Heather here to tell you about our latest adventure – the April 2013 Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Format Level 1 Intensive & Certification Test in Ft Pierce.

To start off, I will tell you that this was a pretty rigorous experience. Suhaila is pretty serious about building strong technique. I’ve been working with Suhaila’s online classes for a couple years now, and at her intensive last year (in between cursing interior hip squares under my breath and trying not to fall out) I decided to try to certify for Level 1 this year (glutton for punishment) – so the last year of my training time has been spent with getting myself capable of passing the certification test in mind.

The intensive itself included 15 hours of dance training, focusing on the material that a dancer must be proficient in, in order to pass the Level 1 test. I believe this must be designed to break your body and your brain if you haven’t already been training strength, posture, belly dance isolations and finger cymbals right and left handed. I get it though, building a wide repertoire of movement gives you more to work with as a dancer, to express the music however you feel called to.

After the 2.5 days (and 15 hours) of conditioning and dance drills, we were released for lunch, with those going through the test coming back after in order to spend another couple hours doing the test. The test itself is in 2 parts – written and practical, and as I understand it, a minimum percentage must be gained on both parts in order to pass.

It was a definite adrenaline rush just to finish the weekend and finish the test – even though I didn’t know if I had passed or not until a day later. After the first day ($@#% interior hip squares!) I really wasn’t all that sure I would make it, and was concerned that all my practice still hadn’t been enough. It was tough to push through the soreness and nagging concern and keep working, but it was worth it. The experience of spending so much time doing something I love (even/especially when it’s challenging), with a group of like-minded and equally hard working people, was awesome.

Group photo on day 3

Group photo on day 3

Despite the physical and mental struggle, I’m proud to say that Jules and I both passed, in addition to surviving!

So that’s a little bit about what the workshop itself was like. Throughout the intensive, there were occasional short lectures, and there were three points Suhaila made during these ‘story times’ that really resonated with me.

She talked about being a young girl and seeing this dancer in her head doing things that she just couldn’t do due to a back problem, and how she had initially created her format in order to make herself able to do the movements she saw her imagined self doing, by approaching them in a different fashion.

What that means to me is this: All this hard work helps make the dancer you see in your head the dancer that other people see when you dance. It’s worth it.

Later, jokingly during a particularly difficult drill, she said something about how dance class is where you learn to struggle properly. I really like the idea of struggling properly, for some reason.

How I apply this to myself is: No one starts out great at everything, it’s about the process – the journey toward your goals. Keep pushing, and keep your chin up.

The struggles will be there – keeping your attitude right is how you struggle properly.

The thing she said that struck me the most was that she wants to teach dancers to dance like themselves, rather than teaching them to dance like her.  (I think this was in the context of why her format focuses on technique rather than stylization, but I honestly don’t recall.)

This was incredibly validating to me because just a month or so ago, Jules and I were talking about this very subject and how we don’t want to teach people to dance ‘like us’ – we want them to dance like themselves, and to have as many tools as possible to do so.  I’m not interested in flattering myself by training people to dance like I dance.  It has been incredibly rewarding to watch our students at the studio as they have taken the techniques and exercises Jules and I have taught them, and used them to express themselves through dance. When I heard Suhaila echo a similar sentiment – I felt like it validated how I hope to teach.  To hear that someone at her level has a similar philosophy was naturally very affirming.

The motivational quote I made for myself out of that concept is: Teach people to dance like themselves, not to dance like you.  It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I’m honored to have been part of it, and to had have such wonderful people with me through the process (especially Jules, but also some of our friends from Hip Expressions Johanna and Kimberly). I’m all fired up to start working on Level 2! Suhaila will be coming back to Florida next year to teach a Level 1 intensive in the Jamila Salimpour Belly Dance format, so I’ll be working on that as well. Jamila’s format is a major piece of belly dance history in the United States, so I’m very excited to get more into it.

XOXO ~ Heather