“Taxim is improvisation by a musician. Just follow the music, don’t overpower it.
It is an inward interpretation.” – Jamila Salimpour
Taqsim Family Introduction
A taqsim in Arabic music refers (in general) to an improvised solo on a single instrument. Belly dancers often use this term for any slow music to which you might perform veil, floorwork, sword balancing, or internally focused movements standing in place.
Many of the Taqsim Steps reflect Jamila’s observations of the great dancers from the Casino Opera era with additions from her study of Ahmad Jarjour from Montreal. Ahmad was well known in Las Vegas in the 1950s, especially for creating the first male-female belly dance duet. Ibrahim Farrah was a great admirer of Ahmad’s, and you can see Ahmad’s influence on Ibrahim’s dance and costuming.
Jamila first met Ahmad in 1959 and immediately recognized his amazing talent for improvisation and sentiment. Jamila maintained regular contact with Ahmad. She even visited him in his Montreal home with Suhaila in 1976. Furthermore, she wrote about him in her articles for Habibi magazine. In addition, Suhaila studied Ahmad’s work, and his musicality influenced her dancing.
Interior Hip Circles
Also in the 1970s, the interior hip circle first entered the Salimpour Vocabulary as an ami after Suhaila began studying Polynesian dance. An ami as taught in Polynesian dance is an interior circle with an accent on the back contraction.
Using what she learned from other dance forms, Suhaila separated the ami into four muscle contractions and eliminated the back-dominated focus. With the isolated contractions, a dancer could now use soft contractions for interior hip circles or use hard contractions for interior hip squares.
With regards to the term ami, Suhaila knew she needed to find a suitable name so she began using pelvic circle or interior hip circle. In 1981, as shown in the Baladi and Cabaret choreographies that Suhaila taught for video that year, Suhaila used the term pelvic circle. As she solidified her technique and format, interior hip circle became the official term. But from the ami to the interior hip circle, you can see the development of this theme as applied by Suhaila initially in the Vocabulary.
At one time, the stomach flutter was included in the Taqsim family. Jamila learned the stomach flutter from her second husband, Satya (Satyavrat Jaswansingh Kshatriva), a professional kathakali dancer. The stomach flutter was from a yoga exercise and, through breathing, created a rapid moving in-out movement of the stomach. Later at the Bagdad in San Francisco, Jamila saw Tabora Najim, a Turkish-styled dancer, perform stomach rolls and flutters in performance.
While Jamila taught the flutter to her students and included it in the original Danse Orientale manual published in 1978, she did not think the move looked Middle Eastern or that it was appropriate for an Egyptian-focused stylization. By the mid-1980s she had removed the stomach flutter and wanted students to focus instead on the movements that Suhaila was presenting.
Body Waves and Isolations
Suhaila brought in jazz body waves from her Western training. She also developed isolations and undulations, identifying the specific muscles in sequence to create the movements.
Exceptions to Reverse
Using reverse in the title of a step name means mirror image in the Salimpour Vocabulary. Figure eights are an exception to that guideline. For details see the following definitions: Basic Taqsim, Reverse Basic Taqsim, Maya, and Reverse Maya.
Jamila observed this step performed by Rosemarie, an Egyptian dancer and singer, who came to California in the 1950s. Basic Taqsim was a featured step of the Bal Anat chorus, the half circle of dancers at the back of the stage who framed and supported the featured act that was center stage.
Many of Jamila’s students participated in the chorus. One such student was Masha Archer. After leaving Jamila’s classes in the early 1970s, she organized and directed the San Francisco Classic Dance Troupe until 1987.
Figure eight back-to-front quartertime or eighthtime.
- Feet, hips, and head are balanced evenly on top of each other.
- Learn Basic Taqsim with your feet on the floor. Once you can execute the movement with control and fluidity, you can work through the feet for a more stylized look.
- This step provides an excellent base for further stylization and upper body response to the movement.
- For a subtle stylization, maintain the upper body facing forward while slightly releasing the shoulder of the working hip and raising the opposite shoulder to feel a slight pull across your body.
- For a common arm stylization, alternate kneading arms through 2nd or high 1st.
- For a common layering stylization, add an undulation from-the-waist-down up-to-down.
Reverse Basic Taqsim
The great Egyptian cinema stars of the 40s and 50s often riffed, blending steps like Basic Egyptian and Basic Egyptian Backwalk into Basic Taqsim and Reverse Basic Taqsim. The dancers maintained the fluidity of the steps even to faster music. While the Basic Taqsim and Reverse Basic Taqsim have a specific sentiment as part of the Taqsim family steps, these steps can take on other sentiments when used appropriately with steps from other families.
Figure eights front-to-back.
- Reverse means mirror image in the Salimpour Vocabulary, but figure eights are an exception. Basic Taqsim is figure eights back-to-front. Reverse Basic Taqsim is figure eights front-to-back.
- Like Basic Taqsim, this step provides an excellent base for further stylization and upper body response to the movement.
Maya was named for Maya Medwar, a professional Egyptian belly dancer whom Jamila knew in Los Angeles. Maya performed this move with a grande plie, descending to and ascending from the floor. While Maya was fine with other dancers learning, teaching and performing her signature move, she warned them to not perform it in the clubs in which she currently danced. Once Jamila moved to San Francisco, she felt far enough away to perform the step herself.
The Bal Anat Snake Dance is an example of a Salimpour choreography that features the Maya step. The Snake Dance is one of the fantasy dances. It was not meant to represent a traditional Middle Eastern dance.
The snake dance was inspired by Jamila’s sudden acquisition of a rescued snake in 1969 during Bal Anat’s earliest days at the Renaissance Faire. She rescued the snake from a magician who she believed was mistreating the reptile. At first, she developed it as a solo piece, often dancing with the snake while dancing on water goblets.
Eventually, more dancers obtained their own snakes, and a mesmerizing group number was developed. Samira (Gail McClure) was the most featured snake dancer in the original Bal Anat. Samira was tall and elegant with an amazing stage presence.
Figure eight up-to-down quartertime or eighthtime. Flat-footed.
- Feet, hips and head are balanced evenly on top of each other.
- Learn Maya with your feet flat on the floor with no upper body counterbalance. This pure form is the precise aesthetic Jamila sought for this movement. However, this step provides an excellent base for further stylization and upper body response to the movement.
While reverse means mirror image in the Salimpour Vocabulary, figure eights are the exception. Reverse Maya is an integral part of the Goosh Step and Goosh Spin where the movement is emphasized and accented by full body movement.
Figure eight down-to-up.
- Maya is figure eights up-to-down. Reverse Maya is figure eights down-to-up.
- This step provides an excellent base for further stylization and upper body response to the movement.
Jamila documented this step from the great professional dancers in Egypt, each of whom had their own personal approach to the circle. A common version was a dramatic forward dip or drop of the upper body and head as a counterbalance when the circle was extended back. Others, like Nabaweya Mustafa would bend their knees more as the hips circled forward while dropping their upper body into a backbend.
Exterior hip circle CW or CCW, quartertime or eighthtime.
- Circle Step does not have an assigned downbeat (such as front, back, right, or left).
- Any part(s) of the circle can be emphasized. For example, you might have a slight hold or speeding up/down certain segments. A common stylization is to emphasize the downbeat.
- The downbeat of the circle can change during repetitions of the step in response to the music.
- Traditionally for foot patterns, the circle downbeat changes to the left or right corresponding literally to which foot is being stepped upon.
The Crescent Step was a featured step of the abdominal dancers, the Pink Ladies, from the original Bal Anat. Jamila featured students who excelled at sultry taqsim movements and costumed them in Cleopatra-styled wigs to give the feeling of an ancient Egyptian court. The Pink Ladies were a precursor of the Mother Goddess dance, a later addition to Bal Anat, appearing around 1974 and debuted by Katrina Burda.
Jamila experimented with various Mother Goddess choreographies and soloists, based on her Mother Goddess poem (below). One earlier performance was at the marriage of Raggedy Robin to Raggedy Jane on May 1, 1971 at the Glide Church in San Francisco featuring a young black woman as the Mother Goddess in a Pharaonic-styled costume. Eventually, the Pink Ladies and other interpretations merged into one Mother Goddess dance that serves as the opening dance for Bal Anat. The Mother Goddess is masked and, therefore, sometimes called the Mask Dancer.
Great Goddess • Daughter of the moon • Mother of the earth
We were borne in your vessel • And emerged from your sacred portal
The descendants • Of our cosmic ancestors
Merciful Mother of consciousness • Protectress of women in childbirth
Patroness of women in labour • Goddess of birth • And • Re-birth
Step-touch halftime downbeat right with half exterior hip circles front dominant CW halftime downbeat front.
- A common variation is to perform the step, both feet and hips, quartertime.
- Jamila often varied the step with the half circle to the right as she stepped on the right and to the left as she stepped on the left.
- Another variation of this step is done with an interior instead of exterior half hip circle.
Crescent Step with Pelvic Locks
This variation of the Crescent Step was documented by Debbie Goldman (Sahar), one of Jamila’s students who became a professional belly dancer in Israel. Debbie observed this step performed by the professional belly dancers in that area, several of whom had a Turkish influence on their stylization and musical interpretation. The step was evocative of the Turkish style dancing that Jamila had seen in the clubs and used herself to Turkish music when performing in the Los Angeles nightclubs in the 1950s.
Crescent Step variation (halftime feet, quartertime half circles). Alternating pelvic locks fulltime downbeat back [&2, &4].
- The pelvic lock contraction front is on the upbeat [&], and the contraction back is on the downbeat [2, 4].
- The movement has a playful vibe.
Jamila documented this step and its many variations from professional dancers in the clubs with whom she worked. The step was often done in succession with one very slow step followed by two at double-the-timing. Hodan Shams El Din, an Armenian dancer in Egyptian films, had a signature step that had the general shape and sentiment of the Turkish Walk.
The Turkish walk was featured in the Bal Anat Snake and Sword dances. Considered one of the fantasy dancers, Jamila justified the inclusion of the sword dance based on the print of a painting she found in the 1950s by Jean-Léon Gérôme titled, “The Sword Dance at the Pasha’s”, c1870s. The depiction in Orientalist style shows a dancer on the balls of her feet, accompanied by several musicians, balancing one sword on her head and holding another in her hand.
Begin facing 3 o’clock. Left hand beside hip with fingertips down and pointer finger next to hip. Right pointer finger at temple with elbow lifted and pressed back.
Step flat on the right foot [&(1)] and tendue the left leg behind with your toe on floor . Drag the left foot behind your right foot in jazz 3rd as both elevé . The left foot lowers to flat . Hold .
Subtle body bounce alternating Home and demi halftime downbeat demi.
Torso rock, including the head, forward and back quartertime downbeat front: Lean the torso forward , back to Home , lean back , back to Home .
Four-part undulation: upper back [1-2], upper abs , lower ab [&(4)], and lower back .
- The four apart undulation is a combination of the undulation from-the- waist-up and the undulation from-the-waist-down.
- A common variation is to perform the Turkish Walk half-of-the-time.
- Jamila often varied the step by altering the undulation to better accent the music.
- One of Suhaila’s favorite variations is to half-turn on count 2 to face 9:00cf.
Turkish Back Walk
Jamila documented the Turkish Backwalk from her Turkish dance colleagues, and she used this step as the thematic move for the original Bal Anat snake dance, which included several moves from the Taqsim Family. In 1969 while at the Renaissance Faire with Bal Anat, Jamila rescued a snake from a magician whom she felt was mistreating the animal.
A self proclaimed “accidental” snake dancer, Jamila developed a fantasy dance for Bal Anat performing solo with the snake, often balancing on water goblets. The dance developed into a mesmerizing choreography typically done by pairs or trios of dancers who kept their own snakes as pets.
Jamila found inspiration for the dance from her second husband, Satya Kshatriya, a professional Indian dancer, who described the bharatanatyam snake dance based on a regional folk dance in Southern India.
Walking backwards flat-footed quartertime downbeat right with undulation from-the-waist-down down-to-up halftime downbeat lower back. Arms in modified-2nd.
- Work through the entire undulation, contracting the lower back, lower abdominals, and upper abdominals. The transitions between the contractions are important to creating the stylization.
- A typical variation travels backward with a step-touch foot pattern, adding a demi plié on each step and an undulation on each step and each touch.
- For the right movement aesthetic, maintain a still and steady upper body that appears to float above the undulation. The undulation happens below the diaphragm.
Pyramid Step / Suzy Q
The Pink Ladies were the inspiration for Suhaila’s Stomach Dance that is seen in both her iconic Percussion Show and the Sheherezade theater production. In Sheherazade, the Stomach Dancers perform the Pyramid Step while circling the vibrating dancer, a modern interpretation of the Mother Goddess or mask dance.
From jazz 1st, alternate the feet in V and pyramid shapes. Use the ball of the right foot and heel of the left to bring the toes together (toes in) forming a pyramid. Use the heel of the right foot and ball of the left to bring heels together (toes out) forming a V. Travel right, halftime, downbeat in (pyramid) with Maya halftime downbeat right.
- Suzy Q refers to the footwork only. The Pyramid Step is defined as the Suzy Q footwork with Maya.
Jamila called this step “Goosh” because she wanted the move to be gooshy, a combination of gushy and gooey. For a taqsim build, Jamila would often start with a Reverse Maya and transition into a syncopated Reverse Maya (RLR, LRL) followed by the Goosh Step and Goosh Spin.
Arabic 2 footwork parallel (jazz 1st) traveling right halftime downbeat right with Reverse Maya halftime downbeat right. Arms at sides with palms facing down; thumbs at, but not connected to, hips; and elbows pressed back. Alternate gentle palm presses in coordination literally to the hips.
- The hands contribute to the illusion of bigger hipwork, with elbows working and hands sliding up and down. The hands can even come away from the body more to accent the scoop.
- The movement has a natural opposition, a casual lean or drop in the shoulder bridge.
- Jamila found that many students were quite stiff when first learning the movement. For a stylization she added an exaggerated ribcage figure eights down-to-up including the shoulders as a counterbalance.
Goosh Spin is seen in many of Suhaila’s choreographies including her 12 Year Old Dances in 1979 to the music of Abbud Abdel Al. Goosh Spin was also the source inspiration for the dynamic opening of Suhaila’s Yanna Yanna choreography with finger cymbals.
Goosh Spin was also a favorite step of Tom Ryan (Rashid). Tom was a Jamila student who was first cast as a Karshilama dancer in Bal Anat. In the 1970s, he became the last tray dancer appointed by Jamila. When Suhaila took over direction of Bal Anat in 1999, Rashid continued his role as the featured male tray dancer until he passed away in 2012.
Goosh Step halftime turning CCW (one full turn in a 4/4 measure). Begin facing 9:00cf with the right hip at 12:00cf; drop your right shoulder every time the right hip is front.
- Spot front (12:00cf) and back (6:00cf) for the turns.
- The default completes one full turn in 4 counts.
- For a common fulltime variation, the right hip is at 12 o’clock on  and . This variation completes two full turns in 4 counts.
- Another variation with halftime feet is turning quarter turns. This variation completes one full turn in 8 counts.
Figure Eight Backwalk
The Figure Backwalk was one of Jamila’s favorite variations of Basic Taqsim. The step is featured in the Cabaret dance that Suhaila taught in 1981 for video when she was 14. Ann Clark (Sofia), one of Jamila’s students, was dancing professionally in Egypt and shared this choreography with the Salimpours as a representative of the modern Egypt style that was beginning to emerge at the time. As the choreography was a framework, Suhaila added hipwork while still keeping the modern aesthetic of the dance. She made changes to round out the choreography for instruction purposes. In one of the choreography’s final sequences, a dramatic exterior hip circle is alternated with shoulder accents leading into a Figure Eight Backwalk with a kick. The step pairs well sentimentally with Goosh Step and Spin.
Touch-step flat-footed syncopated halftime downbeat right: touch right , step right [(2)&], touch left , step left [(4)&]. 1⁄4 figure eight front-to-middle downbeat right [1&], half exterior hip circle back dominant downbeat right [2&3&], 1/4 figure eight middle-to- back downbeat left [4&]. Alternating syncopated undulations (U-D, D-U) [&a1, &a2, &a3, &a4].
- Leave the toe of the touching foot on the floor as long as possible to create tension with the figure eight.
- The 1/4 figure eights end in the middle (3 o’clock on the right hip and 9 o’clock on the left hip), merging seamlessly with the 1/2 exterior hip circle.
- Leg turns so hip is at 12 o’clock to begin and end the figure eights. Knees actually touch, and the knee-to-knee stance (knock-kneed) roots the movement.
- As the toes and knees might connect (similar to in-toeing or being pigeon-toed), be careful to not twist or grind through the feet, ankles, or knees.
Ribcage Figure Eights with Ribcage Locks
Ribcage figure eights front-to-back quartertime downbeat right with alternating chest locks (soft contractions) halftime downbeat front. Or Ribcage figure eights back-to-front downbeat back with alternating chest locks (soft contractions) halftime downbeat back.
- The halftime ribcage locks and figure eights merge seamlessly to create a larger, exaggerated figure eight.
These isolations were brought into the Vocabulary by Suhaila, who identified, broke down, and described the moves with specific language. This work was the beginning of Suhiala creating her own format and language, a process that began when she was about 7. Suhaila provided an easier means to understand, evaluate, and vary a move. Her specifics about muscles and directions provide an easier means of communication between dancers. But Suhaila’s approach was unique in belly dance, and some dancers in the 1970s and 1980s believed that Suhaila was limiting the dance and removing personalization by distilling it into a simple math-like description. What that did not understand was that Suhaila’s goal was to remove limits to allow even more for musical interpretation and personal expression. Distilling moves into their elemental components provides a basis for understanding how various steps, shapes, and elements can layer, sequence, and combine. In this section are some of the most basic isolations that Suhaila broke down for inclusion in the Vocabulary.
Lift your ribcage by contracting your lats and pulling your shoulder blades together (upper back contraction). Pull the ribcage back into your spine by contracting your upper abdominals (abs).
Slide the ribcage right and left by contracting your opposite upper oblique. Originally called Ribcage Isolations.
Soft contractions in a CW sequence: upper back contraction, left upper oblique, upper abdominal contraction, right upper oblique. Reverse contractions to create a CCW circle.
Ribcage Figure Eight Front-to-Back
Using your left upper oblique, slide the right ribcage to 12:00cf. Rotate your right ribcage to 6:00cf. Using the right upper oblique slide your left ribcage to 12:00cf. Rotate your left ribcage to 6:00cf.
Ribcage Figure Eight Back-to-Front
Using your left upper oblique, slide the right ribcage to 6:00cf. Rotate the right ribcage to 12:00cf. Using your right upper oblique, slide the left ribcage to 6:00cf. Rotate your left ribcage to12:00cf.
Up-to Down contractions in sequence: upper back, upper abdominals, lower abdominals.
Down-to-Up contractions in sequence: lower abdominals, upper abdominals, upper back.
Up-to-Down contractions in sequence: upper abdominals, lower abdominals, lower back.
Down-to-Up contractions in sequence: lower back, lower abdominals, upper abdominals..
Slide the hips right and left by contracting your opposite lower oblique. Originally called Pelvic Isolations.
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). Taqsim Family. Retrieved –insert retrieval date–, from https://suhaila.com/taqsim-family
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