As part of the Summer of Love Contest at the Salimpour School, I have written this blog post and also created a short video documenting some of the reasons I am in the program. Learn more about the contest here and watch my video submission below.
To say that Suhaila and the Salimpour School have been influential in how I approach bellydance would be an understatement. In reality, this school and the community it fosters have not only been a guiding force in how I dance and make art, but in how I live my life. In this blog post, I want to highlight five keys reasons I am part of the Salimpour School and its certification program. The truth is I could never cover every reason I choose this program each and every day, but I think these big five ideas will truly give you a glimpse into my experience.
1) You are enough
My first workshop with Suhaila was in Calgary in 2011. I had only ever been to one other bellydance workshop and was so very green standing there alongside almost 100 other women. One of the exercises Suhaila likes to do is an improvisational exercise that is quite simple: 2 dancers walk out to the centre for 8 counts, dance for 8 counts, and then walk off. There were literally no rules for what you do in those 8 counts. Every single dancer went out there and did something different. To say that I was intimidated is an understatement. Logically speaking I would have told you I could do this exercise. In reality, the realization that other people would see me dance, and not just dance but do whatever I chose to do for 8 WHOLE COUNTS, was completely terrifying. I couldn’t hide behind choreography and a costume. It was just me and I couldn’t stand it. I started to cry because the truth was I didn’t want to be seen. I did not feel like I was worth watching. I did not feel that my movement was valuable or worthy. My entire life I was ashamed of my body and I never felt worthy or good enough; to have all eyes on me was an extreme act of vulnerability.
Over the years, I have slowly shed the weight of that shame and fear. The confidence I have in who I am as a woman, and as a dancer, is largely the result of the work I have done through my studies at the Salimpour School. Suhaila has a way of helping you find your truth. She doesn’t do it for you, but she helps you to find it. She fosters a school that respects and celebrates women’s bodies. I have come to understand that I am enough; my dance is enough; my body is enough. Now I dance in celebration of who I am and what my body can do. And that improvisational exercise is now one of my favourites!
2) Striving to be your best
Growing up I played a lot of sports and as a result developed a healthy competitive side. I enjoy pushing myself physically at be the best I can be. (Usually) I love working hard and sweating my way to success. I feel empowered knowing that the hard work I put into something means a positive outcome and one step closer to reaching my goals. In the Salimpour School, doing your best is all that is asked of you. It isn’t about anyone else, just about you working it out around the room, and getting better one step at a time.
One thing that became extremely apparent to me after my first Level 3 is how much each dancer has different obstacles they must overcome. Though on the surface it may seem that certain dancers are perfect, I realized how we all have challenges we need to overcome. For some it is technique (needing to drill more, or cross train more intensely), and for others it is working on being creative, or accessing their emotional life and vulnerability. Every single dancer has their own journey, but it is the common desire we all have to be our best that gets each of us around the room and moving forward in the program that makes the difference.
3) Strength in numbers
One of the most surprising and wonderful parts about my time at the Salimpour School is the number of friends I have made over the years. It is one of the most special parts of the school and I feel so lucky to be part of an international community of dancers. Every workshop at the mothership is like a reunion, where I get to see some of the most inspirational, strong and talented people I know. I am so grateful to have developed lifelong meaningful friendships with women that live all over the world. I have watched so many of these dancers develop as individual artists; each one of them telling their story, being leaders in their community, and rocking it on stage. I really think that this program draws some of the fiercest women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
I am also particularly grateful to have a group of dancers locally that are all in the program as well- these women are some of my closest friends. Our journey together through life and the program has been so meaningful and such an important part of my journey. I know for a fact if I didn't have the support of each of them, I wouldn't be where I am today. Thank you to each and everyone of you (you know who you are. xoxoxox)
While it may seem to be a given since bellydance is an inherently feminine dance form, these workshops that happen at the mothership and all over the world are a safe place for women to be themselves. I truly see dance as a rebellious act for women: we push back against social pressures about our bodies, about how we should act, and who we should be; we ask our bodies to be strong and to go beyond what we ever thought possible; we support each other to succeed; and we take up space and demand to be seen. The community at the school along with the support of Suhaila are a huge reason why that can be so.
I want to also add that what makes the Salimpour School such a great experience as a student is that we receive instruction from not only Suhaila, our mentor and guide through our journey, but also the amazing higher level dancers like Abigail, Rachel, Angelique, Maelle, and Sabriye. I feel so lucky to count each of these women as my teachers, each with their own particular strengths and knowledge base that also help us all along the way.
I am also so grateful to have recently taken on the role of a Salimpour workshop sponsor. Suhaila travelled to Alberta for a number of years and as a result we have a wonderful community of dancers that are in the program. I now host Level 5 dancers to teach and perform in Edmonton and I think it is so special that these dancers get to show the calibre and versitility of dance coming out of the school. With each workshop, Edmonton/Alberta/Canada gets to be part of this larger international community. To learn more about the next workshop in Edmonton with Abigail Keyes, click here.
4) Do Your Research
Why am I always thinking, digging and researching various topics related to bellydance? Because it is a huge part of being a part of the Salimpour School.
The program provides countless resources specifically for our growth as dancers, but also to develop responsible students and dancers. There are The Salimpour School of Bellydance Compendium, and Jamila’s Article Book that provide essential historical and cultural information. There is also a resource page online full of information such as: 100 compositions every bellydancer should know; full performance sets; and a list of books and resources about history and culture, dance technique, choreography development, Arabic music, performance, and creativity and art. The program also requires you to do your own research as part of your certification, to look beyond the information provided in the program and to seek out your own questions and find your own answers. I particularly appreciate this, because I am a historian in my other day job, and this requirement of the school to understand the music, the culture, and the history is so fundamental in our growth in this dance form.
This quality in the school I see as intrinsically linked to its matriarch, Jamila Salimpour. She wrote extensively for Habibi Magazine, wrote her own book on the history of bellydance, and was constantly researching about the dance form. She is a lover of the culture, the art form and the music, and is naturally curious. I had the honour of first meeting Jamila in 2012, and on top of sharing countless stories about her life and experiences, she also shared photocopies of some of her research and a bibliography of sources we should look into. From day one of my time at the school, the expectation that you are responsible for your learning has always been a theme of the program. But what I appreciate is that the program guides that learning, provides information and resources, and then empowers us to do our own research.
5) Trust the process
Finally, I want to also add that the certification program is a tool that I use to create milestones for myself in my personal dance. It provides me with specific parameters to my training and goals to achieve to further my dancing. At the end of the day, what is the most important thing to remember is to trust the process in getting there, not the end result (I know it sounds so cliché, but its true.) Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the future, and I stress about whether or not I will succeed. However, when I just do the work, it is amazing what changes in my dance occur in even a short period of time.
Consistent work (focussing on the process) has been a major part of my development as a dancer. I’ll share one simple example of just how clearly this can work:
Last year, I was struggling with left hand dominant cymbals for the Level 3 Finger Cymbal Drum Solo. I was putting so much pressure on myself to get the patterns because I wanted to test for my Level 3. It just wasn’t happening. Eventually I relaxed and just tried to really focus on my training in general- consistent online classes and cross training. I made a point of doing left hand dominant cymbals as much as possible in my general training and after a couple of months I went back to the choreography. Just like magic I could play the cymbals significantly better than I could before. I focussed on training instead of on the one outcome I wanted, and I was that much closer to my goal and a stronger dancer in general. I just needed to trust the process and do the work.
There are countless other reasons why I am part of this program that I could touch on, but these particular ones really encapsulate the reasons I choose to be part of the Salimpour School. I think what is happening at the school is really special, and I hope that this post makes you consider trying it for yourself.
To learn more about the Salimpour School click here.