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 bevvy 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 a 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 magazine. 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 the life on 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 in 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).
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: Keyes, A. (2023). Preface to Salimpour Compendium. Salimpour School. Retrieved insert retrieval date, from https://suhaila.com/preface-to-salimpour-compendium