When I was thirteen, I wanted to take private dance lessons with Yuki, a well known jazz teacher in Castro Valley. I begged Yuki to let me take classes. Probably thinking I wasn’t all that motivated, she said she could make space for me at 7am on Saturday mornings. So every Saturday, my mother would drive me to my jazz lessons, having to leave the house at 6am to make it in time for my 7am classes.

Taking with Yuki was a light bulb moment for me. I was incredibly inspired by Yuki’s phrasing and movement quality, and I began seeing jazz a bit differently. By this time, I already had ten years of jazz in my body and even more of belly dance, and the two dance forms had started fusing and melding naturally. And I already noticed that this organic development was happening. After taking with Yuki, I started playing a game: “how do I bellyize this move?”

In 1980, when I was 14 years old, I choreographed to Joumana. Every day after school over the course of about a week, I choreographed the piece in our living room (on a white shag room-sized rug), watching my reflection in the window. This choreography really shows how belly dance and jazz were fusing in my dance.

Joumana, Hayati and Maharjan are three choreographic projects which represent my best collaborations with my mother, Jamila Salimpour. We were at our most connected creatively for these pieces. When my mother would mention a general concept or quality or mood, I was able to create it in dance; it was like a telepathic connection between us. And it was for these projects that she completely trusted my instincts. My training in ballet and jazz expanded my mother’s belly dance format exponentially, and she could see how the training was necessary to realize the ideas she had in her head that she, herself, was not capable of fulfulling. Jamila never wanted to limit her students or me, so she was supportive of me taking the dance further and encouraged me to do so.

In 1980 my mother and Amina organized a dance show at the Margaret Jenkins Dance Studio in San Francisco, and that was where I first performed my choreography to Joumana. Then, in 1983, I auditioned for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and was selected to perform as the first belly dancer included in this prestigious event. The three related performances can be seen at the links below.

•1980 Debut of Suhaila’s Choreography to Joumana (view here)
•1983 Suhaila’s Joumana Audition, SF Ethnic Dance Festival (view here)
•1983 Suhaila’s Joumana Performance, SF Ethnic Dance Festival (view here)