Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why I Chose the Salimpour Certification Program

Hi all, today’s blog post is personal. I wanted to talk about why I chose to certify in the Salimpour School of Dance. This past week there has been a lot of conversation around belly dance burn out and the change of the industry, which has made me reflect on my study and what I bring to my students. I’m not comparing or contrasting this program to others, this is my own personal experience and I hope it helps you think about this program as well!

My first Suhaila workshop was in the spring of 2005 in Charleston, South Carolina. Ziah Ali of the Awalim dance company gave me a ride and told me these workshops were vital to my training. To say these workshops kicked my ass was an understatement and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was a sophomore in college, in my early twenties and had many workshops and years under my belt so naturally I felt like a hotshot. These workshops humbled me. The movement was so complex I could barely keep up, sweat was pouring from my body and I was in a zen of concentration. I LOVED that feeling (and I still do).

Soon after, I joined Ziah and Awalim dance company and learned how to produce a truly polished product on stage. My years with Awalim and the Salimpour influence shaped me as teacher and a dancer. I did get my first Suhaila Level 1 certification in 2009, but did not keep up with the program. Over the next few years, I would take the multi-level workshops when Suhaila came to Atlanta, but did not feel ready to pursue certification. Faaridah of Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance had begun to bring Suhaila consistently to Atlanta and started a Salimpour Collective which I also joined in 2015. It was at this time that I started to think about certification.

I took a lot of time to think about both the Jamila and Suhaila certification programs. What would I gain from them? Was the investment worth it? Would I lose my own artistic personality as a dancer? After some deep thought, I decided to pursue the certification. My first certification trip to the mothership in 2015 for SL1 and JL1. I’m now level 2 certified in both programs and I am REALLY enjoying the strength and depth of my dance. There is a lot of buzz in the belly dance world around certification, codification and standardization. To add to that discussion, I’d like to provide my personal reasons why I joined the Salimpour School of Dance Certification Programs:
  1. Any dancer, plus size or not, will be challenged by this school. The Suahaila certification especially focuses on challenging movement that layers feet, hips, body, arms and zills at various timing. I can take that and apply it to my own dance.
  2.  Academic study. As you progress through the program, there are multiple opportunities to study not only belly dance, but also the art of dance and performance. Sometimes I feel the belly dance community loses that element and I’m happy to have that embedded in the certification. I have an entire library of books, DVDs and tools that I can dork out with! I’ve also branched out into other styles of dance for more foundational studies, ballet in particular.
  3. Arabic music. This should not come as a surprise! This is my passion and it also happens to be a passion for Suhaila. The in depth work we do with Arabic music in these programs are so vital. You get to work with talented Arab musicians which is a treasure in today’s belly dance world. I don’t care what style belly dancer you are, you need the history and background of Arabic music.
  4.  I love the structure of the program. It is clearly outlined what you need to do to work through the program. The curriculum is robust and the fact that you must consistently apply effort is a big deal to me. Not everyone passes. Not every chooses to go through the entire program, that says something about the caliber of the program.
  5. Foundation and observation of movement. This format has taught me to observe dance and be able to break down that movement. Ziah and the Awalim dance company played a large role in this too. As a ‘natural’ dancer, the ability to break down and understand movement hasn’t been the easiest for me.
  6. I’m a plus sized dancer. I chose the Salimpour format as my work out and get healthy. I’m about 80ish pounds lighter than when I started and I plan to continue my path to health and wellness. A lot of that is attributed to food and lifestyle changes, but dance also played a huge part and in particular the Salimpour program.
  7. To be able to find my own dancer. I’m very sensitive to my own style and voice as a dancer. I feel like this program gives me tools not only in movement, but also in how I can apply movement from this school AND OTHERS into my own performance voice. I’ve written choreographies very differently since progressing in the program, they are not complex for the sake of being complex. They say more and have more depth. This could also come from having more life experience, but the program has given me tools to be able to interpret those experiences into performance. (Collages for the win!!)

Reasons why I didn't join the program

  1. I did not join the program be a clone of Suhaila. I find this to be insulting, but I have heard this said before. Suhaila is her own dancer, chorographer and creator and so am I. If the moment comes where I begin to emulate her style in my personal choreography and performance, I feel like I have failed the program.
  2.  I did not join to only learn a single style of dance. While the Jamila certification is a distinct style, it’s also a basis for a good chunk of American style belly dance. What an opportunity! That doesn’t mean that I don’t pursue classes that focus on Reda technique, Bobby Farrah technique or ATS – I still do.
  3. I did not join the program to learn Suhaila choreographies. The choreographies are a learning tool for me. They have stretched my ability to learn someone else’s method and style that I can apply to learning other choreography. It keeps me on my toes and sharp. I feel like I can learn a choreography so much faster now.
  4. I did not join the programs to feel superior to other dancers. The Salimpour certifications are very personal to me. This is a structured path that is increasing my dance ability. I feel like it has given me a lens where I can perceive other belly dance performance, styles and schools and a means to be able to translate and interpret that variety for myself.
Long post, but I wanted to provide some insight that is not tied directly to the school. This year I begin my journey into the land of Suhaila and Jamila level 3. I’ve got my 8-month training plan and am already executing against it. This will be a lengthy part of the journey but one where I feel I’ll learn even more. I’m truly enjoying my experience so far. Yes, the certification is expensive, but I feel like I’m in belly dance college. It works for me. :)

Links: Direct from the Salimpour Website About Certification

Why, why, why? by Beatrice Walker

Beatrice with the Salimpour Family - Suhaila, Isabella and Jamila Salimpour

Beatrice Walker is a good friend of mine and fellow dancer in the Salimpour School of dance. This is her blog entry for the Salimpour Summer of Love 2017 contest. Enjoy!

Why am I torturing myself? Why am I spending so much time perfecting a technique when it is “just” a hobby? Why? I asked myself this question regularly and often when I hit a roadblock and I can’t figure out to overcome it. But I always end up going back to the basics and remember how I felt when I was not as active in the program: alone … I felt alone and with no purpose.

It was an accident!
My encounter with belly dancing was a total accident. A friend of mine who knew a friend who knew a friend who was teaching, asked me if I would take classes with her. Since I have always took dance classes since a young age and I was missing not taking any, I said sure! Let’s see what it looks like! It was a major challenge as I was used to big spacious movements with jazz and grooving on western “simpler” music. But I loved the difficulty. I eventually met three amazing women, Judy, Vonda and Stacey who had just discovered the Salimpour format and wanted to share it with the Austin community. Vonda always jokes with me saying that on my first class, apparently (I cannot remember this!) I complained that I was sweating (ah!) and also I thought downs and ups were the same (I know … this is vintage terminology!). But I could not resist and fell in love with the format because the learning is endless. It is a format that challenges your body, that challenges your mind, that challenges your approach to difficulties in life. It is a format that inspires you and show you the way to become a better dancer and a better person.

Getting to do something I never thought I could do! That is why I love the Salimpour program! imagine you are trying to move a certain way and your mind/body tells you “No, this is not possible.” Then wake up a few months/a few years later, and realize where you struggled before is a piece of cake now! That really sums up the Salimpour format.
The most memorable moment of achieving something I did not think I could was when Stacey brought Bal Anat to Austin in 2011. It was my first time seeing Bal Anat. We had the opportunity to audition and our piece was the sword dance. For the unfamiliar readers, the sword dance includes balancing a sword on your chin while getting into your split and performing floor work. First time dancing with a sword and split was out of my dance vocabulary! I honestly thought this was something my body could not do. But I put my mind to it and worked really hard to “get it”, even rehearsing over Christmas holidays while my parents were visiting and observing my attempts! We even put foam at the end of the sword in order to not scratch the wood floor if the sword was going to fall! So … many red chins later, I was on my way back from a rolfing session working on releasing my muscles to help with the split, when I got the phone call from Stacey saying I was in! I was so happy including my other fellow dancers who got in. Little note: If we had not been ready, Suhaila had back-up dancers to make sure the sword dance would still happen! We just did not know that which helped us be even more fearless in learning that difficult choreography! Bal Anat was an amazing experience and everyone needs to see the show. So much power and history! Knowing that it was created in the 60’s give me chills and makes me want to continue to do it! Shameless plug here for the Bal Anat 50th anniversary tour next year!

The sword dance is one example but there are so many other ones such as playing left hand dominant finger cymbals (what a comedy when I first started!) or the pot dance (practices videos were very entertaining!) or the L2FCDS (playing cymbals and dancing at the same time?? Who can do this?).

Learning about myself
The school is a teaching vehicle for life. It helped me discover imbalances in my body and how to address them, it helped me take care of my body with strengthening and stretching. It also helped me build my confidence on and off the dance floor, and allowed me to reflect on my approaches to specific situations off the dance floor. The program is a very mature self-reflecting program that builds character and strength. It opened my eyes on some elements of my professional life and how to address them.

The community is what really keeps me engaged.
Certifications are a goal in themselves and yes I am working on my SL3. It is not small task especially with all the projects that have been added last year. But the journey is really what is interesting and engaging. And comes with it the incredible community of women who have checked out their ego at the door and are in for themselves and bettering their lives. We all have fires in our bellies and we all support each other in learning how to ignite it. The international aspect of the school is very in line with who I am (French born living in the US who has lived in Canada with families from Taiwan, Central Africa, Caribbean, Luxembourg and Italy) and I love to be connected with dancers from around the world.

Let’s not forget
I did not highlight the obvious but let’s not forget that the school is meant to educate us on the ancient art form of bellydance. I mostly appreciate that the school is very keen on developing responsible dancers who do not just execute difficult dance movements but learn the context around them and the history behind them. Dancing with intention and knowledge is what the school is about. To build and maintain a legacy is a difficult and long journey and I am forever grateful to Jamila, Suhaila and Isabella for being the force along with their L5 certified dancers and the many more to come :)

Beatrice is SL2 and JL2 certified dancer and is working on her SL3 certification. She is a member of the Georgia Salimpour Collective. She was inspired and remains inspired by so many talented dancers in the program, and hope by sharing her struggles and showing how far she has come, she can also be an inspiration to those who are starting this Salimpour journey at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Get the Scoop for the Atlanta Belly Dance Scene

By the way, if you're ever interested in what's going on in the Atlanta belly dance scene, Barbara's Yalla Y'all is a GREAT blog for upcoming events. She's on the ball, whoo hoo!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Marketing Food For Thought

This past weekend I conducted a campaign-based marketing class at TribOriginal. The class went great, and I enjoyed our discussions! Here are the notes for anyone who wasn't able to attend or didn't get a copy.

1. It’s all about timing - Whether you are planning an event, wanting to increase the numbers in your classes, or book more gigs – timing is everything.

Time for participant prep
Might be longer or shorter in your area/ city/ student base
Are your students procrastinators or planners?
Document your success based on how far (or how close) to your event you advertise

Timelines: MAP IT OUT starting from the event going backwards (flyers, social, email, newsletter, etc)
This happens 8 weeks in advance
This happens 6 weeks in advance
This happens 4 weeks in advance
This happens 2 weeks in advance
This million and one pieces need to happen the week of

Seasons (Holiday and Industry specific)
Holiday seasons impact the general public’s willingness to participate in your event
Industry specific events can limit the disposable income of your target audience or current student base
Other festivals, workshops, etc
Touring groups
Adjacent industries that cross over – Burner events, burlesque, etc

2. Location, location, location - Sometimes you can only reach so far with your marketing efforts - literally. Be realistic as to who from your marketing base can attend an event based on travel.

GP Rule of Thumb - In today’s environment, belly dancers are EVERYWHERE. The general public won’t travel for more than 20 minutes to a class due to the current economy and gas prices. While we don’t always have the ability to get prime locations, clarification is key.

INCLUDE ADDRESSES - We live in a world of smart phones and GPS’s – don’t forget to add an address AND phone number to all marketing materials

3. Supply and Demand - Events happen every weekend. More events are happening in more localized areas. While the enthusiasm for dance is great, your marketing base will become jaded with too many events. Be aware of your community.

SUPPORT your fellow artists and guess what? They will probably support you too! Utilize other’s events as a means of networking and collaboration.

Don’t become insular – Event after workshop after event will eventually wear on your local student base. Broaden and vary your efforts for networking, performance, and event planning to broaden your base of ‘touches’.

4. Personas – Whom are you trying to reach? Everybody? No, not really. Putting bodies in your events or classes is always a concern, but inviting the right target market to your event is way more efficient. How do you define your target audience? Create the ideal persona of who you want to reach, and reach them in their channels of communication:

Demographics: Gender, Ages (what is your typical age spread in your classes/ events?), Location (are they near enough to care about the event?), Income (can they afford your classes?) , Mobility (are they willing to travel?)

Psychographics: College students looking to try something new?Housewives wanting to have fun for an hour? Fellow artists who want to try a new discipline? Other dance students looking to cross train?

Online/ Offline Digital Behavior: How is the best way to reach your persona? What is your persona’s digital communication of choice? (Social Networks? Email? Message boards? ) How often does your persona go online? Are there local hangouts where your persona frequents? Who influences your persona to engage with you? (Friends? Other dancers/ artists?)

5. Go forth and be social, digitally speaking – it’s free, everyone is doing it, and you should too. Here are some Facebook tips every starving artist should adhere to:

• Get a Facebook Fan Page
• Comment on photos
• Tag/ Untag your photos
• Comment
• Create events
• Tag other people
• Comment on others’ photos, statuses, and notes
• Offer advice, message, and

6. Degrees of Separation – Drip, drip, drip. To me, this is the most important aspect of marketing. I hear dancers/ sponsors say all the time – I posted a million Facebook statuses, flyers, emails, and still no one came! Ok great, you did everything right accept one small detail – did you make sure to extend beyond your close networking circle? If you are planning an event, want to fill your classes, or just have a rockin’ hafla – you have to make sure that not only does your close network know what is going on, but their friends understand, and their friends understand, and their friends understand…you get the picture.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sheet Music Resources - UPDATED 9/29/10

Updated this post on 9/29/10 with more resources.

I've taken it upon myself to get musicians in Atlanta to see my point of view - that Middle Eastern music is amazing and should be played often! In doing this, I've also taken it upon myself to collect a large amount of classical Arabic sheet music. Here is a list of sheet music resources that I've found to be very helpful: - UPDATED 9/29/10 Great resource for Balkan, Turkish, and SCA-type music
- UPDATED 9/29/10 Avatar's Early Music Books. His arrangements are well thought out, giving a little more ornamentation that your normal melody lines that are written out. I've only focused on the handful of Eastern music in his collection, but can't wait to dive into more.
- Jas's great percussion site, complete with midi sound clips - Jas's resource for some sheet music, in ABC notation and sheet music - Archive of Middle Eastern sheet music, amazing resource. - Great source book with lots of tunes + lyrics in Arabic.
- AMAZING site I stumbled across with stuff from all over the world - Has a great selection of free music, but you have to download scorch to see the music. - Carmine and Melissa's transcribing project, some free pieces and a lot for sale for about .99 cents each - Melissa's continuing project for sheet music
- For purchase sheet music, mostly Egyptian and Lebanese - Random blog with some cool stuff for free
- Mimi Spencer's and Mary Ellen Donald books - great song books, clear and organized, some with song lyrics.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Now Accepting Students for Private Sessions

I'm not currently offering weekly classes, but I would like to extend the opportunity for students to schedule private sessions with me. First lesson includes a 30 minute dance consultation - let's figure out what you want to do and how you want to do it - and then we'll dive into your hour session.

These sessions will help you get on the right track for your dance aspirations. I don't teach trends or tricks; I teach technique an...d theory - and I'll work you HARD. We'll take the sessions at a pace that is comfortable, yet challenging for you. If it's easy, you're not learning! Private sessions are for specific feedback to accelerate your dance growth, so constructive criticism is an essential part of these sessions.

Topics include:

- Musicality
- Music Theory
- Arabic Styling
- Drills
- Zills
- Spin Technique
- Veil Technique
- Shimmy technique
- Layering drills
- Choreography

I may have you work on other technique before we approach your topic of choice. This is a good thing. Great dancers build proper technique and then can easily extend that technique to their inspiration. Don't hurt yourself or compromise your dance integrity!

Please message me if you are interested and we can schedule your first session. $35 an hour or $60 for 2 hours, travel expenses apply to teach in your home.

You can also send an email to majda dot anwar at gmail dot com


Monday, April 5, 2010

The Integrity of Dance: Choreography and Expression

It's 6:45 PM on a Saturday and I'm getting ready for a show. We're at a local workshop show filled with local dancers performing. This is the first time we are performing one of our pieces with four dancers instead of three. The pinnacle of the piece involves a complicated Cross and Box pattern where we flip flop from one to the other. I'm not too worried about it since The back stage area is actually another ballroom that allows us plenty of space to rehearse our piece one more time before going on stage.

"Make sure to take small steps and make your shimmy bigger. The larger steps mess up the formation." Our director said, as we kept our zills quiet in respect to the other performers.

I practically make no steps to go into the formation, which gets hard when I get excited on stage. Ziah, Teejei, and Aziza remind me of this and I laugh it off.

"If I screw up on stage, I'll just make a joke of it" I said, knowing that a little touch of humor always saves me in a choreography. I've lost a shoe, ended up backwards on stage, and ripped a tear in one of my skirts, but some a performer's ability to get over the mess ups is key to a great performance. Humor works for me, and people seem to look forward to the expressive facial expressions I'll make when I do miss a step, ahem, or three like in our piece Dunje.

As we wrap up our mini-rehearsal, I think about what this choreography will look like in two years. It'll be beautiful and interesting to watch not because I'm about to run into Ziah and laugh about it, but because we'll be so comfortable in the music the audience will see the music for how we interpret it with our dance.

My dance company always has to rehearse before a show. Our choreographies are complicated, and need to be rehearsed in the space before we perform or we are very discombobulated! I love having that confident feeling of nailing a choreography, and I think this really boils down to an integrity of dance all of us strive for. It will take Awalim an average of 1.5 - 2 years until we feel a choreography is solid enough to emote the music in a way without worrying about the choreography itself. I LIVE for that feeling. By intense practice, rehearsal, and multiple performances of one piece, you're able to grow as a performer and listen to the music in ways you never heard before as you were worrying about your steps. Think about it this way, when you go to a concert to see your favorite band, do you go to see their new stuff or your old time favorite song?

The integrity of dance, for me, lies within your dedication to your movement. From the control of a choreography you are able to handle a degree of expressive freedom you don't always feel when improvising. You start to hear the music at a level of detail that will lend your expression to shape the music in a visual manner without worrying about which movement to do next. Its truly a beautiful experience.

"But I did that choreography last time!" Oh, what a slippery slope that statement is!

Don't throw away a choreography because you did it "last year" or even four years ago! It's still in its infancy as a piece. Years from now you will notice things about your dancing you didn't notice when you first created it. Think of choreography as an extension of your creative expression, why would you want to throw away what you've worked so hard on just after 1 or 2 performances?

Next Post - Dance Integrity: Ethics in Our Industry

Video: The performance from the workshop, Piece: Dunje