Jamila Salimpour: A Salute

There has been a great deal of attention placed on the origin of Tribal style belly dance in the United States these days (for the historically curious of which I am…I’m a dancing bookworm, what can I say?) Almost all of the credit typically goes to Carolena Nericcio, the founder of American Tribal Style, ATS for short. We did a great feature on her in our Spring 2011 issue of Fuse:

And while it IS true that Carolena created ATS, there is another woman who sparked the so-called Tribal revolution in the Americas, Jamila Salimpour. Jamila is the mother of Suhaila Salimpour, a fantastic belly dancer in her own right. She was also the teacher of Katarina Burda and Masha Archer, who later taught and inspired Carolena. So, if Carolena is the mother of ATS, you might say Jamila is the Great Grandmama of the Tribal style as a whole.

Jamila Salimpour has  influenced hundreds of dancers and musicians over the past 50 years.   Known for demystifying Middle Eastern movements and finger cymbal patterns, Jamila created the foundation for a notation language that is most prominent in the Suhaila Salimpour Format used in the U.S. today.

Jamila Salimpour began her performing career at the age of 16 in the Ringling Brothers Circus (how freaking cool is that!?!?!?) as an acrobatic dancer.  She had 5 elephants in her act. Her father had been in a Navy Station in Egypt in l910.  As a little girl, Jamila had her first lessons in Middle Eastern Dance in Egypt.

In her teenage years she continued her studies by watching Egyptian star,  Tahia Carioca movies. By 1946 she was dancing at family and cultural events.  Jamila was an avid researcher and continued to study Middle Eastern music and dance, and by the early 1950s was appearing in ethnic clubs in Los Angeles.  She danced at and owned the famous San Francisco Bagdad Cabaret.  She was the first woman to own a Middle Eastern club in California.  Her first classes began in 1949 and Jamila began to develop her unique method of verbal breakdown and terminology for her movements of which most belly dancers still use today.

When she discovered the outdoor Renaissance Faires, she decided to form her own version of Middle Eastern entertainment that was very separate from the current nightclub cabaret dance scene.  Jamila drew from her past experience with the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus and created a fascinating dance village of live music, belly dancers, snakes, swords, & tattoos. She named her dance company, Bal Anat (Dance of the Mother Goddess) and “tribal” or “ethnic” style as it was called at the time, was born.  Jamila herself has admitted that her troupe theatre was part fantasy, quasi-historical and her own invention.  But this look and format was perfect for fairs, museums, and places where families gathered.

Historians agree that the Tribal Fusion style was conceived, nurtured and born by Jamila Salimpour in San Francisco, California, in the 1960’s.  Bal Anat was the original version of Tribal.

You can see a great deal of her creation alive and well today in the dress and dance styles of women like Rachel Brice and Zoe Jakestwo of my personal belly dance inspirations.

Jamila has trained innumerable teachers and performers from all over the world, and produced week-long seminars and festivals, often co-teaching with her daughter Suhaila Salimpour.  Suhaila, first danced at the age of 2 with the Bal Anat Troupe.

Much Appreciation and Love directed to the Great Grandmama of the Dance.



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