top of page




Jamila Salimpour was raised in an Egyptian household in Southern California. Her father was in the Sicilian Navy and stationed in the Middle East. He was fascinated with the Ghawazee dancers he saw there and relayed his knowledge of their dance to his daughter.

Jamila also learned to belly dance from watching Egyptian movies with her landlady. They would memorize steps danced by Samia Gamal and others.


Jamila’s vocabulary was enhanced in the late 1950’s when Middle Eastern clubs became very popular:


“It was only after I went to dance in San Francisco, where dancers were hired from different countries of the Middle East, that I saw a variety of styles. We worked in the same club and imitated each other’s specialties, of course, not in the same show, and usually only after they’d left town. Turkish Aisha wowed the audience with her full-body vibrations. During her show I would run to the dressing room to analyze her pivots. Soraya from Morocco danced almost always in a Beledi dress, balancing a pot on her head. Fatima Akef danced on water glasses with “Laura,” her parrot, perched on her shoulder. Nargis did the most incredible belly rolls and her entire finale consisted of continuous choo-choos. Fatima Ali did a 4/4 shimmy on the balls of her feet. I was told by Mohammed El Scali that she was an Ouled Nail. And so it went, show after show, night after night, year after year.”


Around the same time, she began teaching and started a dance troupe called Bal Anat. 


Jamila is said to be the mother of ATS, American Tribal Style. In 1968 Jamila perfomed with Bal Anat, at the outdoor theme festival the Renaissance Pleasure Faire. Other dancers and onlookers were amazed by the troupes “ethnic” looking costumes and jewelry.





We love her for her creativity, imagination, innovation and style – in dance and costume.


Moreover, Jamila was also a pioneer in teaching, giving names to movements, grouping them into families, and creating a belly dance vocabulary that we all use today. To pass on her knowledge she published a history of Middle Eastern Dance, “ From Cave to Cult to Cabertet.” She also put together a photographic collection of Middle Eastern Dancers at the World’s Fair in Chicago and recorded all of her zill patterns in finger cymbal manual. 

bottom of page