Suhaila Salimpour’s Level 1 intensive

The train was driving excruciating slow through the Belgian landscape while the minutes ticked away. I was supposed to check in around 18.00 with my AirBnB host in Bruxelles. The appartment was a couple of streets down from the studio where Maelle hosted Suhaila Salimpour and I couldn’t wait to emerge myself in her level 1 intensive! When we finally arrived at Bruxelles Central station, I dragged my red suitcase and my pregnant belly over to the metro station. I just had the twenty week chek-up with my little one and she was doing great. Besides from getting tired sooner, low blood pressure and overall loss of stamina, I felt great. Bring it on!

Suhaila in my livingroom

My first meetup with Suhaila was approximately twelve years ago, when I popped one of her fitness fusion dvds in my dvd player. Though the dvds are geared toward non-bellydancers looking for a fun work-out, I really enjoyed the structured breakdown and the mash-up of yoga, pilates, jazz and bellydance. I used the dvds as an addition to my bellydance training program and the faces on the dvd became more familiar with every glute squeeze. A dance friend of mine decided to get certified in her method about eight years ago, and has worked her way up to Suhaila level 3 and Jamilla level 1 by now. She travelled to the USA every year for a week of hard training and she recommended getting to know Suhaila’s methods.

Screenshot from Suhaila's fitness fusion dvd
Screenshot from Suhaila’s fitness fusion dvd

My first workshop with the real life Suhaila was in 2011, at Leyla Jouvana’s  annual bellydance festival in Duisburg. The big dance studio was filled to the brim with eager students. Suhiala had two dancers who were already certified assist her in the class, with students ranging from professional dancer to absolute beginner. Chapeau for her drill format that allows different levels to drill simultanously without getting in each other’s way. The workshop was packed into a full festival program and though it gave me a taste, I didn’t feel like I wanted more. I am not very fond of crowded studio’s and random bits of information. If I was to take classes with Suhaila again, I wanted to do an intensive so I could get all the puzzle pieces and put them into the bigger picture.

Off to Bruxelles

That’s how I ended up in a yoga studio in Bruxelles. The dancer who brought Suhaila to Bruxelles, Maelle, is level 3 Suhaila certified (Newsflash! She just upgraded to level 5 as of end of July 2015. Congratulations!). She’s been hosting Suhaila for five years now, making it possible for dancers in the Benelux area (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), France and Germany to certify close to home. She is a lovely dancer and her language skills came in handy during the workshop.  It’s nice that every country has it’s own language, but it takes a lot of skill to translate between English and French on the fly!

We started each day with a warm-up, where I recognized some of the exercises fromn the dvds. It includes glute squeezes and squats to warm up the big miscles in the legs, and ribcage isolations and arms to get the upper body ready to go. I am really fond of the short stretch sequence at the end of the warm-up as my body always goes: ‘oooh, this feels good!’. And off we went, diving into the material.

The intensive

Someone asked me if I could give a quick intro to the Suhaila method in one or two hours, but I can’t. I simply can’t. We needed over fifteen hours to cover her methodology on the basic bellydance vocabulary. The feet patterns lean heavily on jazz and ballet. I highly recommend getting ballet training because it’s fun and because ballet is something that needs to be trained to get ingrained in your body. It will greatly help with remembering choreography, weight changes, lines and posture. We dida lot of drilling, layering isolations on top of foot patterns and on day three adding finger cymbal patterns. It was mentally and physically challenging but if you are used to dancing every day, it is doable. I highly recommend bringing enough water, healthy snacks and a notepad or dance journal to take notes.

The isolations that we covered are the same ones I teach in my beginners class, but dissected and structured to make sure we consciously trained both sides of the body, determine the exact starting and end point of the movement and control the speed and timing. One of the hardest things in bellydance is to get a group to move synchronized. With Suhaila technique, it is possible to give very exact cues which makes it easier to get everybody on the same page.

Well prepared
Well prepared 🙂

To certify or not to certify?

At the end of the course, it came down to the question that I left open until the very end. Did I want to certify for level 1? Part of me thought that due to pregnancy I wouldn’t be able to but physically I was feeling great. However, I chose to not go for the certification at this time. My main reasons are that from a business point of perspective, I’d be spending a whole lot of money on something that won’t be making me any money. In the past ten years I’ve performed and taught bellydance without certification and I got a steady (but small) income from my dance activities. Our tax department told me that it was better to not be in the chamber of commerce because I was spending more time on administration instead of actually dancing. I don’t see that changing any time soon. The exam alone was over 200 euro, plus the continuing cost of workshops and classes is something I can’t justify for myself the next two years.

My second reason is that I am an ambitious overachiever. When I am doing something, I want to do it right. Certification means spending an x amount of time per year on Suhaila classes and workshops. With the little one on the way, I don’t see myself flying out to festivals and intensives much, and I’ll have limited practice time at home.

At a workshop with Randa Kamal a couple of years ago, she stressed that dancing every day is really important if you are passionate about bellydance. To make dance a part of your life, even if it’s bopping around in your living room to your favorite song. As my life is getting increasingly more hectic, I rather invest in connecting with my emotions and enjoying bellydance instead of planning drills and workshops within one format.

Suhaila, me and the little one
Suhaila, me and the little one

After a satisfying and intensive three days, I took the train home to the warm embrace of my husband and an excited dog who wanted to lick my face and play. It was good to be there, and it is good to be home again.

I am  a professional bellydancer and costume-a-holic living in the Netherlands. I started dancing over fifteen years ago and never stopped: the music keeps drawing me in. I teach weekly bellydance classes in Utrecht, the Netherlands though I am currently on a maternity leave break in anticipation of our first child. If you enjoyed this post and like to kept in the loop, please like Kyria Bellydance on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!


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