Struggle Properly – My Journey in the Salimpour Belly Dance Program

Dear Readers,

This post is a pretty big deal. I began My High-Maintenance Life in 2011 with a story called: “Disenchantment” or “Beauty School Wasn’t What I Thought it Would Be.” Since then, I have written about everything from my dogs having fleas to raising kids, to relationships coming apart and coming together. More recently, I wrote about my one of my most favorite pastimes: belly dancing.

Jamie Lewis, one of my “sisters in dance” as we say (because once you share the stage, you share a unique bond), is taking her dance hobby to the next level. Three levels, to be more precise. Jamie has the privilege of studying under world-renowned belly dance instructors, so when she asked me if she could write a guest post about her journey, I said an emphatic, “Hell YES!” More belly dance on my blog? You bet. And, any chance I can get to help promote the amazingly disciplined art of belly dance through a personal story, I’m all over it. So, here is Jamie’s story and my very first guest post, ever. Because, what Jamie is doing is a pretty big deal.

With love (and shimmies),


Struggle Properly – My Journey in the Salimpour Belly Dance Program

by Jamie Lewis

I clearly remember the very first time I took a class with Suhaila Salimpoura highly acclaimed performer, teacher, and belly dance choreographer who revolutionized belly dance by combining her extensive classical dance training in jazz, tap, and ballet with the Middle Eastern dance passed on by her mother, Jamila Salimpour. (Click here for more information about Suhaila and the Salimpour Legacy). That first class was a mixed level workshop at the first Essence of Belly Dance Festival hosted by Atlanta Fusion Belly Dance in Atlanta Georgia, and all I could think was, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”

I went to the workshop because my instructor at the time told me I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with Suhaila. I had never played finger cymbals before; I was horrible at it, and they are not optional in a Salimpour class, so there I was clanking away while trying to keep up with very physically demanding dance drills, and feeling completely overwhelmed. Suhaila had these “I survived” tank tops at the merchandise table, and on day one of this workshop, I thought they were cute, but by the end of the last day, those shirts were a badge of honor. I made it to the end of the workshop, and was proud to be one of only about 25 dancers still going out of the roughly 200 that had originally started what had been the hardest weekend workshop I had ever experienced.

Jamie (second from left) and the GA Salimpour Collective with Suhaila Salimpour

Fast-forward a couple of years to the first certification workshop in Atlanta for Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Level 1. The certification program in the Salimpour School of Dance is a technique-driven curriculum in belly dance, which allows a dancer to progress technically, so she can then go forward and dance with any stylization imaginable – Oriental, Turkish, Fusion. The options are endless. There are two tracks of study in the program: the Suhaila Format focuses on technique and the muscular contractions responsible for the movement, and the Jamila Format is driven by the step families of belly dance and the connection to the music.

I had left the multi-level workshop at Essence of Belly Dance 1 feeling so energized that I eagerly signed up for the Level 1 certification workshop, only to find myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” halfway through day one of three. The warm-up alone was more challenging than the regular belly dance classes I was taking. In the Salimpour Format, everything is broken down into the exact muscles that are responsible for each movement with precise timing and direction, versus the normal follow-me approach where you essentially just dance along with the teacher. I know I am not alone in this self-reflection, that I am not the only dancer that has asked herself mid-workshop, “Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through all this for a hobby? Why the Salimpour Format?”

Time and time again the voice in my head answers, “Because you can. You have the strength in your body to do this, and the courage to struggle properly when you are challenged.”

It has been five years since my first Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Level 1, and as I work toward my Suhaila Level 3 and Jamila Level 2 certifications, I can honestly say I haven’t found anything in belly dance that challenges me as much as the Salimpour Certification Program. I also haven’t found anything that has given me as much return on the investment of my time and energy as studying belly dance and working my way through the certification program at the Salimpour School.

For every moment I have logged on the dance floor, I have gained so much more than just a new step or a fun combo – I have gained the knowledge that I am strong; I have gained self-discipline; I have gained a calm in the eye of the storm, and place to go when the mundane troubles of the day are just too much; I have gained a teacher and mentor that encourages me to keep going and pushes me when I need it; and I have gained an amazing “family” – both in my sisters in the Georgia Salimpour Collective, and in the global network of Salimpour dancers who are always there with love and support – other dancers who have also found their home in the Salimpour School. This connection with the other dancers in the certification program is something very special, and what makes this school stand out above the rest.

Suhaila Level 2 “Survivors” post-rehearsal, July 2016 (Jamie is back row, center next to Suhaila)

Suhaila always tells us that if we do the work, we will make progress as a dancer, and it is true, but that growth isn’t isolated to my dance life, it spills over into my professional and personal life as well – making me a more well-rounded person on and off the dance floor.  The beauty of the program is that every dancer’s journey is her own, whether you are content to stay at Level 1 or you want to go all the way to Level 5 and gain a teaching certificate. I haven’t decided what my final destination is yet, but I know I’m enjoying the journey.

Jamie Lewis is an SL2 and JL1 dancer in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a member of the Georgia Salimpour Collective, and is currently working on SL3 and JL2 certification. She hopes that her personal story about the certification program will help other dancers who are considering the format, but are on the fence about making the time and financial commitment.

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