I am one of the lucky ones. A dancer who has had the opportunity to learn from some of what I consider to be the greatest belly dance teachers of our time. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel gratitude for these woman who have inspired and educated me in my dance journey. The news of Jamila’s passing left a stunned silence across the globe this past week as many of us mourned the loss of belly dance’s greatest gem.
Every budding belly dancer should know of the Salimpour lineage. I was in love with Suhaila before I ever met her, but the moment I stepped foot into a class with her, I was immediately hooked. I wanted to absorb everything that this amazing woman had to offer and so I dedicated myself to training in the Suhaila format.
In those years, Jamila was around the school quite a bit. She was giving classes and was also there as a guide and resource. She was inspiring, witty and ever so wise. Jamila knew about my background in anthropology and we had long and interesting discussions about the roots of belly dance. She shared a very interesting essay with me about Allat – divine female goddesses that were worshipped in pre-islamic Arabia. Truly she was a wealth of knowledge about many many things related to history of the Middle East and North Africa.
Weekly on Saturday mornings, Jamila would teach a badass finger cymbal class. This woman was amazing with the cymbals, something that she has passed down into the Salimpour lineage. I had the good fortune to be her assistant in these classes for some time as a person to embody some of the dance movement while she gave the instruction. I treasure these moments in my dance history as some of my finest, working alongside a true master of the craft.
Jamila was also a woman who studied the ethnicities she was representing in dance. She collected ancient jewelry from tribes across India and the Middle East and she knew their history, symbolism and value. Jamila knew that I had spent a year abroad studying south asian cultural anthropology in India and gave me 2 exquisite silver pendants from her collection of tribal jewelry. One of Lord Shiva in his famous image as Nataraja – Lord of the Dance and the other of Shiva and his divine consort Parvati. I treasure these gifts and wear them with great pride.
I had the honor and the privilege to be a part of Bal Anat – the original tribal belly dance company directed by Jamila in my days the Suhaila Salimpour School of Dance (SSSD as it was known back then). The dances of Bal Anat are as diverse as the cultures and countries they represent. Thanks to Suhaila, Bal Anat is still alive and strong even now and is coming up on its 50th anniversary.
Without a doubt I can say that my life would never be where it is today without Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. In mourning her loss, we certainly cannot forget what an amazing treasure she was to the world and how many countless lives she inspired through her love and dedication to the art of belly dance. Her light and lineage will continue to shine on through her daughter Suhaila and granddaughter Isabella as well as through the lives of all those who had the privilege to know her.
Thank you Jamila. You are forever in our hearts.