Monday, May 1, 2017

Why Salimpour?

This question has come up a few times since I started my training with the Salimpour program two years ago. My answer today is a little different than it would have been then, or even as recently as a year ago. I attribute this to the clarity I've gained since beginning my journey with the Salimpour School of Dance - clarity that has helped me understand who I am as a dancer and why I dance.

Several years ago, my education with Suhaila began with two workshops. The first, a drills workshop, was unlike any class I had taken previously. I was confused, intrigued, and not entirely convinced I was enjoying it as my brain and body fought against each other for control of the finger cymbal patterns I was playing while simultaneously executing layered movements in a language I didn't understand. Still, I knew I enjoyed the sweating and arse kicking! 

The second workshop, choreography, was no different in its challenging allure and the class had dwindled noticeably by the end, with many opting to step aside to nurse burning calves and tired feet. Those of us who made it through the end felt a sense of accomplishment and we bonded by the shared experience of having "...Survived a Suhaila Workshop" together.

Fast forward a few years later, Suhaila would be in Atlanta offering the SL1 intensive and testing option. The sponsor and host studio, Faaridah and Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance, hosted the JL1 intensive the previous year, but I was unable to attend. When the opportunity presented itself again, I made sure my schedule was clear. I was looking forward to the technical training and, yes, excited for the butt kicking! At that point, I had no intention of testing as certifying wasn't a priority for me. The SL1 weekend included a student show, in which dancers from across the country gathered to perform Salimpour choreographies from both the Jamila and Suhaila catalogs. It was an honor to participate and I was thrilled to experience first-hand the intimacy and close artistic bond the dancers of the school share.

The next morning Suhaila joined us to talk about the previous night's show. She was warm, gracious, supportive, and so genuine in her appreciation of everyone's efforts and hard work as we shared her mother's choreographies alongside her own. She acknowledged the growth she had witnessed in her students and how much she enjoyed meeting newer students through their dance. I was struck most not by what she was saying, but what she wasn't saying. While authentic and complimentary in her words and smiles, Suhaila never once offered flowery or vague praise. We weren't "amazing", "incredible", "awesome", or "perfect". We were dancers doing the work, practicing our craft, and learning from the experience. It was in that moment I realized I wanted this level of training. I wanted the physicality and dance conditioning because yo', you sweat and burn when it's just the warm up! There's normally a few side-eyeing the clock and, yup, it's only the beginning... 

Photo courtesy of Studio Jaki (

Even though I knew I wanted the training and drills, I was still not convinced I wanted to test. I had my reasons. First, I felt I was a hot mess during the drills, my body and cymbals were having a battle royale, and I wasn't sure I was ready to take the written exam. I had also heard dancers say it was "hard to maintain your CECs" or the program became "too expensive", so they lost their certification. Both Yvonne, a sweetheart and Salimpour teacher based in FL who directs the Florida Salimpour Collective, and Suhaila encouraged me to test, but never pressured me, which I really appreciated.

As I considered the option of testing, I researched how CECs were acquired, looked into the costs of the program, read blogs, and talked to the committed students of the school. After much consideration, I opted to test. As Suhaila talked with the testers before the process began, I came to understand she wasn't looking for perfection. She was looking for effort and needed to see we understood the minimum needed to begin the next level of our training. Achieving level 1 didn't mean we had "mastered" the level. Much like a martial arts school, it meant we were ready to delve more deeply into the material.

It was during my first SL1, I realized I wanted to learn to play finger cymbals as a percussive instrument, not just as an accent piece or prop. This was incredibly intimidating for me because, although I had played numerous times before while dancing, they were basic patterns. Jamila and Suhaila's finger cymbal patterns combined with the drills and layering seemed like something I would never be able to master with any sense of grace. The idea of being able to play interchangeable patterns well to this music I respect and love motivated me to face my fear of failure and fail I did. During my SL2 test, I was so intimidated to have to perform the SL2 drum solo, well... solo... in front of Suhaila and the class, I completely froze up. I was shaking, not breathing, and could not get my finger cymbals going in any kind of meaningful way. It was as if I had never held a pair in my life and I wasn't crushing the choreo either.
I was SO disappointed in myself. Suhaila and my fellow classmates could not have been kinder or more supportive. The next day I gave it another go. While it was far from awesome, I got through it.

I've now been in the program just over two years. I have pushed myself in ways I had never explored previously in my training - both in my physical reach through drills/conditioning and studies (i.e. studying and reading, finger cymbal drills, test preparation, etc.). I view the time and financial commitment as investing in my education.

I'm also fortunate to be a part of this community of dancers. The respect and support we have for each other is indescribable. With each shared experience, usually through intensives and/or testing, we become more deeply bonded. It's a really cool feeling of accomplishment after we go through five days of intense training together. You're amazed by your mind and body's ability to power through until the sweet moment when you hear, "Ok, go ahead and bend it forward" (LOL!) and before you know it, it's the last day. You DID IT!

When I first started training in this format, some dancers asked if I was worried about losing my "style" or concerned I might be sacrificing my individuality and artistic expression or voice. While I can understand why someone might think this, I've come to understand it's through this program that my individuality and voice grows stronger. I don't feel I've had to sacrifice any artistic license on my part. I'm still me when I perform, whether it's my own work or the work of the Salimpours. Dancers are empowered to express who they are and carbon copies are discouraged :)

While technical training and drills are important and a big part of the Salimpour training, I appreciate it's a comprehensive program. It's truly a "school" offering dance drills and technical training, music and cultural education, history, and performance development.

One of the more personal reasons I choose to study with the Salimpour School - I'm learning I don't have to be perfect. It's through hard work and mistakes that I'm growing as a dancer, performer, and person. I won't soon forget Suhaila's words, spoken in reference to a performance - one after which I was beating myself up and apologizing to her because I blanked on her choreography during a solo and had to improv on the spot while performing FOR HER and a gracious audience. She said simply with a smile, "Perfect is boring. If it had been perfect, what would you have learned?". 

Touché, Suhaila, touché :)

When I, first, started my dance company with my dear friend and co-founder, Stephanie Colletti, in 2010, I never imagined I would be where I am today in my dance journey. Thank you to Stephanie, Suhaila, the Salimpour School of Dance, and my GA Salimpour Collective sisters for being a part of this ride with me!

Thank you for taking the time to read this! Wishing you the best in your dance journeys!

A member of the Georgia Salimpour Collective, Jenny is SL2 and JL1 certified and is working on her JL2 certification.

To learn more about the Salimpour legacy and program, please visit:

Monday, February 20, 2012

An Eye Opening Start to 2012

I often read about challenges within the belly dance community. As I do, I find myself sharing many of the same feelings regarding these common issues. But, I’m glad to say I’ve also had some recent experiences that have illustrated the passion, dedication, and high level of ethics many already practice in their training and teachings.

For me, 2012 started with WBDA’s hosting of the beautiful Alicia of BellyCraft. As anyone who knows her can attest, she is truly the consummate professional. It was beyond easy to work with her as she was not only responsive, but focused on making sure all workshop attendees had a wonderful experience. Alicia’s professionalism helped me plan and coordinate a weekend that exceeded my highest expectations. I knew a January workshop weekend could be a challenge because it’s right after the holidays. But, as I reviewed the calendar of belly dance events, the time and date in question seemed to present the best window of opportunity. Game on!

As usual, the workshop attendees really helped make the weekend a success. Every dancer came ready to learn and sweat. I was delighted to see dancers of different backgrounds participate with a genuine sense of community, which was further supported by the incredible show on Saturday evening. We welcomed dancers of all styles – Gothic, Tribal, Egyptian, World Fusion, Cabaret, etc. because I wanted it to be an evening in which all styles would be recognized and celebrated. Not surprisingly, the feedback from the audience was great.

Many didn’t realize there were so many styles within this genre of dance and it didn’t hurt that Alicia, our headliner, not only wowed the audience with her performances, but was incredibly encouraging to both attendees and performers. She was all about inviting students to perform in the show alongside our talented teachers and she was appreciative for the generous donation of each performer’s time. Many of these performers are working dancers and/or teachers who are not often paid to perform in these types of gala shows where the local community is welcoming an artist for the weekend. Nevertheless, they choose to participate for their own reasons, of which there are many. Some perform to help promote and market their projects; others do so because they have a genuine love of the stage and performing. Some do it as a favor, while others do it to support the community. For many, it’s a combination of these reasons plus many more. Regardless of their various, valid motivating factors, all of the performers were professional and supportive of each other. They treated this show as they would have any larger show held on a huge stage at a world-renowned venue. The same dedication and professionalism were present and the audience (and I) sensed it and very much appreciated it.

Then there’s Pera Dance. Since I’ve known them, this Atlanta studio has been beyond supportive of the Raqs community. Not only did they allow me free reign over their studio space the entire weekend, they also trusted me to layout the space as I needed for both the show and the photo shoots by resident professional photographer, Jaki Hawthorne of Jaki Hawthorne Photography.

The attendees, Pera Dance, and of course, Alicia herself – they all helped me create a beautiful weekend. But what could it have been without the support of my (our)students and my troupe members? From the beginning, I could see they genuinely wanted it to be a great weekend and they worked tirelessly for the duration to ensure everyone walked away with a great experience.

The weekend was a stark reminder to me of the dedicated professionals and students who make up our Atlanta dance community. My dear friend, Nawar, also came all the way from Miami to support and participate in the festivities. Motivated only by the kindness of her heart and her belief in what we’re trying to accomplish with World Belly Dance Alliance, she captured and compiled extensive footage, which resulted in amazing video recaps of the workshops.

Now fast forward a few weeks. I found myself in Charlotte, NC, where Naima Sultana of Raks Sultana sponsored me for a weekend of workshops and celebratory show. This was my first out-of-state full weekend intensive where I was the primary instructor and it was very interesting being on the other side of the fence. This time, I was the instructor and not the sponsor.

As many of you who have sponsored these events can attest, the cold reality is that it’s much easier to promote an established recognized name than a virtual unknown. Still, Naima could not have been more professional and supportive in her marketing efforts. I have been in the sponsor’s shoes before and I understand that for these events to be successful, timely responses and marketing by both the sponsor and hosted teacher are crucial. These events simply cannot happen if both parties do not work together. To say I was blown away by the number of registrations and how far many traveled to join us would be an understatement. My hats off to Naima who deserves so much credit for her responsiveness and scheduling prowess, both of which greatly contributed to the success of this event.

I have encountered some formidable students and I must say, the NC workshop attendees would be counted among these! They came ready to learn and I truly enjoyed working with them. These ladies made it easy to amp it up and they were able and willing victims, LOL! Naima also coordinated an amazing show at the Chop Shop in Charlotte – the perfect venue for a relaxed and intimate vibe. The owners are extremely supportive of the local arts, which is a huge plus in my book! The individual numbers were beautiful and I was not only impressed by the performances themselves, but the genuine support every artist shared with her sisters in dance. So much love - we joked - people were going to get toothaches!

It was really something special to be there to share in those moments and I felt like an honored and very-welcome member of the NC dance community. I’m so grateful to Naima for taking a chance on me and to the dancers who took the time out of their weekends to attend the workshops. I walked away with an experience I will never forget and wonderful new friendships I know will last a lifetime.

Finally, we arrive at an event I hosted with the beautiful and talented Amani Jabril. Together, we conspired to host a night of belly dance at Laura’s NYC Pizza in Roswell, GA. By no means was it the typical venue or location for a belly dance show (“OTP” – Outside the Perimeter in Atlanta – unheard of!), but we endeavored to provide a performance platform for students and teachers/professionals to share their art in a new and unique environment. Once again, support from students and fellow teachers helped make the event a success. It was so wonderful to see our students, Heleshia, Tamara, and Sheri, performing choreographed and improvised pieces.

And of course, there was Amani - a consummate professional who brings the same energy to a small, local stage as she would a large stage in Lebanon. She shined as always and it was a sight to behold. With fellow teachers and students from the community in the audience, along with a few patrons from outside the belly dance community, the evening was a special kind of magic. Based on the success and interest, we’re hosting the next show on April 28th!

As a teacher, performer, and lifelong student, I believe we owe it to the audience, students, and sponsors to always put our best on display. The moment we believe they owe us, we begin to perpetuate and promote that which may limit the spirit and passion not only within ourselves, but of the art itself. That’s not why we’re here.

Sometimes, we tend to focus on what we dislike in the community. Because I feel so strongly, I am as guilty as anyone else at times. But with this post, I wanted to highlight some of the positive things I’ve seen since the start of the year - and it’s only February! All kidding aside, I am truly fortunate to count myself among such a high caliber of women including students and teachers/professionals. There are so many dedicated teachers out there who are trying and training tirelessly to bring you the best in this art form. They join many performers who treat every show as if they are stepping on to a Broadway stage and many students who want to take their studies to the next level simply because they love the dance.

Let’s continue to work together to further belly dance throughout the universe and bring this beautiful art to the masses. It’s a phenomenon which deserves to be recognized as an unparalleled form of self expression!

These recent events and partnerships have shown me the future of belly dance. There are many dancers in the community working hard to showcase this art and the spirit of love and togetherness it represents. I thank you and am truly honored to dance among you! Shimmy on, ladies!


...I owe it all to this woman.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Miami Bellydance Convention 2011!

What is the Miami Bellydance Convention, you ask? Are you kidding?! International belly dancer - and the best boss ever! - Nathalie Zarate brings a highly anticipated weekend of belly dance competition and performance every Labor Day Weekend (September 2 - 5) to Miami, FL! It's only the BIGGEST belly dance event in Miami! Already known for great food, dynamic culture, beautiful beaches and hot climate, the MBC brings even more HEAT to South Florida.

The Miami Bellydance Convention has grown each and every year, bringing talented instructors and performers from all over the world to share their interpretation of the dance we have all come to know and love, teaching workshops to eager belly dance enthusiasts from beginner-level to seasoned dancers.

So what should everyone look forward to in 2011?
  • Change of venue! The 4th annual MBC will be hosted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Downtown Miami
  • Bigger dance spaces (workshops)
  • A wider variety of vendors and merchandise
  • A fierce fashion show
  • Pre-gala formal cocktail reception
  • An amazing gala show featuring worldwide talent
  • Open preliminary competition
  • After-parties!!

The cast of MBC 2011 include the following*:

*For a complete instructor list, please visit

  • Yvonne Pereira (Winner, MBC 2010)
  • Joana Saahirah (Egypt)
  • Mayra Huzid (Argentina)
  • Belly Queen (New York)
  • Moriah Chappell (USA)
  • Renata Lobo (Brazil)
  • Lacey (USA)
  • Valerick Molinary (Puerto Rico) and many more!

The competition is going to be ON FIRE this year. With amateur and professional categories, there's a little something for everyone. If you want to push yourself and your craft to the next level, be sure to register for MBC 2012's competition. 2011 categories are officially CLOSED.

If you plan to attend the Miami Bellydance Convention this year and are interested in reserving a room at the Hyatt Regency, you must do so by August 22nd before the rates increase. Take advantage of the discounted rate NOW!

DO NOT miss this event! If for one reason or the other you can't make it this year, there will be an even bigger, better Miami Bellydance Convention in 2012. The Saturday evening professional gala show will be available for viewing online so join the MBC Facebook Fan Page for upcoming details on how to watch the show from the comfort of your living room.

On a personal note, I lived in Atlanta when the MBC started so I haven't really experienced it. I took one workshop last year, which was my only exposure to the event. I must say that I cannot WAIT for Labor Day Weekend. I will be working/performing at this year's MBC and look forward to what will prove to be nothing short of an amazing experience. Don't wait three years like I did. Get your butts down to Miami and experience the MBC!

A glimpse of MBC 2010

What to expect in 2011

Important links:

MBC Facebook Fan Page

Hyatt Regency Online Reservations

See you at the Convention!


Wow, I've really abandoned my "weekly post" weight loss check-ins, eh? Too busy! There is so much going on in my belly dance world! I have not stepped on a scale in days but my jeans are loose!!! Yay! :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Class with Nawar at Dreams Bellydance Academy!

Greetings, all!

Wow, half a year has passed since I last wrote.... so amazing how time flies. Life has been busy and exciting! I quit my [day] job and landed one the week after (declined it, have been on a nice hiatus for a few weeks but accepted it later...), I performed in my first belly dance theater production, SHUKRAN, produced by Nathalie Zarate of Dreams Bellydance Academy and the Miami Bellydance Convention, and I started an event planning company with my cousin (Design Envy Events -- website will be launching soon so stay tuned!). I decided to take life into my own hands and pursue my dreams, which of course, also include belly dance. :)

My new Level 1 class begins on Saturday, July 9th at 1:30 PM at Dreams Bellydance Academy. I am thrilled and honored to be teaching Nathalie's belly dance style. The world of belly dance is a large one, no doubt... but it always blows my mind how different the dance can be; from the names of movements to the execution. You never forget where you came from and I am happy to have received my foundation but I have learned a great deal and I've been growing as a dancer. I am pleased with how far I have come and can't wait to grow even more.

So, the actual purpose of this blog is a pinch of information and a pinch of public humiliation. I've shared my whereabouts for the past six months so here comes the public humiliation part. I know this is something quite common nowadays... blogging, I mean, ... however, I am hopping on the bandwagon. I am probably at my heaviest weight right now and I think I've reached my max. It hasn't helped that I live in one of the hippest areas with lots of fabulous restaurants that I can't get enough of. Add to that the fact that I've been pretty stagnant for the past five weeks since I've been on my self-proclaimed vacation and that equals weight gain. I am putting my foot DOWN. For clarity, I will be doing it the "right way" and not by means of fad diet or cosmetic surgery. That's right! I'm forgoing Rocco's Tacos, Bayshore Thai and La Bonne Crêpe... at least for a while ;). I will be - dare I say it - exercising!! There are some things that happen to us in life that are out of our control. Weight is not one of them! I will be recording my journey on WBDA!

I am debating whether or not to post my starting weight... but I will check in weekly, announce what better be my loss for the week, or my gain, and will do so leading up to my "25th" birthday. Note the air quotes on that...heehee.... I am highly motivated and I know I can do this the right way this time around.

Visit for all of the fabulous new classes being taught at the studio, including a sexy belly burlesque course taught by Valerick Molinary, and a morning Summer Shimmy Workout class taught by Annemarie, and I will check back in a week! Don't forget, Level 1 starts Saturday, July 9th! See you there. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 15, 2011

2011 Thus Far?

As we often start off the New Year with goals and resolutions, it is a good practice for us to regularly review our progress to ensure that we are on track. After all, if we aren’t progressing, we aren’t growing, right? So, how much progress have you made with your belly dance goals in 2011 thus far?

Let’s see…I have discovered a gold mine of a teacher in Aubre Hill and transformed my bellydance style after meeting and training with Ansuya. What honors! I have also had the opportunity to attend my first Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition in Long Beach. This event was truly amazing: dancers competed to live music that they had never heard before. They also had to compete in a drum solo face-off immediately after performing to unrehearsed live music . These women (and one man) were truly talented. This year has gotten off to a great start for me and bellydance. I feel that I have learned so much in just a little bit of time.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store: continued training with Aubre Hill, meeting up with WBDA’s Jenny Nichols at my first TribalFest in Sebastopol, CA, June workshops with Rachel Brice, my 3rd Zulu Lounge experience (where R.B. herself will be performing), workshops with Anasma and so much more!

Next up though: my 2nd Raqs L.A. experience this weekend! Last year Taaj and I flew out from Atlanta to attend this event. Now, I will be attending as an L.A. resident! It’s amazing how much things can change in just one year. I am especially excited about April Rose’s Bellydance vs. Hip Hop workshop. Ssssssss!!!!

So, how has this year been thus far for you?!