With its worldwide reach, inclusive values, and long-established teaching methods, the Salimpour School is one of the most influential schools of belly dance in the world. From its humble beginnings in California to its growth into a global institution, the school and its students are known for their dedication to the art, strong technical training, and deep understanding of Middle Eastern music and culture.
We are proud to be at the cutting edge of belly dance education. Learn from us online with classes, choreography, or with Suhaila herself. See the Events list for more.
We also offer online Level 100 (Fundamentals) certification in both of our revolutionary formats. In the Fall of 2020, we opened the Suhaila Salimpour Institute of Online Education, offering certification in Level 200 (Foundations) through Level 500 (Teacher Training), exclusively online. Read more about the origins of the Salimpour School and its founder, Jamila Salimpour and its director, Jamila’s daughter Suhaila Salimpour, and our worldwide educational program.
Second-generation Middle Eastern (Kurdish, Sicilian, and Greek) American belly dancer Suhaila Salimpour is known not only for creating the first certification program in belly dance in the world, but also for the global influence of her own format on belly dance performance and instruction.
Just like her mother’s belly dance step vocabulary, the Suhaila Salimpour Format has inspired thousands of dancers around the world. Her students approach belly dancing as a performing art worthy of dedication and serious study. They train with intention to responsibly represent the dance, the music, and the culture from which it originates.
Suhaila’s work has been recognized by leaders in other dance forms for its depth and innovation, preserving the essence of belly dance while bringing it into the 21st century with grace and integrity.
Suhaila grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (US) observing her mother Jamila Salimpour’s classes, as well as studying a wide range of dance forms. Born severely pigeon-toed, she overcame her turned-in feet with years of childhood ballet.
She also trained in jazz, tap, classical Indian, Polynesian, flamenco, modern, and more. She had the honor of training with masters in these forms, such as Rosa Montoya, Chitresh Das, and Tony Award-winner Hinton Battle.
But belly dance was always her first love. She began performing at only 2 years old, with her mother’s dance company, Bal Anat. Throughout her childhood, she assisted her mother in her workshops at home and away, particularly when students asked for more explanation of a dance step.
Traditionally, belly dance had been passed down in families, but Jamila Salimpour was becoming a leader in the form, as the first person to put names to the steps and to document the movements. This was the first time non-Middle Easterners had a “map” for the belly dance form.
By the time she was 12, Suhaila knew every step in her mother’s vocabulary and was traveling to teach Salimpour format workshops by herself. When she was 14, Suhaila supported herself and her mother financially, teaching belly dance in cities across the United States and Canada on the weekends. At this time, too, she traveled to the Middle East, where she observed dance steps that became part of the Jamila Salimpour vocabulary.
Jamila and Suhaila filmed instructional videos—a rarity at the time—including an archive of Jamila’s Format. This time also yielded three iconic pieces, which she created with her mother: “Joumana,” “Maharjan,” and “Hayati.” The newly-formed Ethnic Dance Festival of San Francisco selected all three for their program, respectively, from 1983-1985. Suhaila was the first belly dancer to perform at this prestigious event.
Email the Salimpour School (Suhaila International) to learn more about scheduling Suhaila Salimpour for your next workshop. Suhaila Salimpour, Isabella Salimpour, The Salimpour School dance companies, and Bal Anat are available for performances, workshops, and corporate events.
Isabella Salimpour is a 3rd generation multidisciplinary artist, dancer, singer, and actress.
Daughter of master Middle Eastern dance instructor and performer Suhaila Salimpour, and granddaughter of Jamila Salimpour, Isabella has been on stage since the age of two and assisting in her mother’s workshops since the age of eight. She learned Middle Eastern dance the traditional way: by watching and following at home.
In addition to Middle Eastern dance, Isabella has studied a diverse range of movement and performance forms, including ballet, jazz dance, tap, ballet, lyrical, musical theater, music composition, and vocal studies. She has been a featured performer in several of her mother’s evening-length dance productions, including as a soloist in Enta Omri and in Bal Anat. She also has a passion for teaching and has taught workshops to both children and adults at some of the world’s largest Middle Eastern dance festivals.
Isabella studied music and jazz vocals at the renowned New School in New York and holds a BPA from Saint Mary’s College of California. She currently works in Los Angeles as a vocal coach, musician, and producer.
In addition, to her innovations in the studio and on the stage, Jamila was a prolific writer. She self-published several books, including her dance manual, La Danse Orientale, and a guide for playing dozens of finger cymbal patterns, complete with musical staff notation, many of which she created herself. The school has republished her dance manual as The New Danse Orientale, a complete collection of the dance steps that she and her daughter catalogued until 1978. She also collected images of Middle Eastern dancers from the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition (commonly referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair) in 1893, from which she drew constant inspiration for her own dancing and costuming. She helped establish and wrote consistently for Habibi magazine, one of the first periodicals focusing primarily on the practice and performance of belly dance. The Salimpour School collected her writings for the magazine several years ago, re-releasing them as a collected volume in Jamila’s Article Book.
One of Jamila’s wishes for belly dance was that it be regarded as “a difficult, yet truly artistic dance form.” Today, this wish and her legacy is carried on by her daughter, Suhaila Salimpour, licensed instructors of her format, current and former students of the Salimpour School, and, of course, the thousands of belly dancers who use her method, terminology, and earthy aesthetic in their classes and performances.