Do you know where tribal belly dance comes from? 

Jamila Salimpour

Jamila Salimpour

My Mother 

My Mother 

Recently I was strolling with a very talented tribal fusion dancer I know when she lamented, "Nowadays there are tribal fusion dancers who don't know what ATS is!" 

"Ha!" I scoffed "Imagine how I feel!"  

Her meaning was that many dancers are entering into the fusion style of bellydance without starting with what she sees as its predecessor -  ATS, or American Tribal Style.

My meaning was that before ATS there was Jamila Salimpour technique, and many tribal fusion stars bypassed ATS but few, if any, were untouched by some form of Salimpour technique. 

Have we just become two bitter young ladies who wish it could be like the old days, with no development in the art form?

Of course not! 

But my concern is this: If you don't know the expansive movement vocabulary and history that came before you, what are you left to fuse with?  What valuable development can be made within an art form that has rapidly been watered down during the last few decades? 

Another value in looking back is realizing that there was a time before "style" separation.

I remember another conversation, this one with my mother. It was the late 1990s and she had just gotten off the phone with Kay Artle, a Swedish dancer who was writing an academic paper on the history of bellydance in Sweden. After putting down the phone she looked at me, confused, and asked, "Am I a tribal or cabaret dancer?".

Again, I had to laugh.

My mother, a student of Jamila's, moved to Stockholm in the 70s and was one of the first bellydance teachers in the country.  In her day there was no such thing as being a tribal or cabaret dancer. Distinctions in costuming and music choice depended on the time of day and the audience. Folkloric inspired looks worked for the day time and cultural events, and beads and sequins were for night clubs. Assuit was like a little black dress that you could dress up or down; it always worked.

The steps - and there were many - were the same, and so was the genre of the dance, simply "bellydance".

So, back to the issue of fusion, be it "tribal fusion" or "modern" Egyptian. What is it that you are fusing from? What "old" is the "modern" departing from?

What are your roots?  Water the roots of your dance tree - or else the branches will not grow. 

In Stockholm? Sign up for a Salimpour workshop or class! 



Behind the Scenes; Recording 'Sabriye Miye Miye'

Music has always been one of the main reasons that I love Middle Eastern Dance so much.  I love music, especially live music and I'm a total nerd about, Middle Eastern Music, it's sub-genres, theory, history etc.  So it has long been a dream of mine to record my own album for dance. 

Arranger and kanoun maestro Ahmed at the controls 

Arranger and kanoun maestro Ahmed at the controls 

Last fall when I was dancing in Tunis I finally had the perfect opportunity fall into my lap when one of the guys from my band introduced me to a production company.  There I found an arranger who I totally trusted with my vision for what I wanted the album to sound like.  I explained that I love the fullness of old recordings, of large orchestras but also wanted the clean sound that comes with modern recordings.  The arranger totally got my point and simply said 'just tell me which songs you want and I'll fix it for you'.  

Mounir (tambourine player) messing around at the keyboard while actual keyboard player Amir laughs :) 

Mounir (tambourine player) messing around at the keyboard while actual keyboard player Amir laughs :) 


Choosing the songs became a challenge, since there are so many amazing songs and only so much time.  But finally I narrowed it down to twelve tracks including a new entrance composition I had composed for me when I was working in Egypt.  Then I made the mistake of reaching out to friends on Facebook to see if people would prefer songs with lyrics or without.  The answer I got was an overwhelming BOTH!  All of a sudden my twelve tracks turned into 20 since I included two versions, one with lyrics and one instrumental, of 8 of the songs.  

The violin section: Mohamed, Otelo and Samir. 

The violin section: Mohamed, Otelo and Samir. 

The following weeks I spent sometimes up to eight hours a day in the studio which was a mixture of totally thrilling and completely dull.  It was thrilling seeing the amount of musician come in, string players, flute, drummers, keyboard, kanoun, nay, the singer, the chours; the thought of the fullness of sound it would produce was great.  However, at times the repetitiveness and tediousness combined with constant cigaret smoking made it boring and toxic! After a while I secluded myself in a smoke free room where I could hear the music but not have to breath in the smoke.  Once in a while I would just run in the studio to make a comment like 'don't use that sound on the keyboard' or 'wait, make sure you repeat that verse'. 

At the end of the day when all was said and done I can say that I'm truly happy with the end product and proud to give it the title 'Sabriye Miye Miye' which means 100% Sabriye.  The phrase started as a nickname back stage by the very musician who helped me find the studio and arranger and it felt like an obvious choice for the title; the album has some of my favorite songs recorded just the way I like them!

To get your copy click here.  
And here is a little sound sample 

5 Tips and Tricks

Over the years of performing I've collected a few practical tips for dancers when performing.  I decided to write them down and share them with you :) 
Warning: the titles get a little cheesy! 

1. Bangles-Beware:  
Bangles be beautiful but they are a potential pit fall because it's so easy for stuff to get caught in them and they are always moving around so it can be a distraction…. but they are so pretty!  From of disastrous experience I've learned that if you are going to dance with a cane (and you are right handed) wear your bangles on the left arm.  It's easy for the cane to slip down into the bangles or if your arm is down for the bangle to slip down over the cane. This leads to the cane getting caught at best and at worst that it un-lodges then flies out of your hand and hits an audience member.   When doing sword I often need to bump the sword with my left wrist in which case I switch my bangles over to the right again…many things to keep track of!  Also, if you are going to play cymbals and where bracelets make sure you practice in them first so you get used to how is feels as you play. 

2. Khaleeji is for Studs:
Ok that was a lame pun, but my point is that if you are going to swing your head around and get your hair flying, I recommend not choosing those long dangly earrings.  Studs are much more practical or else you will end up like I have many times- cutting the earrings out of your hair.  Small hoops work too as do short tear drop style earring.  On a side note, it's also worth mentioning that there is a certain size of hoop that can get caught up over your ear,  try to pick ones that are either too small to do that or too big to get stuck.  


3. Decaf Bellydance:
There is no way of getting around sweating completely but one tip is to not drink caffeine before your show.  In fact I've found that anything that my body wants to detox will make me sweat more, including caffeine, alcohol and even medication (this I know from my many sick nights on stage!) 

4. Hair- the Bigger the Better:
Related to the topic of sweat I've also figured out that a curly hairdo is better for those inclined to sweat.  Here is my entirely unscientific rationalization- if you have straight hair the sweat just runs straight down it, so if you have thin hair it will soon look stringy.  If you curl your hair (warning this gets a little gross) the sweat kind of gets trapped up there and your hair won't look sweaty as fast.  This is also why if I have two sets I'll go for a curly look if not for both at least for the second.  Curly is simply more forgiving.  

5. Skirt Skills:
I work a lot in skirts that are slit along both legs so there are certain techniques to keep everyone from seeing your shorts when you turn.  Sadly I learned these after I wore a circle skirt with heavy beading on the hem so each time I turned the beads by centrifugal force lifted up…. way past my knees.  

So trick 1, when preparing to turn use the prep to catch one side of the skirt and pull it across you as your turn covering your legs.  

Trick 2, use the preparation to turn to catch the center panels between your legs, you may show a lot of thigh turning this way but at least it will only be thigh.