World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Bal Anat

Belly Dance
Jamila and Suhaila Salimpour
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Bal Anat was formed in 1968 by Jamila Salimpour out of a need for an organized presentation of the various Middle East dances at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Northern California. This provided Jamila a means to present her many years of research on traditional Middle East folkloric dances. The current company members train under artistic director Suhaila Salimpour who resurrected the company in 2000.


Bal AnatTITLES: Procession, Sword, Raks El Zagat
Suhaila Salimpour
Alicia Altair, Laura Lopez-Ayllon, Rachel Duff, Ginger Gowan, Anna Horn, Patti Kjonaas, Cheryl Lee, Melanie Lee, Lisa Price, Johanna Prink, Andrea Sendek, Tina Toy, Angelica Wu, Lucille Ynosencio

Bal Anat presents a suite of Middle Eastern dance. The title of the piece, Ghawazee, means “invaders of the heart” and it refers to an Egyptian ethnic group known as itinerant entertainers. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Ghawazee lived in settlements along the Nile and in Cairo. They traveled from city to city, performing centuries old Middle Eastern dance and music. They danced for marriages and births, and in the streets, at fairs, and in military camps, where western travelers became fascinated by the sensuous female dancers. This suite includes the introductory Procession, is followed by Sword Dance and Raks El Zagat: Dance of the Finger Cymbals.

Suhaila Salimpour choreographed the dramatic Sword Dance for the Festival stage, and her mother created the dance. In the 1960s, Jamila Salimpour—dancer, choreographer, and scholar of Middle Eastern dance—found inspiration in an 1870s painting by the French academic painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme. Gérôme had traveled to Egypt and one of his paintings shows a Ghawazee dancer balancing a sharp sword on her head. The title of the final number, Raks El Zagat, refers to the oldest forms of Middle Eastern dance. This piece showcases Jamila Salimpour’s brilliant finger-cymbal technique. In her book, From Cave, to Cult, to Cabaret, Salimpour links the cymbals to ancient times:

The cymbal, originally an instrument used in (Mesopotamian)
ritual. . . The sound of the cymbals, as they clashed together,
had a magical significance in communicating with the
(Anatolian) Goddess Cybele, after whom they were named.

Suhaila Salimpour’s choreography is based on traditional Middle Eastern folkloric steps and rhythms. The costumes reflect traditional Bedouin dress, made of rare Bedouin assuit, a netted fabric with inlaid hand-pounded pieces of silver, dating back to the Pharaohs. The dancers also wear jewelry such as Bedouin women collect for their dowry. Traditional North African folk songs are played on traditional tribal instruments including the mizmar, oud, nai, bagpipe, deff, tabla, riq, muzhar, and karkaba.

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