Belly Dance in Banff features Suhaila Salimpour

Produced by AMARA MCLAUGHLIN

As an actress, dancer and mother, Christy Greene’s introduction to belly dance was unorthodox.

Greene began belly dancing in 1998 while at the University of Calgary studying theatre. Although dance wasn’t her main focus, a class assignment required her to add a new skill to her resume and indirectly sparked her interest in belly dance.

Now Greene owns her own belly dance studio, Eighth Wonder, and hosts belly dancing showcases, drawing on her experience as an actress in these performances.

In 2007, almost a decade after she started belly dancing, she was introduced to internationally renowned belly dancer and teacher, Suhaila Salimpour who became her greatest dance influence.

 “I began learning Suhaila’s format without the intention of testing or getting certified,” says Greene.

But Greene’s relationship with her American mentor flourished, which benefited other Middle Eastern belly dancers in Calgary.

Salimpour’s School of Belly Dance in Albany, Calif. has a rich history in the belly dancing community. Started in 1949 by Jamila Salimpour, the school is now run by her daughter, Suhaila.

The Salimpour family is credited with being the first to format belly dancing — an art form that previously had no structured technique base. The Salimpour’s changed this and forever left their mark on the international community.

“We’re really working on raising the level of the dance form by having higher technical demands,” says Suhaila Salimpour, owner and teacher of the Suhaila Salimpour School of Belly Dance. “So the Salimpour School and the Salimpour format has really high standards in our certification levels. This is why we produce some of the best dancers in the world.”

At Suhaila Salimpour School of Belly Dance dancer’s can train and become certified in both Suhaila and Jamila format’s up to level five.

Jessica Hendricks explores Suhaila Salimpour’s “Enta Omri” dance, known for its personal choreography elements.

Photo by Amara McLaughlinJamila’s format is focused on improvisation whereas Suhaila’s format — influenced by her dance experience in jazz and ballet — has more technical elements, reliant on choreography.

Greene, a level three certified Suhaila Salimpour format dancer and level two Jamila Salimpour format dancer, is responsible for Suhaila’s annual visits to Calgary and Banff over the past four years.

Greene’s certification levels match those of dancers in Suhaila’s professional belly dance company.

Greene’s skills as a belly dancer reflect her hard work and passion for the art form, which she shares as a teacher, choreographer and performer.

This year, Greene brought Salimpour to Banff on Oct. 16–18, for the “Belly Dancing in Banff” event, held at the Margaret Greenham Theatre in the Banff Centre.

Greene says she has always loved performing. As an actress, she would busk as a belly dancer in the summers along Stephen Avenue to supplement her theatre income from the winter.

Busking is what gave Greene her start as a teacher. She says that’s how she acquired a following of people interested in learning belly dancing from her. She eventually began teaching in travelling studio space in 2003, until she took over Eighth Wonder in 2006.

Greene travels to California to study under the Salimpours several times of year and says her relationship with the Salimpours plays an instrumental role in bringing Middle Eastern belly dancing to Alberta.

Greene models her teaching at Eighth Wonder on what she has learned as a student of the Salimpours.

Jessica Hendricks (left) and Christy Greene (right) perform “El Samer” at the “Belly Dancing in Banff” showcase.

Photo by Amara McLaughlin “The Jamila Salimpour format is more centered on improvisation than the Suhaila format,” says Greene. “Improv is the heart of this dance form — live music, dancers, part of it happening spontaneously and feeding off each other like that — to me, that’s where the heart of belly dance is.”

But in order to be able to improvise to Arabic music, dancers must have a solid foundation of belly dancing movements to pull from.

“Choreography in the program is actually designed to help the dancers progress and develop through technical aspects,” says Suhaila Salimpour.

Jessica Hendricks, a dancer in Suhaila’s dance company, is a certified level-three Suhaila format dancer and a level-one Jamila format dancer.

Hendricks performed at “Belly Dancing in Banff” in October where she danced, “Enta Omri”, choreographed by Suhaila. This particular dance captures personal moments in Suhaila’s life, including the sad and sweet moments in her past love affairs.

“That piece was from moments when I was travelling in Lebanon and I had to say goodbye and leave,” says Suhaila. “I knew I wasn’t coming back, but I wasn’t able to tell anyone that I wasn’t coming back. Every time I would say goodbye to someone it had a depth and sweetness that I wasn’t able to share with them.”

These personal details that Salimpour infuses into her choreography reflect the intimacy of belly dance, an art form that blends sexuality and sensuality through movement with the music. This, says Greene, is one of the things that really drew her to belly dance.

Greene’s relationship with the Salimpour School of Belly Dance and her love for the art form are the reason that other belly dancers get to experience this type of Middle Eastern belly dancing choreography and teachings.

“Because of Christy’s work in the school and her belief in sharing what she’s learning with her community, she’s brought the format to Calgary,” says Salimpour.

Greene is an ambassador for belly dancing in Calgary, expanding her influence to Banff, as she shares her love for belly dance with others in her community.

amclaughlin@cjournal.ca