Category: Dance

Turkish Dance Intensive in Gainesville, FL

Hi everyone!  Heather here, to tell you about some workshops I recently attended.

This past weekend two local dancers, Leela of New York and Najmah Nour, co-sponsored a weekend with 2 workshops overviewing several Turkish folks dances (mostly line dances), as well as 2 workshops exploring the Turkish Oriental style through choreographies.

The folk dance workshops were taught by a wonderful local lady, Margaret Tolbert.  One look at her website and you will know that she is definitely multi-talented.  In addition to being a wealth of knowledge on folk dances from many regions, she is also an artist and an environmental activist.  She recently released a book including her own art and writing, as well as that of other contributers, about Florida’s spring systems, their features, and the urgent need for their preservation.  The book is AQUIFERious and you can learn about the book project, and find out where to purchase your own copy, here. (It’s available at several local venues, as well as on Amazon.)

Each day had one workshop focused on folk dances and one focused on an oriental choreography.  This was nice to keep the brain from being overwhelmed with two much information on one subject.  I loved both classes!

The first day’s folk dance was all line dances, and they were so much fun!  Unlike the dance workshops I’m used to – this was not stressful.  That was a nice change of pace, and it was great dancing together with everyone.  This cooperative aspect is something I really like about tribal group dance, that is missing from a lot of other dance styles.  I think I would like to learn more line dances and begin incorporating them into show and hafla activities for audience and member participation.  (And to make sure I don’t forget what I have learned!)

Some of the dances we learned over the 2 folk dance workshops were:

  • Kemane from Konya
  • Militsa from the Black Sea area
  • Delilo from Elazig
  • Berde from Erzurum (one of my favorites!)
  • Kechiko from Elazig (another favorite)
  • Madimak
  • Sepastia Bar
  • Erzurum Bar

The first day’s oriental choreography was also a blast.  Some of the moves were pretty tricky, but I really *loved* the music.

The second day’s choreography was more in my usual style and aesthetic, (and I really liked that music too) but I luuuurve the first day’s music.  (Hadi Hadi, which is a pop song about a pre-destined love that is just meant to be.  Everyone likes a good love song.)

Day 1 Group Photo!


I really enjoyed this intensive, Turkish culture and dance are major influences on American belly dance, and so I think it’s an important part of the picture that we should have a bit of familiarity with.

Hi everyone!

I found this site (it was being shared around on facebook a few weeks ago) and I really liked it and wanted to share it with you all:

While the video itself is pretty compelling, I was more impressed with the author’s (Karen’s) words in the entry right below the video.

This is the part I liked the best:

When you watch someone perform, you’re seeing them at the top of their game. When they score the winning point or sell their company for millions — you’re seeing them in their moment of glory. What you don’t see is the thousands of hours of preparation. You don’t see the self doubt, the lost sleep, the lonely nights spent working. You don’t see the moment they started. The moment they were just like you, wondering how they could ever be good.

I think the big thing to remember, for dance students in particular, is that every brilliant dancer you see was once a beginner at their craft, struggling to learn as they chased their own dream, but probably enjoying it.  Many of those same brilliant dancers are even now still students – still struggling to learn more and more challenging things, digging deeper, and still enjoying it.

Though her genre isn’t belly dance, I believe that there are some common aspects of all dance study to which her comments apply.  I agree that dedication and practice really make a big difference.  I believe that you do get out what you put in, and a lot of work goes into those few minutes on the stage.  It is undoubtedly incredible what a person can accomplish if they push themselves past the first hurdle (getting started) and then work hard at it.

I’m a bit torn on the idea of not needing to train for years to become a dancer. I think Karen is absolutely correct on the topic of being a dancer – and from the video, she’s an excellent dancer. However to become a full time professional dancer or a dance teacher, it is often necessary to train for a long time, simply due to the amount of knowledge and experience that must be acquired. One can speed up this process by focusing their efforts and putting a lot more hours into fewer years, but your mileage may vary.

But, you needn’t stress about the process, and whether or not you are doing this whole dance thing properly just because you practice more or less than someone else.  After all, artistic pursuits, even as casual hobbies, are often about growth. The only person to compare yourself to is your past self. It’s the journey that counts for a lot of people, and if someone has the time to devote, they can definitely press the gas pedal to speed up – or they can take the scenic route and enjoy the view. There’s no need to rush, so it’s up to you.

There’s a lot more on the web site as Karen tells us her story, and I’m very excited to read it.  Wonderful work Karen – you’re an inspiration!


Mission Statement

The mission of Shambling Shimmies Dance Company is to create an integrated belly dance school serving the Gainesville area.  In addition to dance classes themselves, we focus on running classes that are directly supportive of dance by assisting students in building the skills, strength, and flexibility that they need to dance their best, as well as restorative exercises to avoid injury.  The school is neutral, and everyone is welcome to participate in dance classes regardless of their beliefs, lifestyle, or views.  Bodies are treated with respect, while dance is most definitely exercise, our top focus is learning and growing.  As a dance school, we hope that our product is joy in music and movement.

Wow – what a great weekend! We were very honored to host Lacey Sanchez of Florida Tribal Dance and her lovely assistant Aivin for an intimate tribal fusion intensive this past weekend at our studio in Northwest Gainesville. All in all, we went through 10 hours of instruction ranging from key techniques used in tribal fusion to tips and tricks for layering,  influences from industrial music, performance concepts, and more. Lacey is a talented and enthusiastic instructor, and such a joy to have around. Aivin is also a sweetheart and a very talented dancer. I hope we’ll be able to see them both again soon! 

In addition to the workshops, this weekend was also Gainesville’s first ever Shimmy Mob on Saturday.  One of our own students, Tara, was the team leader and coordinator for Gainesville. Our school was able to contribute by donating studio space for practices, which one of our instructors graciously volunteered to teach.  The Shambling Shimmies School of Belly Dance also hosted a hafla and fundraiser on Saturday night, which was a blast! The funds raised by the party and the efforts of other Shimmy Mob sponsors that donated % of sales or raffle prizes went to Peaceful Paths.


Suhaila Salimpour Level 1 Intensive

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

Next week (April 3, 2012) we won’t be holding our usual Thursday night classes, Belly Dance Boot Camp and Belly Dance Party Jam. We’ll miss you gals, but we have a good reason!

We won’t be holding classes that night because Jules and I are going to be spending the evening driving down to Fort Pierce for a 3 day level 1 intensive with Suhaila Salimpour! At the end of a gruelling 15 hours of training (and at least 1 nice party!), we’re also both planning to test for level 1 certification.

Being so far from Suhaila’s home studio in California, we’ve been studying with her online classes. (If you think you might be interested in learning more about those, you can check them out at

The way in which we teach belly dance technique at our studio here in Gainesville is heavily inspired by Suhaila Salimpour’s format, so pursuing further study and certification in her format makes sense for us. Our philosophy is that cultivating strong underlying dance technique is very important in any dance form, for a few reasons. Strong technique provides a dancer with a solid vocabulary of individual movements, an understanding of the body mechanics to execute them, and a framework to learn new movements. Once this vocabulary and skill set is established, a dancer will hopefully find it easier than they otherwise would to learn new dance material – whether that be in the form of specific movements, dance stylizations, or choreography and combinations.

The skill of being well-equipped to learn new things is valuable in many fields, and I think that dance is no different. This is important to us because we are fusion dancers, and strive to have the broadest movement vocabulary possible, drawing from many different styles of dance, in order to interpret and express the music to our audience.

To learn more about Suhaila Salimpour, check out her website ( and her blog (

Hope to see you on the dance floor!



Shambling Shimmies Dance Company Core Values

Several months ago we were blessed with additional instructors joining us at the school, and as they set about designing their classes, we wanted to try to define our philosophy and the values that drive us so that we could strive together toward a common goal – running an excellent belly dance school in Gainesville that participates in and contributes to the local dance community.  If you’ve stumbled across this post because you are looking for belly dance classes in Gainesville, Florida, I hope that this information tells you more about who we are, why we dance, and what we have to offer.

Our mission is to create an integrated belly dance school serving the Gainesville area – where every class we offer adds to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  As we add classes and instructors to our team, we add more perspectives and viewpoints on the dance.  We believe this is valuable as it helps us and our students become better dancers, and a better community.  We want to bring together, learn about, and share the many types and styles of movement that contribute to belly dance today, rather than creating divisions between them.

We are a dance school.  We don’t run classes on material that isn’t directly supportive of dance, building the skills/strength/flexibility needed to perform dance, restorative exercises to keep our bodies able to dance, and so on.  We don’t want to be a multi-purpose training facility with a collection of separate classes going on, and we do not want to be a fitness-focused facility.  We are and will continue to be a dance school.  Improved fitness may be a byproduct, because dance is a physical activity, but fitness is not our goal as a school.

This of course does not mean that people seeking fitness are not welcome – you’ll certainly get exercise in class – and hopefully you’ll have a good time as well while you learn to dance.  Belly dance is generally a low impact activity executed with careful attention to posture to avoid injury, so practicing it can impart many benefits, both physically and emotionally, depending on what you are seeking and what you put into your practice.  Dance (of any style, I suspect) is all about using your body as an instrument to express the music and the feelings the music evokes.  As instructors, our primary goal is to help you equip yourself with an excellent arsenal of movements and information that you can call up when you need them.

The school is neutral.  The school does not espouse or endorse any particular political, spiritual, or religious views, and does not include them in course content.  Bringing people together to enjoy belly dance is what is important to us.  Everything in our classes is presented as a primarily physical practice to help achieve some dance-related goal.  Everyone is welcome, no matter what views or beliefs you have.  (At the same time, there is an expectation of basic decorum and courtesy as would be expected in any other place of learning.  No student has the right to infringe upon the classroom experience of others.)

Bodies are treated with respect.  We are not selling weight loss, muscle tone, or having the body you’ve always wanted.  We aren’t selling looking or feeling sexy.  You may receive those benefits, or you may not (you may not even view them as benefits, that’s up to you).  Everybody (and every body) is different and that’s awesome.  We’re a dance school, what we want to do is guide people as they build the physical and mental skills necessary to dance their best, and hope that we can make it fun and nourishing for them.  We hope that our product is joy in music and movement.

These are the core values that we try to guide ourselves by as we select and structure classes at the studio.  Students may happen to find spiritual fulfillment, emotional solace, better abs, or any of a variety of things as they learn and practice belly dance, but those things are not our focus.  Our focus is simply on dancing well, improving our dance continually, and being joyful in it while we help our students do the same.

So that’s it – we sell happiness.  Or at least, what makes us happy.  We hope that you’ll come and visit us, and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we do.

Tasty Buddha West Grand Opening

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be asked to stage a small belly dance performance at the grand opening of the new Tasty Buddha restaurant here in Gainesville. The Tasty Buddha folks always have artwork hanging for sale in the restaurants, and a percentage of those sales is donated to charity.  The new location is no different, the event was lots of fun, and to kick things off, all the tips earned, and a hefty percentage of art sales from the opening were donated to the Pace Center for Girls.

Overall things went well – no technical difficulties with the sound system, no costume malfunctions, and a fun time had by all.  The worst ‘problem’ was having so big a crowd to try to dance through!  (Which is hardly a problem at all when it’s a grand opening and the whole point is to draw a crowd!)  All the patrons were very nice and helped me out by scooting chairs/moving purses/stepping to the side/etc if they saw me coming through.  The only real mishap is that I managed to walk out the door without my tip basket, a travesty since I was collecting tips for the restaurant’s chosen charity as part of the performance engagement, and I wanted to be sure I could collect a lot of them. ;-)  Thankfully, the kitchen staff came to the rescue with a big shiny silver bowl that is normally used for salad.  It balanced pretty well, was huge and shiny, and reflected the color from my hair flowers.  Overall a very suitable substitute, and the day was saved.

There were lots of folks at the opening, including several kids.  One of them, a shy little girl, kept following me around.  I’d turn around, and there she was, looking up a me with an *almost* smile.  Sometimes she’d tap on me to get my attention.  She seemed very shy, and wouldn’t speak in response to me, she’d just smile and nod or shake her head.  She didn’t want to dance with me, but she definitely stayed close by.  Her mom was usually nearby as well, encouraging the little girl to answer and to dance, but the little girl didn’t want to.  My husband ended up getting to speak to the little girl’s mother, and it turned out that they came here from Egypt, where they saw belly dancers all the time, but they hadn’t seen any in a long time since they moved, and she was glad they came out that night because the little girl was very happy to see a belly dancer again.  When I heard that later after the show, I thought it was very cute.  In the past, kids at shows have been kind of fickle – they rush up to see this new and usually colorful thing, then get easily distracted and go back to playing – but this little girl was right there with me, no matter where in the restaurant I was, for both sets.  Adorable.

But, back to business – here are some pictures!  Since we can’t be serious all the time…especially when we’re balancing salad bowls on our heads, or being trailed by adoring children that we don’t want to trip, trip on, or trample, a few of these pictures were deliberately selected because they are a little bit silly.  I think it’s important to be a little bit silly every now and again.  I definitely enjoyed the event, and I hope you enjoy the photos!

Happy Dancing!