Salimpour School is proud to introduce one of our resident instructors here at the Salimpour Studio, Abigail Keyes.

Abigail Keyes was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she also was a competitive figure skater in both freestyle and ice dance. She also studied ballroom dance and ballet to supplement her skating. As a child, she always had an affinity for all things “Middle Eastern.” When she was 13 and on a family trip to Washington, DC, she insisted that her parents take her to see an exhibit on illuminated Qur’ans from the 15th Century at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries. As a senior in high school, she started learning Arabic.

As an undergraduate student at Princeton University, she took classes with Kim Leary offered through the university’s gym and danced for two years with the university’s Middle Eastern dance company (then called Raks Odalisque). Kim’s classes introduced Abigail to elements of the Suhaila and Jamila formats, as well as various stylizations of Middle Eastern dance. Academically, she focused her studies on Islamic art and history, women in Islam, and mid-to-late 20th-century US-Arab political relations. Her second Junior Paper focused on the psychological relief experienced by women who practice the zar ritual in Egypt, Sudan, and the Arabian Peninsula and won the F. O. Kelsey Award. In 2000, she worked for a non-profit advocating for anti-discrimination against Arabs and Arab-run businesses and lobbied on Capitol Hill for an Arab race/ethnicity designation on US Census forms. In 2002, she graduated from Princeton with a BA in Near Eastern Studies, and was immediately hired by the United States Government as a political analyst in Middle Eastern affairs.

When living in Washington, DC, she performed regularly in Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha lounges. She was also a key figure in the development and dissemination of tribal and fusion styles throughout the DC area. She taught dance at two of the area’s top studios: Joy of Motion Dance Center and Saffron Dance. In 2006, she took her first certification workshop with Suhaila, testing for and passing Level 1.

In 2011, she moved back to California, ending up in Berkeley, and only 10 minutes away from the Salimpour “mothership.” For over four years, she took at least five classes a week, training regularly, and chipping away at her certifications. She earned her Level 3 (Suhaila Format) in 2012, Level 3 (Jamila) and Level 4 (Suhaila) in 2014, and Level 4 (Jamila) in 2015. She is currently earning her Level 5 certification in both formats, and is now teaching four classes a week at the studio, aiding Suhaila as a teaching assistant, training new instructors of the Suhaila and Jamila formats, and giving master classes and workshops throughout the United States. In addition, she is the author of the recently-published Salimpour Compendium, Vol. 1, a textbook on Middle Eastern dance history and culture for students of the Salimpour School.

This past spring, she earned her Master of Arts in Dance Studies at Mills College, in Oakland, California. There she focused on dance history, pedagogy, and somatics, including teacher training in the Stott Pilates method. Her Master’s thesis focused on the Suhaila Salimpour format as a non-Orientalist approach to learning and teaching belly dance to non-Middle Eastern dance students. She was awarded the Mills College Dance Department’s E. L. Weigand Award for academic achievement this past April.

She loves the structure, the community, and the support she receives at the Salimpour School, as well as the sense of achievement and accomplishment conveyed through its testing and certification program. She also believes that the Salimpour School is one of the only schools of belly dance with a successful and proven curriculum that emphasizes not only strong technical foundations but also a deep love and understanding of the Arabic music to which we perform.