I’m Ayanna Kafi and I am a belly dancer.
My 12th grade English teacher said that if you like an author read everything they’ve ever written then read everything their influences have ever written and continue like this. When I first saw Rachel Brice on youtube, I was hooked. So began to research her teachers and I found an instructional DVD by Asharah. I continued to along this path and then I hit the jackpot I found Suhaila, I started to watch her videos in hopes that I could get the hang of the dance, and create the precision in my movements that Suhaila is known for. I practiced daily and eventually started to systematically understand the very basics of her format
I noticed that the dance had quickly become equivalent to breathing, in that it was impossible for me to stop. I’m always moving like a dancer. Suhaila’s method has that affect on your body. The format will start to take up residency in your muscles.
I got hit by a car a few months before Suhaila came to Atlanta in 2011, and was devastated to have to miss it. This past MLK weekend Suhaila returned to Atlanta to teach her Level 1 Certification 3 Day, and it was a truly special experience.
At 10am we were situated on the floor in a semicircle around Suhaila and Andrea, the TA, to have a talk about the Salimpour history and the format. By 10:30 we were working through the infamous warm up. Suhaila’s, is not a fan of pointless movements and time wasting. We targeted our key dance muscles from the beginning to end. Andrea led by example while Suhaila walked around correcting us and in some cases, pushing us further. One important thing to know about Suhaila is that she will push you consistently, relentlessly and unsympathetically but she becomes overjoyed when you succeed. Committing to you by committing to her is a big deal. She’s aware that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea so when you push yourself, or allow her to push you toward your edge, she lights up.
There’s no secret to her workshops. In level 1 there’s the warm up, there’s the dance drills, there’s the cool down and sometimes she’ll tell a story about the dance or the tradition of belly dancing. She’s not into the glitz of the art form. She’s into the jaw dropping beauty of an athlete’s body in motion. If you Google how a ballet company trains day to day, you have some idea of what a day with Suhaila takes, physically. Emotionally it’s like having 3 days of group therapy with a spiritual being. The work is intense but it feels sacred as well.
Check out this video: Suhaila Drum Solo
By 4pm on day 1, my injured hip was on fire inside and out. I used a foam roller, stretched, massaged and Reiki to no avail. I felt like crying until I remembered one of Suhaila’s “Chit Chats” (downloadable mini-lectures) about treating your injury as opportunity. She speaks of never stopping your training even if you’re reduced to practicing in your imagination. I made myself comfy on the floor and did the chest square portion of the drills. I visualized the muscle contractions and timing for the lower body for the rest of class. I suddenly had a major ‘aha’ moment! My body can do it but my mind is holding me back. I realized that out on the floor I would have been stumbling along awkwardly because I hadn’t yet been able to visualize moving my body at the speed that Suhaila was asking for. Wow.
The next morning, before the second day of the workshop, Suhaila peered at me from behind her large, dark shades and said “Day 2 is rough”. Everything in my world stopped. My mind went completely blank as I stared at her. “Rough” she said. As if Day 1 was at all easy.
Suhaila spoke the truth. We did a partial level 2 warm up. This meant the straddle squat presses were more intense, the ante was upped on our Warrior I, we worked on splits and we did “NYC Ballet Push Ups”. We did more anatomy heavy drills, but unlike day 1, we did them with our finger cymbals. We squeeze/released muscles in time with the music. We walked in pairs. We walked with flat feet, in releve and in combinations of both. We walked backward, frontward and sideways. She was speaking in pure Suhaila nomenclature as well. An example from her “SuhailaDrill” twitter account is; “Walk releve halftime downbeat right with alternating twists halftime downbeat left. Arms 5th. (Finger Cymbals): 3s halftime”. Day 2 was a bellydance geek’s dream!
My injury had me sitting out at 3pm on day 2 but I’m an enthusiastic finger cymbal player so I rocked out the patterns in support of the rest of the workshop attendees. I watched as the dancers passed. Some with deep furrowed brows, some with looks of complete bliss and others looking lost and exhausted. While everyone felt something different, I noticed a general spirit of “I can do this”. I was bursting at the seams with pride to be a part of such a strong group.
Day 3 was my big heartbreak. I made it through the full level 2 warm up but I failed to be able to do the standing drills. I couldn’t bear any real weight on my left leg and even if I could, my left glute had gone numb. I scooted myself over to my sitting corner to watch and take notes. The day ended too soon and after the round of applause, I limped over to Suhaila with a full pout on my lips. She held her arms out to me and said “I know”. The thing is, she really did. She’s been dancing since she was almost 2 and had a life full of injuries and disappointments. She listened to me talk about my heartbreak over not testing and let me get misty over how she’s been a part of my life for so long even though we were just meeting. By the time we were done talking I felt like we had really connected but I think she does that to all the girls. She has a way about her that makes you feel like you’re family.
I plan to fly to Suhaila’s studio, in August to take level 1 for the second time. I’ll tell you like I told Suhaila when I left; next time I see her, I’m testing.
If you’re interested in the art of belly-dance, start with Suhaila’s format. There’s really no other way to go. To learn more about my fabulous teacher Suhaila Salimpour and the Salimpour legacy, visit Suhaila International and Suhaila’s Youtube Channel.
About Ayanna Kafi
Ayanna Kafi: My name is Ayanna Kafi. I’m an introverted, highly friendly and style minded, Taurus, mommy. I spend my (free) time chasing knowledge. This has led me to my obsessions with writing, yoga, Reiki, hoopdance and bellydance. I have a knack for understanding with great depth, where people want to be and how to get them there, even if they have no idea themselves. My external mission is to clear the fog from people’s path so they can see it as clearly as I. My internal mission is to live an ecstatic life that is self-contained, self-sufficient, sustainable and highly styled. You can find me at http://www.ayannakafi.wordpress.com or email me at email@example.com.