Gilded Serpent presents...

Memorial to Jamila Salimpour


Articles on Gilded Serpent and Testimonials regarding the Icon

posted December 21, 2017

August 16, 1926 – December 8, 2017

“From the moment Jamila entered the studio, I knew that I was in the presence of someone special. Great teachers are rare. If we are lucky, we will recognize that special person who has the ability to impart special knowledge and change the very course of our life… I found my ‘voice’ in dance. This is the gift Jamila gave to me.” – Yasmela , 2007

An influential and respected teacher whose techniques and formats have been shared all over the world, the iconic Jamila Salimpour was instrumental in helping mold many big names in American belly dance.

Clad in black and draped in ethnic jewellery and assuit, her face adorned with tribal markings, the charismatic former circus performer and club owner cut a striking figure even in 1960s San Francisco. Her exotic appearance and exacting methods drew many acolytes eager to absorb her teachings. Decades later, dancers still recall her classes with awe.

Jamila is credited as the founder of tribal belly dance, with her creation in 1968 of the influential troupe Bal Anat. In recent years her daughter, Suhaila, has revived her mother’s original format and teaches it alongside her own in classes worldwide.

Read the late Yasmela’s account of her early classes with Jamila, then explore the Gilded Serpent archives for more.

From our archives:

“She was, and still is one of the most amazing women I have ever had the honor of knowing … Her classes gave us so much more than just a Belly dance. Jamila, with her wonderful story telling and strong hand as a teacher gave me, and many like me, a new and fantastic feminist life-path that was strong and woman-dominated.” – Rita “Rebaba” Alderucci, 2010

“One day I saw in the campus newspaper an ad for Arabic dance lessons to be given by a retired professional – I answered that ad, met Jamila Salimpour, and changed the whole course of my life! From the moment I walked in, I was caught by the magic. There was incense burning by the front door, there were prints of Bakst’s exotic designs and photographs of Jamila in costume on the walls, an Indian throw on the couch, and that music – that music – filling the living room.” – Aziza Parker

“Jamila had created the mystic, this tribe to which we could belong. I’m thankful that she gave me a start in all this. I feel that I have continued with this with the creation of Hahbi ‘ru.” John Compton

Do you have a special memory of Jamila? Share it in the comments below the list of articles.

Articles and information on Gilded Serpent about Jamila Sallimpour

The Beginning Chapter #1
When she came out to dance in the audience, I thought to myself, "She better not get too near to my husband!"

Jamila and Yousef Chapter #3
Even though we were recognizably taught by Jamila, we were not the cookie-cutter girls she turned out later.

The Music and Musicians, Chapter #4
I was very lucky to have danced to live music almost exclusively throughout my career.

The Gilded Serpent presents the Stars of North Beach, San Francisco
Scroll horizontally down our hallway…

The Birth of Bal Anat and Other Adventures Chapter #9
belly dance will continue to evolve into things new and strange, limited only by dancers’ imaginations.

An Intro to Tribal Fusion
Since Tribal Fusion Belly Dance is a relatively new dance form, it is especially important to treat the genre with a level of professionalism, or else one runs the risk of discrediting the work of dancers who have dedicated their lives to creating and elevating Tribal Fusion Belly Dance.

I remember those days back in the ’70s when ethnic stylizing was the only "true" way to dance. Latest addition to our North Beach Memories!

Tribal Bible Reviewed
And I suppose to some dancers, it is a way of life. There is repeated emphasis placed on the concepts of bonding, healing, empowering, and connecting throughout the book. From the sound of it, American women are desperate to connect, to be part of a tribe, to belong.

The Jamila Experience
All of these feelings fled as soon as Jamila walked through the door. A big impressive woman clad entirely in black…

"No Path is Straight" Says Anne Lippe, One of the First Westerners to Dance in Egypt
Anne Lippe, a trend-setting costumer, was not only one of the original Western dancers to perform in Egypt, she was also one of the first teachers of Belly dance instructing there as well. Anne started studying Middle Eastern Dance with Jamila Salimpour in San Francisco in1969 and joined dance troupe Bal Anat.

My Lessons with Hillary and Aida Al-Adawi (part 1) "After only three classes, they would teach belly dancing!"

My Lessons with Jamila Salimpour  (part 2) Jamila teaches
… would dance instead, without pay.

Memorial to John Compton

My Costuming Roots, Chapter #21
Soon, however, it became obvious that I couldn’t do three shows a night, on and on, with only one costume! And Yousef,
owner of the Bagdad, supported this realization by telling me that if I didn’t get some more costumes, I was

Aisha Ali & The Birth of the Ghawazee
" This could not possibly be a dance to take seriously", people whispered

Learning Matrix: A Long Journey, The Belly Dance Scene in Taiwan
Sometimes, one might have to admit that learning only choreographies might lead students and dancers away from learning the essential elements of traditional Belly dance.

My Belly Dance Baptism, or A Tale of Armpit Hairs
There was a rumor (that was the truth) that I didn’t shave under my arms.

An Interview with Marliza Pons
Maya: Marliza, I thought this would be the perfect time to interview you, since I hear you are leaving Las Vegas soon, after having performed and taught belly dance here since 1965!
Marliza: Yes, I am moving home to Chicago. It’s time. My moms are elderly, and ill, and I want to be with them.

A Refuge for Innovation, Tribal Fest 2014
Although Tribal Fest is a live on stage, face-to-face event, it is the danced realization of a world in which the technological flows of transportation and communication bring images and bodies into correspondence with each other, and through the form create new images that move a global popular culture dialogue forward.

Have a special memory of Jamila? Use our comment section at the bottom of this page

  1. Dallas Martin

    Dec 28, 2017 - 05:12:18

    I remember meeting her and Suhaila at Rakkasah West in 2012. Jamila was a blast to meet that year and I am honored that we took photos together. She told me the she felt like a lot of her work didn’t do much in the community, but she was being humble and I understood how she felt. She joked that Suhaila made a big deal out of her, but to be honest if I was Suhaila I would do that as well. Jamila was a strong woman who survived many things in her lifetime. I admire a strong witty woman like Jamila was. I was not lucky to be taught by her, but I still have Suhaila I can learn from when I get the chance. The best moment for me is when I first saw Bal Anat the following year and at the end Jamila handed her zills to Suhaila. That was so iconic and I still remember my mouth dropping open. I will miss seeing her glimpse at Rakkasah. I am sure one day I will see her again.

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