Master Dancers | Jamila Salimpour

Jamila Salimpour Master Dancer

Location: California, USA

Travel Radius: N/A

Rates Start at($): N/A

Over 50 years ago, in 1949, dance pioneer and instructor Jamila Salimpour taught her first belly dance classes, establishing the Salimpour School of Dance in San Francisco, California. Her revolutionary approach to teaching belly dance left an undeniable mark on the art form, beginning in the San Francisco Bay Area, then across the United States, and today, throughout the world. Creating a Revolutionary Teaching Method The daughter of Sicilian and Greek immigrants, Jamila grew up in Harlem, New York, and she couldn’t speak English until she was 5 years old. After touring for several years with the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, she moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s. There, inspired by her father’s tales of Egyptian ghawazi dancers, dancers in the Egyptian films playing at the local La Tosca theater, and the growing Middle Eastern immigrant community in Southern California, she began performing in community events and Middle Eastern nightclubs. Then, people started asking her to teach them how to dance. From there, Jamila realized she had to create a system for teaching belly dance that was more than just “follow me.” Her instructional method did what no other belly dancer before her had done: created standard names and terminology for belly dance steps. Today, her teaching legacy reaches far and wide, as dancers continue to use step names like Basic Egyptian, Maya, and Choo Choo. She catalogued hundreds of steps after careful and meticulous observation of professional and casual dancers in a variety of venues and contexts, particularly in the 1960s, when Middle Eastern nightclubs became popular in California’s big cities. Each step name reveals a bit of its origin, such as the Algerian Shimmy (attributed to a dancer from Algeria) or Zanouba, a dancer who performed regularly at the Fez in Los Angeles. After moving to San Francisco, Jamila even bought and managed her own nightclub, the Bagdad Cabaret, which became a fixture in the cities Middle Eastern music and dance scene. Forming the World’s Oldest Belly Dance Company: Bal Anat But Jamila’s influence doesn’t stop there. By a happy accident of fate, in 1968 Jamila Salimpour established the longest-running belly dance company in the world: Bal Anat. First performing at the Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Marin County, Bal Anat showcased small ensembles of dancers costumed in rich textiles and heavy jewelry, each representing a region or style of belly dance, while a chorus of dancers played cymbals and other instruments in a chorus behind them. For the costumes and dances in Bal Anat, Jamila drew inspiration from current anthropological research, as well as from her own imagination and a hefty dose of fantasy. She was one of the first to showcase performing with a sword, which is now one of the most popular props in belly dance. Her show also featured balancing on water goblets, dancing with live snakes, and performing with water pots. Bal Anat continues to perform, making it the world’s oldest belly dance company. Writing Belly Dance History 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. The Legacy Continues One of Jamila’s wishes for belly dance is 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.

Expertise: Teacher, Performer, Choreographer

Special Skills: Zills

Other Skills: Jamila Salimpour Aug. 26, 1926 - Dec. 8, 2017. Thank you for your honor and dedication to our beautiful dance form. Your dance lives on in all of us.

Styles: Folk, Oriental, Fusion

Instruction Type: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Choreography, Improvisation



No Performance Credit.

Performance Venues Employer/Production Location Style


No Choreography Credits

Performance Venues Employer/Production Location Style


Dance Instruction Employer/Site Location Style
Dance Studios Salimpour School Berkeley, CA

Representation: manager

CONTACT Jamila Salimpour

E-mail address:

Contact number: 510-527-2400

Official site:

Follow Jamila Salimpour at:


  • Jamila Salimpour Bellydancing History

  • Jamila & Suhaila Salimpour Finger Cymbal Duet, Rakkasah West 2005

  • Jamila Salimpour: A Tribute