Suhaila directs during a dress rehearsal of “Reunited.”
What to Watch For
Like nearly all of Suhaila’s efforts, Sheherezade is not just an artistic venture, but it is also an educational one. At first, she wanted to take someone who maybe didn’t understand Arabic music and belly dance and “take them on a journey.” But today, we can look at the show from the perspective as students of the Salimpour School, focusing on a different element depending on our level of training.
Dancers working on or at Level 2 can look at the technical execution of the dances not only on Suhaila’s body but on the bodies of the ensemble. Suhaila notes that most of the ensemble, of not all, were only Level 2 certified at the time. She says, “Level 2 really is enough. I created all of Sheherezade with Level 2 dancers.” That’s not to say that a dancer should stop at Level 2, but it certainly gives a dancer enough skill to be quite competent as a performer.
Level 3 dancers can study the 4-minute long vibration performed by Suhaila in the show’s second scene, “The Capture,” as the company performs “The Stomach Dance” over a consistent, rhythmic Suzy-Q around her.
Members of the recently-created Salimpour Collectives should take special note of the ensemble work. Suhaila and the Dance Company spent hours refining and matching arm and leg lines, staging, and making sure that everyone was on the correct downbeat at the right time.
And, of course, many of the choreographies remain core elements in the Salimpour School repertoire: “Yanna Yanna,” “Bongo Funk,” and “Accessible” are required for dancers testing for Suhaila Format Level 4. Three of the pieces also appear in Bal Anat: “The Capture” (also known as “The Stomach Dance”), “In the Beginning” (The Mother Goddess or Mask Dance), and “Edge of Survival” (Sword Dance). “The Harem” (The Cymbal Dance) is now assigned to Salimpour Collectives around the world for them to learn and perform. Other pieces are not as commonly seen today, such as “The Marketplace,” “Kama Sutra,” and “Arabian Gold.”
Sheherezade Dances On
Although the show never secured a regular running in Las Vegas—something that Suhaila and her team were actively pursuing—she did receive recognition back in the San Francisco Bay Area.
She was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for Individual Performance, a prestigious dance award for performers and producers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Typically, dancers are not nominated for shows that only run for one night, as Sheherezade did in San Francisco. And never before had a belly dancer been nominated. It’s possible that if the show had run for multiple nights, that the entire show might have been nominated.
Today, Sheherezade lives on in video recording, and in the choreographies that students in the school still perform regularly. These dances survive in our bodies, as we share our stories with a new generation of audiences and dancers.