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Stand By Your Women

In honor of International Women's Day 2010, I wanted to raise awareness about a very important woman in my past- Suhaila Salimpour. Suhaila is an internationally accomplished dancer and instructor. She is a visionary for a method of bellydance that enables women to empower themselves through immersion.

Yes, I do prefer to use bellydance as one word, because as an art form it is whole and encompassing. When you are bellydancing, there is no space. Dancing requires isolation among different parts of the body as they move simultaneously, but there is It makes you whole by inviting the internal conversations you need to have with yourself about how to experience whole sensuality.

I don't dance anymore (actively take classes and occasionally perform). I haven't in quite some time, but my journey with bellydance is a treasured memory that she was part of for 6 years.

During these years, I observed the the effect Suhaila's method and philosophy had on me as well as countless other women. Because of her accomplishments and skill, young women are drawn to her like moths to the light. Perhaps there was a bit of a longing to have her grace and beauty, but for me what interested and kept me there was the need to work on body image.
Suhaila's system of dance is designed to make you strong by breaking down bellydance into key foundational pieces that get layered and built upon in a system of learning that now, I believe, encompasses 4 or 5 levels of certification--including teaching and choreography. During the brief time I was certified at the first level, there was a written exam and a practical exam.
As part of her ever-expanding ways of getting her teaching out there and available around the world, Suhaila recently put out an interesting audio interview (she calls it a ChitChat) about Body Image. In the first few moments, she articulates the inherent contradiction bellydance offers to us as women: a dance form that encourages us to celebrate our bodies whatever their shape may be alongside a culture of common "inner demons" that spew negativity and criticism in our own heads about our bodies- ultimately impacting our self-esteem (or lack thereof) and ability to love ourselves. It is an interesting listen. She is still an inspiring woman, though I am now connected from afar.

I originally hoped that later this month I would get a moment to capture Suhaila at her latest and greatest (performing at Rakkasah 2010) but in sharing this with you, I realize the most important image to share with you is one of me. This photo was taken while I was dancing at Rakkasah in 1998. I wasn't yet studying with Suhaila, but for me bellydance was a friend, companion and personal identity that captured my life in my 20s. As that decade came to a close, for some reason, so did bellydance.
This is in tribute to Suhaila's work making women strong vessels for dance creation and expression.

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