The end of 2017, brought the passing of a pioneer of tribal fusion bellydance long before the term was coined –the one and only Jamila Salimour. There is a lot to say about Jamila and how she shaped American style, interpretation and presentation of bellydance over the past several decades in America.
In learning of her death, my mind jumped to the one and only time in 2009, that I had an opportunity to learn from her at the Salimpour School in Oakland. It was an adjunct workshop to the annual San Fransisco Mecca Immersion, a tribal fusion intensive in San Fransisco, taught by both Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour. It was a zyll workshop and she played her giant saucer-sized zylls effortlessly, leading us through complex patterns. I had been playing zylls a couple of years and enjoyed the challenge, savoured the experience knowing I had a hell of a lot more work to do to feel comfortable with this instrument.
I became interested in tribal fusion bellydance around 2008 after dancing for a few years learning Arabic as well as cabaret styles from my teachers. While learning from Roula Said (the Salimpours were among her teachers in her travels to San Fransisco) at Om Laila for a few years, I had joined the student troupe under the direction of Megan Shields. Here I was exposed me to what she used to refer to as ‘tribalesque’ –the elements of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion that she brought into a more classical bellydance foundation. Once I discovered some more about this style of dance as well as what it means to fuse dance styles, I started to get more curious about its origins. That led me to a study trip to my first SF Mecca Immersion in 2008, where I learned that tribal fusion is a branch off of American Tribal Style group improv, the codified group dance created by Caroleena Nericcio-Bolhman of Fat Chance Bellydance. I stumbled my way through her workshop, trying to wrap my head around the cueing system, but noticing all of the common ground of vocabulary that shaped tribal fusion: elements of bellydance, flamenco and classical Indian dances. The raised strong arms, floreos, rhythmic isolations and fluid hips swaying to music from traditional to electronic. I was in love and fell hard. I went back for more in 2009, this time for the extended intermediate track of SF Mecca Immersion.
Its coming up on ten years since I first set foot in San Fransisco to explore dance roots. Some of that journey has been shared through this blog. I am fortunate to have teachers in Toronto who have learned and continue to learn from the pioneers of ATS/ITS and tribal fusion. I have now been in Serpentina North Ensemble for six years and have none other than the green haired forever goth, Orkideh to thank for the opportunity to delve so much deeper into group improv as well as fusion bellydance. Workshops, intensives, and performance has been a large focus of mine over the past decade I suppose. And we all live in the legacy of our teachers and our teachers’ teachers. So whether or not you got a chance to directly learn from Jamila Salimpour, she is an iconic figure who created the foundation of what we know as tribal fusion.
To other dancers, I love to hear about peoples influences! Please feel free to share in comments, your experiences learning directly or indirectly from the work of Jamila Salimour.