The following post is by Caitlin Ray, a former instructor and performer at Belly Motions, Inc. a World Dance Studio located in Miami, Florida. For more information visit


Tribal sounds like a traditional form of Belly Dance, but it’s actually the most modern style to pop up!


It started in America and from its outset, Tribal has been a modern, Western interpretation of Belly Dance that blends elements from the Middle East with… well… just about anything! Let’s look at two women who have GREATLY  influenced, and in many ways are responsible for, the evolution of this wonderful style we call “Tribal”  – The Salimpours!

Jamila Salimpour Belly Dancing

Jamila Salimpour began teaching belly dance in the early 1950’s. Her movements were modeled after famous cabaret dancers of the time. She loved the dance, studied it thoroughly, and had an excellent grasp of its history and roots. Upon moving to Berkley California in 1967, she was quickly presented with an interesting challenge. On Saturdays her students were attending the Renaissance Pleasure Faire instead of her classes! She decided to scope-out the scene herself and to her surprise, the organizer begged her to put together a show for the faire! Her students had taken over and were dancing everywhere, unorganized, so it would be in the both of their interests for her to put on a show.  However, there was one caveat to the Renaissance Faire’s request….


Everything had to look like it fit the Renaissance time period –from the costuming, to the music, to the performances!


Jamila dancing with Bal Anat

Jamila dancing at the faire!

Glitzy cabaret costumes were out of the question so Jamila clothed her troupe (later named Bal Anat) in costumes reminiscent of the Bedouins or what you would find in a Middle Eastern souq. She drew on her previous experience with the Ringling Brothers Circus and used a variety show format which included various tribal dances. For the first time snake dancing, sword dancing, and even magicians were used in a Belly Dance presentation!

“Indeed, many people thought it was the ‘real thing’ when in fact it was half real and half hokum.” – Jamila

So perhaps this is where we see the first “tribal” costuming influence – it was certainly a radical departure from the popular cabaret costumes of the time!


Jamila’s daughter, Suhaila Salimpour, building on the movement vocabulary of her mother, would revolutionize the technique of Belly Dance and how it was taught…


Suhaila Salimpour – Jamila’s Daughter!

Suhaila sought to break down and isolate the movements found in Belly Dance to their smallest muscular components. The format she created doesn’t just ask students to isolate their lower body from their upper body, but their lower abdominals from their upper abdominals, or even one glute at a time!

The result? Dancers who can layer not just shimmies, but entire sequences of movements in both their upper and lower bodies! Creativity is unlocked as dancers discover new, incredible ways their bodies can move, which in turn, leads to innovation as they create movements never before seen in traditional, Middle Eastern Belly Dance. To excel in Suhaila’s format takes consistent, dedicated practice over many years, but the final product is a skilled, trained dancer equipped to perform Middle Eastern Dance or fuse their technique with other styles of dance  in what’s known as Tribal style!


If you are studying Tribal, or even Oriental Belly Dance in America, you have probably been influenced by these two women – even if you don’t know it! From terminology to the use of isolations! I’ve been fortunate enough to study with Suhaila several times over the years, and I can’t encourage you enough to do the same! She will change your dancing forever!