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: