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