Happy New Year from the Salimpour School! As we head into 2018, we want you to start the year with your best foot forward… fulltime downbeat right. *wink*

As you make your New Year’s resolutions, we know that you’re setting goals for your dance practice. Maybe that includes taking a weeklong workshop at the “Mothership,” certifying for the next test level, or keeping better track of your personal progress.

To help you get there, Rachel George, our Certification Coordinator, works with all of the students in our school to help them achieve their dance goals.

She’s been a student of the Salimpour School since 1999, and she was one of the first of our dancers to earn Level 5 certification. Here Rachel talks about her certification journey and how she coaches students to be the best dancers they can be.

Working Hard While Having Fun

Rachel and Aziza at the “Mothership” with Suhaila and Jamila

From the moment I started in the Salimpour School in 1999, I knew this is where I was supposed to train. The structure and logic of the Suhaila Format appeal to my organized side, and the free, groovy and jam spirit of the Jamila Format appeals to my (not so often seen) “party woohoo” side.

Best of both worlds!

Training for Dance, Training for Life

Both formats have shaped my dancing in many ways, both professionally and personally.

When I first started with the School, I was dabbling on the competition circuit. I wanted to overcome by fear of “judgement,” and get constructive feedback on my dance skills.

So, at my first competition, I used the Level 2 Finger Cymbal Drum Solo as my finale piece.

And I won!

Salimpour students sweep the podium at Belly Dancer of the Universe in 2010.

Now, you might be thinking, “Does Rachel want us to enter competitions?” Well, I don’t condone competing as a way to showcase your skills or get validation. That said, my training in the School helped me learn that choreography, set a goal of performing and doing it well, and focus on achieving that goal. And, it was more than just a win for me. It was a win for the Salimpour School!

From a personal perspective, there was a time when my life was in total chaos, from relationship to where I was living. I didn’t know what the future held for me.

But what I did know is that the Salimpour School dance community is really strong. When I had to bow out of some performances with the School, I talked to Suhaila, explaining what I was going through. She said something that has always stayed with me, and I’ve often shared it with others:

“No matter what happens; men, jobs, life, ups and downs, these will come and go. Your dance family will always be here.”

That meant so much to me, and it means a lot to many dancers in this School. Our community feels like a family. I think that is so beautiful!

My experiences with the School have helped me build a strong foundation in my dance and in my life. And I can move forward in whatever direction I decide to go.

Setting Long-term Goals while Training Long Distance

Like many of our students, I study and train long distance. And I know many of you know that it’s not easy to stay motivated to train when there’s nobody nearby to keep you accountable. When I first started, I didn’t have anyone to rehearse with, and I wasn’t surrounded by other dancers willing to put in the time or the effort. A lot of other dancers in my area didn’t want to train at the Salimpour School because “it’s hard.”

So, sometimes it was very lonely. Midnight practices at the gym, learning choreography from the notes only (we didn’t have videos back then), struggling with syncopated cymbal patterns… which, for me, a non-music person, was cray-cray!

I kept asking myself: Would I ever finish? Would this even matter? How will this apply to my life?

On top of all that, I also had to work with my physical limitation: I’ve got some pretty gnarly scoliosis.

As I worked my way through the Salimpour program, I had to constantly remember the reason I was training. I wanted the bigger picture, to succeed where many have not yet gone, to be the best I could be, to challenge my ability.

Rachel and Vilia backstage at their Jamila Level 4 Choreography Recital this past December.

All of this was was my path. It wasn’t for anyone else, and not for any other reason other than it was just what I had to do. Keeping all of that in the front of my mind is how I was able to achieve my Level 5 from that long distance study. It can be done!

But now that I’ve been teaching in my area, I work with an army of strong dancers who are excited to put in the time and do the work. But it hasn’t always been that way. I had to do the work, too.

The School has added a ton of training and learning tools since the days when I was training long distance. We can connect with students through Skype, online classes, workshops with Level 5 instructors, local classes in our satellite schools, and so many other resources. It takes our training to a whole other level.

If you have ever asked yourself the same questions I did, or felt like you are just too far away, you’re not alone! The School is here for you, no matter where you live.

Guiding You Through Your Certification Journey

Since 2015, I’ve been acting as Certification Coordinator. But what does that mean?

I help students in the school plan their training, and I answer a lot of questions. From the student who is beginning to prepare for their first Level 1 test to the dancer who is polishing their required choreographies to test for Level 4, I help guide them through the process. I help students:

Students also ask me about larger concerns, such as working around injuries and how they can best represent their Salimpour School in their classes and performances.

Basically, I’m your go-to person if you have questions about how to start, and how to keep going.

Seeing the Process as a Student

Guiding other dancers through the certification process has shaped me into an truly active member of the school. I get to see the process as a student as well as a coach. I’m so inspired by our students’ commitment to the work and their strong connection to the School. Our students dedicate time to training outside of personal lives, families, children, career, relationships, medical conditions, and so much more. Because they love it.

It keeps me motivated, too. No matter how many hurdles life throws your way, you can always dance and grow.

Shaping the Salimpour Program

Based on my own experience, I’ve been able to develop my ability to help others.

I also get to shape the program, tweaking areas that need development, and polishing others based on my own training process as well as feedback I get from students.

Some of the projects I’m really excited about include expanding testing and performance opportunities for dancers who are training long-distance:

  • To help students prepare for higher-level certification, I’ve been organizing testing pre-requisites as well as our video evaluation process.
  • You might have seen our Salimpour Performance Collectives popping up all over the world. I’ve been helping organize these groups, as well as guiding them through their performance goals.
  • And, I’m so excited to be beta testing our new online testing courses for Suhaila and Jamila Format Level 1. This is epic for those peeps studying from afar!

Developing the Salimpour Legacy

Being the Salimpour Certification Coordinator means being an active part of the Salimpour Legacy. It is an honor not only to be involved in the lives of so many students all striving to be the best dancers they can be, but also while working so closely with Suhaila as she further develops the program.

Because I am tapped into so many different elements and angles of the School Formats, it helps me to see the training process, behind the scenes planning and development paths on a different level. It’s like seeing 3-dimensional version as opposed to an image on a page. I get to see the whole process from start to finish and all the goodies in between that make it such a great well rounded program.

I can’t help but feel lucky to be a part of it all!

About Rachel George (SL5/JL3)

Based in Southern California, Rachel George is San Diego’s hub for Salimpour School licensed classes and workshops. She’s also an award-winning performer, having won the titles of “Belly Dancer of the Year” and “Bellydancer of the Universe.” Rachel continues to perform and train with the Salimpour School of Dance, and is working on earning her Jamila Salimpour Level 5 certification. If you’re in the certification program, you can reach her at salimpourcertification (at) gmail (dot) com.