Building Community Through Shared Goals
As the Salimpour School has grown and expanded over the years, little enclaves of students have popped up all around the world. These communities had first been centered around Suhaila’s longtime sponsors, such as in Florida, Taiwan, and Belgium. And as Suhaila and her Level 5 instructors build their student bases, even more groups of students have popped up, now in Australia, Canada, and even New Caledonia.
Naturally, these students wanted to dance together and to perform Salimpour choreographies, inspiring them to challenge themselves and learn new material. With a shared movement language and nomenclature, as well as similar goals and motivations, it just seemed right to create performance ensembles anchored in Salimpour format.
Learning the Repertoire
But before the Salimpour School became truly global, there was the Suhaila Dance Company. Since the late 1990s, Suhaila continually created and set work on these dancers, adding to her catalog of dozens of choreographies. And while company members had been learning her work, other long-distance students hadn’t necessarily been able to do the same. They didn’t have regular access to Suhaila, and might learn one choreography a year at a multi-level workshop.
After Suhaila discontinued the multi-level workshops (and even before then), Suhaila noticed that students were focused so much on learning and running the certification choreographies that they weren’t taking advantage of or learning other dances in her vast and diverse repertoire. And, by then, the online class website was full of choreographies appropriate for dancers at a variety of technical levels.
Suhaila says, “You wouldn’t go study with the Martha Graham School without exploring her body of work, or study with a painter without ever seeing their paintings,” so it only makes sense that dancers in the Salimpour School are expected to learn Suhaila’s choreographies.
She also felt that if dancers in the program learned these other choreographies, they would have an easier time learning not only the certification material, but also with their overall training. It would help them “cross-train” within the format with different music, sentiments, and phrasing.
So even though choreographies were available to learn, there were, perhaps, too many to choose from! Where would a student start? How would they know which dances to learn first? And what if they wanted to perform them with other dancers?
Introducing… The Salimpour Collectives
Today there are over twenty Salimpour Collectives. There are even collectives of 1—such as in Tennessee and Chico (CA)—where a single dancer just wanted to have guidance and direction and feel connected to the school in more than certification.
Each Collective operates under the guidance of one of our Level 5 instructors, who are the Collective Leaders. Many of the Collectives also have a local Choreography Captain, who is in charge of running rehearsals, cleaning up dances, and making sure that everyone is held accountable, training, and learning the dances as they are taught on the online videos. It’s up to the Captain and their respective group to decide when and where to rehearse and for how long. Some rehearse together every week, but other groups rehearse only when they have a show together, because the dancers live quite far from one another. For Collectives that have members who are newer to the school, a Level 5 dancer will be both Captain and Leader.
Suhaila assigns sets of choreography for each Collective to learn, usually for the entire year, and these pieces depend on the overall level of the dancers in the collective. Collectives with dancers newer to the certification program will learn simpler (but by no means easy) dances such as “Princess of Cairo” and “Ismaouni.” Others have been assigned more challenging works such as the “Unveiled” drum solo and “Nebtidi Minein al-Hikaya” by Stacey Lizette.
Showcasing the Work
In the early years of the Collectives, most dancers often just wore our signature “Scrunchy Butt” pants and a top, and maybe a colorful hip scarf. The Collectives showcase the work itself—the body in movement to music—not necessarily a particular aesthetic or costume. By eliminating the attention paid to costuming, dancers are more free to explore the dances and the audiences are more drawn to the dance, too.
But this year, Debbie of D. Webb Designs in New York, provided custom-made separates for every member of a Salimpour Collective. These bronze skirts, pants, and tops unify the Collectives under a specific look. And, now when a member of one Collective wants to dance with another, they don’t have to worry about what costume to wear. They already have matching looks that look good on everyone. Each group is free to embellish their look with belts, body chains, and accessories.
But dancers can certainly still wear those Scrunchy Butt pants and a top if they want!
Developing Essential Performance Skills
Even though belly dance is traditionally a solo dance form, learning to work in ensemble is a critical and essential skill for any practitioner.
Being a company member teaches Collective members how to operate under a director, be accountable for learning and practicing, to show up to rehearsals prepared and on time, and to communicate with our fellow ensemble members.
And through their experience with the Collectives, the Choreography Captains develop their skills as leaders and company directors, and they are empowered to make critical decisions about casting and staging.
Dancing with a Collective develops other important skills, too. “It’s helped me get comfortable with performance without the pressure of having to present my own work, says Jane, a member of the Texas Salimpour Collective under the guidance of Level 5 dancer Stacey Lizette. “Learning a whole set of choreographies each year has made it easier for me to pick up new combos and develop my muscle memory,” says Jane.
Dancing with Like-Minded People
Ultimately, though, the Collectives give Salimpour School students an organized means of dancing and performing with like-minded people. And that helps foster a culture of community, accountability, and focus.
“Even though in the Salimpour program you do a lot of training by yourself,” says Amanda Robertson, a member of the Salimpour Collective in Edmonton, Canada, “it’s so nice to have a support group and the social aspect of doing something really challenging with other people.”
Beatrice in Atlanta, Georgia, says that when she performs with others, “I want to be the very best I can be in representing the Salimpour school, which makes me hungrier to continue to focus and progress with my training.” And Leslie in Edmonton, Canada, says that because she does most of her training alone, weekly Collective rehearsals “are the highlight of my week.” She says she has so much respect for her fellow Collective members because of their hard work and dedication. “I love seeing our growth,” she adds.
Do you want to join a Salimpour Collective, or maybe you’d like to start your own? Email Rachel George, our Certification Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org