Why certification?

Certification has been on my mind lately…  Last month I earned my Level 3 certification in the Suhaila Salimpour Format and I’ve also seen a few posts on Facebook and the belly dance blogs about certification in belly dance… I’ve seen the arguments against it: You can’t codify folk dance! Teachers that certify are only out for the money!  Belly dance is more than technique! That format is a cult!

Yes, it’s expensive.  Yes, it’s technique-focused. Yes, it requires a hell of a lot of dedication.

But why do I do it?  Growth.

By having levels of certification, we as students have benchmarks, a way of saying, “I learned these things, I have passed a test that has required me to demonstrate that I know these things, so now I am qualified to learn more challenging things that will help me become a better dancer, and help me achieve the next level.”  The tools that we are given in Level 1 are the bare basics, and we build on them in Level 2 so that we can begin important creative work in Level 3 so that we can become polished and professional performers and teachers in Level 4.  It’s a logical process, and most of you know, I love logic.  Also, here’s an analogy: You don’t teach someone a foreign language by asking them to write a novel.  You teach her the alphabet, then words, then sentences…  Dance is a language of the body, and belly dance happens to be the language I choose.

My dedication to certification has absolutely nothing to do with me being able to earn more money or get booked for more gigs. In fact, I think I might have fewer fans now than I did than before people knew just how dedicated I am to my particular certification program.  “Oh, you’re one of those Suhaila girls,” some people say, in that way that people talk about something they don’t understand and therefore don’t like.  Do I think that earning my Level 3 certification will get me more work? Nope. Do I feel like I’ve earned something incredibly special, something difficult, something totally worth all the sweat, tears, and injuries? Oh hell yes. I earned this for me.

This program is certainly not all about technique; it’s about emotion, expression, honest art, musical interpretation, working with live Arab musicians, knowing belly dance history, honoring our teachers, taking pride in our selves and our bodies and our creative work.  Here’s another analogy: The technique is the foundation of a building.  If you want to create a beautiful Victorian mansion, complete with intricate wood details and turrets and spires, you’ll still need a foundation.  You still need that foundation to be strong and well-built, otherwise the house will fall or collapse.  You also need trained artisans to carve the wood that decorates that mansion, artisans who have trained for years in their craft.  This format will give you one of the best foundations in the belly dance world, and it will also help you become a trained artisan through emotional and creative training.  (And might I also add that in merely six months of intense training at the Suhaila Salimpour School of Dance, I have lost nearly 7% of my body weight?)

Most importantly, though, this format prevents me from being stuck, stagnant, and it keeps me honest about my work as an artist. I am absolutely never bored with my training or my practice.  It also keeps me working, and my work is never done.

I do hope that dancers curious about the format come out to a Multi-Level Weeklong Workshop here in California, because that is the absolute best way to get a sampler of what the Suhaila (and Jamila) Salimpour Format is all about and how it can help dancers push themselves technically and artistically.  I understand that this format might not be for everyone.  I respect dancers who choose their own paths in this dance that are not Suhaila’s format, but I do believe that it makes incredible dancers out of those who pursue it.  Now, do I think I’m an incredible dancer?  Maybe if I work hard enough.  Maybe.


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I completely agree. Although, being one of those people who posted on certifications for professionals and instructors, it also weeds out the “home grown” dancers who call themselves “pros” but who learned by watching DVDs.

It would also be good if most cert programs (I know Suhaila is hard-core at any level) would actually fail people. As someone from Chicago, I certainly understand the policy of “pay to play” which is what most of those certification programs are. The only other cert program that I know has failed attendees is Hadia. I wish someone would bring Suhaila to Chicago to do a Level 1 cert program. I’d be all over it.

Thanks for the post! :^)




    Oh, man… Your comment reminds me of when I totally bombed an ice dance test in my skating days. I wasn’t ready, and I shouldn’t have tested.

    As far as Suhaila in Chicago… I know she does come out to Ohio pretty regularly. I’m not sure what city or when, though.

    And, yeah, it seems that a lot of “certification” workshops are really just workshops after which you get a certificate of participation. That’s so not the same thing as what Suhaila has been doing. I don’t know enough about Hadia’s program, but I know she’s pretty hardcore, too. I’d love to take with her one of these days, too.




I don’t think Suhaila encourages dancers to test unless they have a good shot at passing. I was considering testing for level 2 at a workshop and she basically took me aside and told me I wasn’t ready. I really appreciated her honesty on that.

We really need to understand and accept that certification programs are really for OUR benefit — and not a marketing tool. Sometimes it’s nice to see the “levels” of progression neatly spelled out. When we reach certain plateau points in our training, it’s nice to be able to look back to level one and know that we HAVE progressed as students :)




Hi Asharah! I actually took a workshop from you a while back.

On the issue of certification, I appreciate how cert programs don’t just weed out the bad from the good, but how they help us all grow as dancers.

I just have a hard time dealing with some dancers who go through a cert program for the bragging rights, and then criticize other dancers for not having any certifications – without having seen those dancers dance in the first place.

I’ve also encountered several dancers who don’t like being criticized for their dancing, and retort smartly with, “I have certifications, and you don’t, so you can’t tell me what to do.”

So in short, while I do agree that certification programs are good to keep on growing, I hope that some dancers also learn that “growing” means “staying humble”, not putting on a crown and locking themselves up in a tower.




I am pushing 50. I obtained my Level 1 in 2009 through blood, sweat and tears…and immediately wanted more. I continue to want more. My goal is L2 by the end of my 50th year. Will I make it? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to recertify my L1, so in essence I’m starting over….but I can honestly say, the day that certificate came in the mail? One of the proudest moments of my LIFE. Learning the format has changed the way I think, changed the way I dance, changed the way I teach. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. It’s expensive. It takes time, focus and dedication. Did I say it’s hard? HARD. But I don’t regret a bit of it, and I yearn for more. I think that sums it up…after training with Suhaila, you literally yearn for more. Thanks for sharing your process. :)




This is a late response, but only because I never saw this before. I have a response to Amanda’s comment about testing. Before I tested for Level 2 in NJ, I asked Suhaila if I may take the test and she said lightheartedly, “Of course you can take the test!” I then asked her if she thought I was ready. Instead of telling me anything, she threw the ball in my court and asked me how I felt. I told her I had been working on things for a year and that if I did not test and even fail, I would not know what I would need to work on. Her answer: “Go for it!” (I passed. I knew I would pass the written test, I knew I nailed the choreography. It was with the drills that I had my doubts) Also, in answer to Serafina, in all fairness, Suhaila has failed someone who took the test (there are things she requires from people who test, and this particular dancer did not bring them). I learned about that during the August 2011 Level 3 weeklong, when we were gathered before her and asking questions and discussing things about bellydance.

I work in the field of professional compliance. Certification for me is like being a professional. When a professional fails to complete the biennial continuing education requirements of his/her regulating board, that person is required to complete it within a certain amount of time, pay a fine, or both. Suhaila also has biennial continuing education requirements, and I try to keep that in mind, just as a professional has to do so. And, under her guidance, we learn to develop in ways we never dreamed of, acquire skills we never expected to acquire, and continue to evolve the way we should in our art.




I, for one, wish certification was far more widespread. I’ve been belly dancing for six years now, with a variety of teachers. I love it, but I was always perplexed at the way hip movements were taught, compared to my experience of isolations in jazz and contemporary dance. Everything was explained as being driven by the legs. So I conscientiously “unlearned” my jazz technique so I could isolate my hips with a completely relaxed belly.

This year, for the first time, I’ve found a teacher who teaches how to initiate movements using the abdominals, obliques and core muscles. I’m having to relearn my jazz technique, and loving it because the movements are so much more juicy – and personally I think my teacher looks so much better with her taut stomach, than the belly-hanging-out style I see in so many others!




    Certification is a sticky issue for people because 1) there are many “certification” programs, and 2) many dancers disagree with the very concept of certification. For me, Suhaila’s program is a great fit and it’s so incredibly comprehensive. Also it’s adaptive – when I grow, I get more out of the program.




Oops, pressed “submit” too fast. What I’m saying is that if there was a belly dance syllabus or certification, there would be more chance of proper technique being passed on. The current situation means that inadequate teaching can get passed down the line from one generation to the next, and becomes the norm. And that’s a great shame.




As a professional dancer with 25 years combined experience, I learned to dance prior to the advent of youtube, DVDs. We had to learn from whomever and wherever possible. If we got hold of a VHS that was the only resource we had. So to the commentator who derides dancers who only learned from DVDs. You are a young dancer, who has benefitted from wide range of personal training options, don’t forget the seasoned pros who came before you, 20-30 years ago did not have anything to rely on. You are lucky. Having nothing hardened us to dance better, longer on our own.

I totally resent this ‘fad’ of certification from prolific dancers, rhetoric of ‘proper technique’ and all these new ‘rules’. I had to learn on my own, no support, and I am considered an excellent dancer by my peers. I have had more hard training on my own, studying techniques from other dancers (without benefit of long term schooling or dvd)

Dancers in the Middle East do not concern themselves with such trifles.

There are excellent, good and bad dancers out there. Certification does not automatically imbue the dancer with good technique, just the privilege of having ‘certification’ by a prolific dancer (street credentials) but no real skills or technique. I have encountered alot of dancers who are going around saying they have taking “certification’ and I wonder how long they have been dancing for. 1 year? Six months?



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