Suhaila Salimpour took time out of her touring and teaching schedule to write for root. We are honored and thank her for sharing her story...
I was born in
My early memories of bellydancing go back to those
days that my mother and I performed at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in
Using only a small mirror the size of a post card, we would hurriedly dress with such ease as if each movement was choreographed. We could not speak of dance in the house, so bellydancing became our secret that no one could take away. As we tiptoed out through the basement door to the street, a rush of energy would fill me as if I was being let out of prison. I was only 4 years old, but I knew that for those few, short hours I would enjoy the tantalizing freedom and exhilaration of this other world before returning to the stifling, oppressive environment of the family house. Although the family knew perfectly well that my mother and I were off to the Renaissance Faire (since my mother was a professional Belly Dance instructor), it was never talked about or acknowledged. To them my mother was the shame of the family, not only being an American, but even worse, a dancer.
When the men would leave the house the woman gathered to let out their woes. Huddled in the living room the tissues would come out as each woman would sob and complain about their lot in life. Then they would push the tables aside and all bellydance to release their misery physically. The effect of this purging was always impressive; it left the women feeling stronger for days; it was cathartic and healing. It was then that I knew my life work would be healing through movement.
My father died when I was 9 years old. After his death my mother and I moved out on our own and away from the tribe.
I began to assist my mother in her classes and by the time I was 14 years old I was teaching on my own touring the United States doing my homework on the plane; it wasn’t easy going to high school by day and leading hundreds woman through dance classes around the U.S. In 1985 I turned 18, graduated from high school, and was featured on the cover of the most popular Belly Dance magazine in the world. For my success, I was disowned by my father’s family, and to this day I am not welcome in the family house.
Despite these troubles, I headed for
While on tour I realized that bellydance needed to be structured and I developed the Suhaila Salimpour Format based on my mother’s teaching. My dream was to build a community and a studio that would be a safe, affirmative place for women to grow.
At the age of 26, I bought my childhood home and began to teach classes on a weekly basis. From these humble beginnings I set about fulfilling my dream to raise the level of dance and have people around the world look at belly dance as a true artform. I started the certification program to give thorough training of a bellydancer and instructors. I created a dance company that is dedicated to the evolution of groundbreaking dance that combines belly dance, yoga, Pilate’s, jazz, and ballet. My dance school has become both the place where artists can excel in their development and a place for women to gain control of their own bodies. More importantly I want to offer women tools to express, create, and own their personal power through movement.
Now I have a wonderful dance school full of amazing people, and my mother still teaches at the age of 80. My daughter, Isabella, is still just a child, but she is a third generation bellydancer who is learning our sacred art without shame. She is a free woman, as I am, my mother is, and the women around us are. It is my life’s work to offer this self-affirmation to women, so that we can not only reclaim the art of bellydance rather use bellydancing as a way that women can evolve physically and spiritually in a safe, empowering community.
all images courtesy of Suhaila Productions LLC