- Introduction to the Shimmy Family
- Singles on the Up Halftime
- Singles on the Up Fulltime
- Choo Choo
- Shimmy Spin
- Stomp Step with Shimmy
- Algerian Shimmy
- Four-Four Shimmy
- Singles on the Down
- Three Quarter (3⁄4) Shimmy
- Ahmad Shimmy
- Forward-and-Back-and Walk-2-3-4
- 3⁄4 Shimmy Spin
- 3/4 Shimmy with Twist
- 3/4 Flamenco
Introduction to the Shimmy Family
The Shimmy Family of steps focuses on hipwork: Glute Singles (Ups and Downs) and 3⁄4s. Ups and Downs are defined by 1) the weighted foot and 2) which glute is contracted. The term “Shimmy” is descriptive, representing fast hipwork.
From her research, Jamila introduced raised hip movements for which the hip lifted when standing or stepping on the same-sided leg. She often said “tense” or “tense your hip” for glute work, instead of “contract”. As such, she often called out “up” in class as a prompt for students to “tense” a specific hip.
Additional Research and Influences
Beginning in 1976, Suhaila brought Downs to the Vocabulary from her study of Ahmad Jarjour and Sohair Zaki. With the concept of Ups and Downs introduced, Suhaila and Jamila renamed several steps. As an example, they renamed the Choo Choo step series Singles on the Up. (Note that the Choo Choo step series is different from the Running Choo Choo step series.)
As a general rule in the Salimpour Vocabulary, 3⁄4 Shimmies mean three glute contractions per step. One exception is the Single-Single-3⁄4 step with 3⁄4s on the Up applied to a chassé foot pattern.
Along with the Basic Egyptian Family, the Shimmy Family steps are considered professional, as they are steps researched from and influenced by professional dancers.
For glute work, train specifically for hard contractions. Root your movements in the gluteus maximus; this prevents the common tendencies to rush 3⁄4s, speed up doubletime singles, and use soft contractions.
Many steps in the Shimmy Family, by Jamila’s request, are first explained in Suhaila format language. Keep in mind the differences between Suhaila’s format and the Vocabulary. Suhaila format coordinates body shapes to footwork using direction and timing, allowing for expanding options. In contrast, the Vocabulary consists of a finite grouping of steps defined by family, name, and established defaults with specific moves on specific footwork and sentiments.
Singles on the Up Halftime
Singles on the Up Halftime and Singles on the Up Fulltime were originally called Shimmy Transition 1 and Shimmy Transition 2, respectively. These two steps were the transitions to prepare students for the Choo Choo, which is defined by doubletime glutes. For a typical step progression during class, Jamila would call out “One” (for Shimmy Transition 1), and then “Two” (for Shimmy Transition 2), and then “Choo Choo”.
Walk flat-footed halftime downbeat right, alternating singles halftime downbeat right.
- Vocabulary Ups and Downs are defined by weight placement
- Emphasize that the default foot placement is flat.
Singles on the Up Fulltime
See Singles on the Up Halftime.
Walk flat-footed fulltime downbeat right, alternating singles fulltime downbeat right.
Jamila observed the Choo Choo performed by several of the famous belly dancers from Egyptian cinema. This step is often used for the windup before a final spin. Jamila enjoyed drilling the Choo Choo step in class, demonstrating to her students the level of strength and endurance required to maintain the step for a long time with ease. Right when students would start to fatigue, Jamila would transition the move into grande plies to the floor and back up.
Badawia from Jordan was one of Jamila’s students who eventually moved to Oregon and became a representative of the Salimpour Vocabulary in the Northwest United States. Suhaila remembers Badawia worrying that her brothers would discover that she was belly dancing and kill her. At one event, someone tipped Badawia off that one of her brothers was outside the venue, and she did not perform that night to be safe.
When Badawia performed, she made it count. She was incredibly passionate with an almost wild quality. One of her signature moves was to Choo Choo in relevé traveling and swaying to the right and left. She was also known for her zaar, using her strength to dynamically hop and rock herself around in a circle as she rolled her upper body. Suhaila often emulated this same zaar work in the performance arc for her lengthy performance shows.
Walk flat-footed doubletime downbeat right with alternating singles doubletime downbeat right. Also called Singles on the Up Doubletime.
- The Choo Choo’s energy is connected to a steam or internal combustion railway locomotive. A train engine “rhythm” starts with a rev (when the engine is given more power) and typically can be counted 1 2 3 4. To emulate this as a dancer, your entire body revs up or increases energy on count 1 to emphasize the beginning of the measure.
- A common variation is in relevé. For a windup progression, dancers might progress from the Choo Choo flat to Choo Choo in relevé.
The Shimmy Spin was part of a basic windup that Jamila frequently used. She started with Singles on the Up Halftime (Transition 1) and Singles on the Up Fulltime (Transition 2), then progressed to Choo Choo into Shimmy Spin.
Choo Choo in relevé. Complete one full turn in one 4/4 measure. Turning CCW, right hip at 12 o’clock (facing 9 o’clock) ; at 9 o’clock (facing 6 o’clock) ; at 6 o’clock (facing 3 o’clock) ; at 3 o’clock (facing 12 o’clock) .
- For a common stylization, accent the start of the turn when right hip is at 12 o’clock for a common stylization.
- The step is a Choo Choo with a 4/4 Spin.
Stomp Step with Shimmy
When Suhaila was in Egypt during the summer of 1981 at the age of 14, she spotted a variation of this step performed by wedding attendees. She had documented the same variation earlier from Lala Hakim, a folkloric dancer sponsored by Jamila to teach a workshop in San Francisco. Suhaila observed that people would stomp to rev up their hips, like pulling the cord for a recoil engine. While the step coordinates well with Salaam Family steps, it is included in the Shimmy Family because of the rapid hipwork.
Turn in a CCW circle with alternating singles quadrupletime downbeat right. Right leg stomps halftime downbeat right: right leg lifts [4&], right foot stomps , right leg lifts [2&], right foot stomps . Arms are slightly lower than modified-2nd; simultaneous hand flicks halftime outward.
- Don’t rush the leg lift; pause the right foot following the stomp.
- The stomp appears to generate or start the shimmy.
- The quadrupletime shimmy is alternating singles, not a vibration.
- When the right leg lifts, your right hip releases naturally during the lift with a slight pause on [&] before the stomp.
- The footwork is similar to the CCW Pivot in sentiment and stylization. This is not a debke step.
- Flick hands as if shaking water off your hands with your palms facing floor at the end of the flicks. The hand flicks coincide with the stomp. (The movement is not a wrist circle.)
During her nightclub career, Jamila worked with many dancers from Algeria who included this step in their movement repertoire. It was a favorite step of Jamila’s that she liked to pair with the Four-Four Shimmy.
Naima Akef performed a beautiful, subtle Algerian Shimmy that she transitioned into ¾ Shimmies on the Down with a slight hold on the third contraction.
Don Iococa, a longtime Jamila student and a Bal Anat Algerian Ouled Nail performer, was an elegant dancer known for his Algerian Shimmy and fluid pelvic locks in addition to his taqsim choreography and improvisation skills.
Home Position in relevé, alternating touch-step halftime; touch forward with no weight shift to jazz 3rd, step back to jazz 1st. Alternating singles doubletime downbeat left. Arms in modified 2nd.
- The footwork can change timing, but the hipwork stays doubletime.
- A typical Suhaila variation is to touch side, back, etc.; the touch can be done anywhere.
- The touch does not have a shift of weight, but there is a definitiveness to the touch that holds energy. The touch is not “light”; it has presence.
For her nightclub performances, Jamila often included an acapella drum solo. She used the sounds of her coin belt accompanied by her finger cymbals to create the music. She kept a steady beat or swish with her coin belt and added syncopated finger cymbals. The drum solo would gradually build into intensity. An ending might include a progression of Algerian Shimmy, Four-Four Shimmy, Choo Choo in relevé, and Shimmy Spin.
In jazz 3rd with a slight turnout, travel forward flat-footed halftime downbeat right with alternating singles doubletime downbeat left. Step forward with your right foot, then step your left foot beside it. Arms in modified-2nd position.
- The steps are weighted, almost shuffling (but not quite) like those of the Arabic Family.
- The footwork can change timing, but the hipwork stays doubletime singles (not 3/4s).
- Jamila would typically walk one measure forward (4 counts) and then spend one measure in place (4 counts).
Singles on the Down
Singles on the Down were added to the Salimpour Vocabulary from Suhaila’s study of Ahmad Jarjour in 1976 which was reinforced by her study of Sohair Zaki through video and in-person workshop. You can see Singles on the Down featured in Suhaila’s Baladi choreography that she taught and filmed for video in the early 1980s. Suhaila was inspired by Sohair’s classic, elegant body lines and downward hip movements that served as her signature move. Even Suhaila’s chosen costume for the performance, a gold palette dress that she purchased on a trip to Egypt in summer 1981, was inspired by an image of Sohair Zaki from an album cover.
Walk flat halftime downbeat right with alternating singles halftime downbeat left.
- Flex and place the feet cleanly, with only one foot on the floor at a time.
Three Quarter (3⁄4) Shimmy
This was another step that Jamila observed as a standard for many of the great dancers of Egyptian cinema. For Jamila’s acapella drum solos (see Four-Four Shimmy) she often timed her hips with three-quarter movements such as as a Ghawazee Step Variation (RLR, LRL) with the Three Quarter Shimmy. She might begin her drum solo with three-quarter movements and then move into fulltime and doubletime to build intensity.
Many of the great dancers used ¾ Shimmy on the Up, including Tahia Carioca, whom Jamila considered her first teacher as Jamila watched and dissected so much of Tahia’s dance. Although popular with the great dancers, this step was placed in the Shimmy Family (singles: ups and downs) rather than the Egyptian Family (twists).
Walk halftime downbeat right with alternating three quarters doubletime downbeat right.
- 3/4 Shimmy is also called 3/4 on the Up.
- Remember to flex and place the feet, with your weight cleanly on one foot at a time.
Downs were added to the Salimpour Vocabulary from Suhaila’s studies of Ahmad Jarjour in 1976 and then Sohair Zaki. Suhaila uses Ahmad Shimmy in many of her choreographies including the Baladi choreography that she taught and filmed for video in 1981. Ahmad was one of several important influences on Suhaila’s furthered understanding of sentiment and nuance. In the Baladi choreography, Suhaila talks about representing the nye and drum with different body parts, giving insight into how she heard and represented the music through dance.
Walk flat-footed halftime downbeat right with alternating 3⁄4s doubletime downbeat left.
- Jamila named the step after Ahmad Jarjour. The step is also called 3/4 Shimmy on the Down.
- Keep weighted on one foot at a time. The first glute contraction as you change weight is in opposition, creating a down on the weighted or standing leg. Keep the glute contractions even.
- Suhaila learned this step by observing Ahmad Jarjour when she was 9 and on a workshop tour of North American the summer of 1976. The trip included a visit to Montreal to see Ahmad. Rather than teach Suhaila, he allowed Jamila to tape him dancing so that Suhaila could watch and rewatch.
This step is excellent for a promenade or any part of the music that projects energetically out to the audience. This step is an easy one to vary by plugging in a different basic footwork, using different hipwork, or adding an upper body layer.
Arabic 4 feet halftime [1-4] and walk halftime downbeat right [5-8] with alternating 3⁄4s doubletime downbeat right [1-8].
- The step is named literally after the footwork.
- Evenly distribute the hipwork contractions so that the hipwork is clear.
3⁄4 Shimmy Spin
This step has a connection to Salaam Family, with the wider leg stance that became more prevalent due to the effect of Egyptian folkloric movement on belly dance. Before the folkloric effect, the great dancers kept their legs together. Jamila would prompt, “Tie your legs together”.
When Suhaila was a teenager, Rebaba returned to San Francisco for a visit. Rebaba (Rita Alderucci) was one of Jamila’s students who went on to dance professionally in France, Greece, Zimbabwe, and Syria. Suhaila noticed that Rebaba’s dance had a deepening maturity of movement and both her dance and look had a fresh, modern quality. Suhaila felt Rebaba’s ¾ Shimmy Spin was a stand out, providing the ideal example of the technique, sentiment, and style for this step.
In second position with feet just outside the hipbones, walk halftime downbeat right with 3⁄4s doubletime downbeat right. Holding a pelvic tilt back, alternate hip slides halftime downbeat right on the upbeat. Arms extended down in a low V with flat palms facing the floor and fingers pointing out to the sides, keeping a straight arm press palms down towards the floor halftime downbeat right. Three quarter turns CW following a CCW floor pattern, using two 4/4 measures to complete the floor pattern.
- See Whip Spin with Twist for floor and turn patterns.
- The hip slide continues, ending with the third contraction on each side.
- Each shoulder releases down (and the opposite lifts) in stylized response to the palms as they press down. The pressing of the palm has the effect of dropping the same sided shoulder, while the opposite shoulder lifts.
- The pelvic placement is subtle. The pelvic hold is more of a tilt than a full lock.
- The movement has a swaying quality.
3/4 Shimmy with Twist
This was one of Jamila’s favorites steps that combined a slower twist from the Basic Egyptian Family with fast ¾ singles from the Shimmy family. She loved to travel backwards with this step.
Travel forward in relevé halftime downbeat right with alternating twists halftime downbeat right and alternating 3⁄4s doubletime downbeat right.
- For a larger movement, release back heel to allow a safe swivel.
- The first contraction of the 3⁄4, the twist forward, and the step forward all happen simultaneously.
- The hip twists forward on the first contraction of the 3⁄4 but returns to neutral with last two contractions of the 3⁄4.
- This step has a juicy stylization, especially when traveling backwards.
- The twisting motion doesn’t stop. Once you contract on the downbeat, continue to the next side.
- For a larger twist, allow the feet to swivel. Be careful to keep in alignment to protect the knees and ankles.
- Jamila told students to keep the Charleston footwork in mind as they traveled backwards with this step. The Charleston was a popular dance when Jamila was growing up.
Naemet Mokhtar, an Egyptian dancer from the 1950s, had beautiful hipwork articulation. One of her signatures was a One-Two-Three-And variation where the singles are on the down. This relative of the ¾ Shimmy is a great option for promenades or any part of the music that has an external focus.
Chassé in relevé fulltime with alternating Single-Single-3⁄4 coordinated with the footwork. Arms in modified-2nd.
- The default Single-Single-3⁄4 hipwork for this move consists of Singles on the Up fulltime [1, &] and 3⁄4 Shimmy (on the up) [2e&], coordinated with the footwork.
- Keep the feet directly under you to maintain the anchored and grounded feeling of the move. The hipwork should be clear and concise.
A relative of the ¾ Shimmy, the ¾ Flamenco is not a formal Flamenco dance step, but was inspired by the Flamenco style and sentiment that many of the great Egyptian dancers included in their performances. Jamila was particularly fond of the footwork in this step as it was reminiscent of Khatak, an Indian classical dance, of which she was a serious fan.
Jamila originally choreographed a short Khatak dance for Bal Anat, focusing on footwork to add another dynamic to the show. But, unlike her other cultural dances, she had no extensive study and very limited experience with this Classical Indian dance form. After seeing a true Khatak master dancer perform, she was mortified at what she had been presenting and immediately retired the Bal Anat Khatak dance.
Walk heel-toe-toe doubletime downbeat right with alternating 3⁄4s on the Up doubletime downbeat right
- Shift your weight completely with each step.
- Do not dig or push through the feet; the feet do not generate the hipwork.
- Flex and place the feet cleanly for each step without taking steps. Don’t take large steps.
- The upper body has a subtle, natural response to the movement.
Suhaila identified and broke down this move in 1976 when she was 9 years old, watching a video of the professional belly dancer, Samiha, who owned the Ibis club in New York City.
Walk forward in jazz 3rd, right flat and left in relevé, halftime downbeat right. Hip twists halftime downbeat right (not alternating, hip twist is only on right side). Alternating 3⁄4 singles syncopated [&a1, &a2, &a3, &a4] doubletime downbeat left.
- The last contraction of the 3⁄4 and the twist coincide on the downbeat.
- Step out on the right, and step the left foot to meet it. The left foot never moves in front of the right foot.
- Use the left foot to push off onto the right.
- The twists in this step have no glutes, only obliques.
- The upper body has a relaxed reverb in response to the movement.
The content from this post is excerpted from The New Danse Orientale: Salimpour Belly Dance Instruction, published by Suhaila International in 2013 with updates and additional content added in 2023. The New Danse Orientale is a study guide and resource for belly dancers when learning Salimpour Vocabulary steps and step families.
If you would like to make a citation for this article, we suggest the following format: Salimpour, J. & Salimpour, S. (2023). Shimmy Family. Retrieved –insert retrieval date–, from https://suhaila.com/shimmy-family
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