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.