This book—one of our many artistic collaborations—was Vonda’s idea to deliver information that has become second nature to her understanding of both the Sailmpour family as well as this dance form as a whole. Vonda’s first exposure to this dance was with the Jamila Salimpour Vocabulary. As many in her generation of dance student, researching, studying and watching (over, over and again) the great classic belly dancers was the norm of what you did and shared with your dance sisters. She began working directly with our School in the late 1990s. As her love for the art grew, so did her desire to learn about the dance, culture, and history of this beautiful dance form. She wanted to complete her knowledge of the Salimpour Format and “fill in the blanks” including Jamila’s Habibi articles and wonderful stories she heard first hand from Jamila.
Vonda (and I) were surprised at how much knowledge was being lost in the new generation. In 2013, The Salimpour School published the Jamila’s Article Book: Selections of Jamila Salimpour’s Articles Published in Habibi Magazine 1974-1988. Our goal was to use the articles for the students in our School to begin their own research. We quickly found that our students had a difficult time sorting through countless sources and determining whether those were based on true scholarship, conjecture, and, in some cases, a confusing mixture of both.
We decided to create a compendium of topics raised in the Article Book. The goal was to provide a solid, referenced, and verified introduction to topics from which students could continue their own research. Although this book can be used alone, it is important to remember that the scope and selected topics have been limited to those raised in Jamila’s Article Book.
We had our compendium idea, and now we needed to find the right person to sort through the massive number of sources, find the relevant information weigh the information, write concise treatments of topics and and and… Honestly, we wanted to find someone who was skilled in and passionate about both research and dance. Fortunately, one of my long-term students, Abigail Keyes, was available, interested, and motivated to take on the project. Abby has won academic awards for her writing, and she has significant work experience in “critical path” writing. And she did an incredible job of creating this resource.
The first section, the Salimpour Story Part 1 (1926-1985) was compiled and written by Vonda and from the writings by and interviews with Jamila over a decade. Part 1 covers Jamila’s history and major contributions to this dance form through 1985, when she effectively retired upon my high school graduation. This section also gives context to Jamila’s life and choices.
Parts 2-4 were written by Abigail who provides a current treatment of the topics presented in Jamila’s original Habibi articles. From this solid base, students can continue their own research.
The Salimpour School is dedicated to promoting solid instruction in technique and scholarship. Every belly dancer—whether professional, beginning, or even just thinking about taking a class—should read this book and keep it as a primary source of information.
Suhaila Salimpour, August 2015
What you are reading right now is a companion to Jamila’s Article Book, a collection of the articles that Jamila Salimpour wrote for Habibi magazine in the 1970s and 80s, re-published in 2012. As we re-read and collected her articles for the new publication, we realized that the current scholarship on belly dance and its related subjects had increased exponentially since Jamila wrote for Habibi, as well as our understanding of what Jamila calls “Oriental dance.” Jamila herself was not trained as a scholar; she often took large passages of text and re-worded them for her articles, often without citations or bibliographies. She was more interested in sharing the information she had found with her readership, and at the time during which she wrote, that was acceptable.
We also realized that the dancers reading Jamila’s Article Book might have a bevy of questions about the material that Jamila wrote. In an ideal world, everyone would have the time and resources to research the answers to whatever questions they might have, but we understand that there are not only limited hours in the day, but also an overwhelming amount of information available to us, some of it contradictory. Since the time that Jamila wrote for Habibi and today, scholars and researchers have published far more anthropological, critical, and ethnological research on belly dance than was ever available to dancers. In addition, much of the popular information about belly dance is unsubstantiated (what we like to call “Wishtory”). Other resources are so steeped in postmodern critical theory that it is often difficult for the casual, yet curious, reader to comprehend.
Today we have the benefit of over three decades of serious research, as well as the full catalogs of both Habibi and Arabesque magazines. Preeminent scholars immersed themselves in the study of Oriental dance, many in the last fifteen years. The fields of women’s studies, post-colonial studies, and ethnic studies are now far more developed than were in Jamila’s time, and all have overlap with the study of belly dance.
Also, just as the first part of Jamila’s Article Book contains autobiographical articles, we have included in the first section of this book additional information about Jamila Salimpour’s life, culled from months of extensive interviews with her and her daughter Suhaila. What did not make it into her own writing has been preserved here. We hope that these stories bring additional understanding to her journey in dance as well as the era in which she performed and taught her format. We also hope that it helps shed light on the life of this innovative and remarkable woman.
This book can be read on its own, without Jamila’s Article Book. However, we do refer back to it, and hope that you do, too. In addition, we hope that you use this book’s bibliography as a starting point for your own deeper research of Oriental dance and its related cultural and historical subjects. Many of these sources are available on the internet, particularly through Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) and the Internet Archive (archive.org), or through your library (take advantage of Inter-Library Loan, if your local library provides that service).
We intend for this book to not only be a supplement on Jamila’s life, but also a primer on the many historical and cultural subjects that dovetail with belly dance as a practice. Everything here has had some impact on Jamila Salimpour’s format and her relationship with Oriental dance. Subjects here range from introducing Islam, the harem, the ‘awalim and ghawazi, the Ballets Russes, early modern dance, and Little Egypt. You might notice what’s missing: there are no how-to chapters on costuming or makeup, nor are there fanciful articles about the origin of belly dance being found in ancient goddess worship or childbirth. That said, we have made great efforts to make this an objective collection, presenting research from many scholars, historians, dancers, and other experts.
If you are at all familiar with Middle Eastern culture and language, you might notice that our transliteration system is a little inconsistent. For foreign-language words that are more commonly used, such as proper names (Umm Kulthum), or in the news (hijab), we use the more familiar spellings. For words that are less commonly used, we adhere to a more scholarly system of transliterating Arabic script into Roman script, preserving diacritical marks and the distinction between long and short vowels. The Arabic language has letters that have no equivalents in English, and for those sounds that we have no letters for, we use the closest approximation. We italicize nearly all foreign-language words, except proper nouns that appear more commonly in popular English language sources (such as Qur’an).
Abigail Keyes, August 2014
Burlesque: The origins of burlesque are not about stripping, as we have always believed, but rather as means of reversing roles and shattering polite expectations of women of that time.
The content from this post is excerpted from The Salimpour School of Belly Dance Compendium. Volume 1: Beyond Jamila’s Articles. published by Suhaila International in 2015. This Compendium is an introduction to several topics raised in Jamila’s Article Book.
If you would like to make a citation for this article, we suggest the following format: Salimpour, S. and Keyes, A. (2023). Foreword, Preface, and Contents. The Salimpour School of Belly Dance Compendium. Volume 1: Beyond Jamila’s Articles. published by Suhaila International in 2015. Salimpour School. Retrieved -insert retrieval date-, from https://salimpourschool.com/
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