4th )
2 Forward, 2 Back (L1 – 4th )
1 Forward, 1 Back (L1 – 4th )
Forward, Middle, Middle, Back (L1 – 4th )
Zanouba (default)
And then under the Shimmy category, they have the Choo Choo Shimmy listed as one of many shimmies executed as “Singles on the up, full-time”
The folks at Salimpour, Intl continue, “If we are remembering correctly what the Choo Choo Bump is, it derives directly from the Running Choo Choo.  We’ve mostly seen the Choo Choo Bump performed halftime, often with a stylization that has a hint of a jazz drag on the foot that follows.  But we see it and say, “it’s a variation of the Running Choo Choo”.  
HUGE Thank you to Carolena and the folks at Salimpour School International for helping a sister and all of you reading this with this little question that has plagued me.  I’m happy to now lump choo choos together, whether it’s the alternating foot choo choo shimmy or the single-sided running choo choo….I’m satisfied!

If you want to see some of these landmark troupes in action and try to spot the choo choo as it varies and evolves, here are some videos I’ve rounded up for ya:

Video of Jamila Salimpour’s Bal Anat Dance Company   There’s especially a great troupe piece in the middle of ladies in purple where you can spot some choo choo variations and then make their exit using what looks like a choo choo shimmy
Video of John Compton’s Hahbi Ru, a sort of next generation of the Bal
Anat format
Video of Masha Archer’s San Francisco Classical Dance Company    Look toward the end for a full-length troupe performance to spot some of their choo choo variations
Video of Carolena Nericcio’s FatChance BellyDance, the oldest video online I could find of them. They do some choo choos right toward the beginning
This is not a paid or sponsored blog.  
If you see anything that needs correction, leave a message or email me (liz@memphisRAQS.com) ! I’m happy to correct errors or dive further into research to straighten out any misunderstandings!