The Glutes

Jamila Salimpour, who was the first to codify and create a step vocabulary for belly dance, would tell her students to “tense your hip” to lift the hips, and students would figure out on their own, usually by using their legs or obliques, to mimic the movement.  But Suhaila wanted a solution that allowed her legs to be free for kicks, splits, or whatever foot pattern she wanted to use and also that allowed the obliques to be free for upper body movements.

Suhaila figured out that by focusing on the gluteus muscles, she could create strong hipwork.  She had been experimenting with the idea for some time, but it was when Prince’s Controversy album debuted in 1981, when Suhaila was 14, that she established a methodology for practice.  Every afternoon after school while doing her homework and listening to the album, she would sit on her bed in straddle sit to practice her glute squeezes. The position helped her isolate the gluteus muscles from her legs to make sure that she was working the gluteus muscles independently for hipwork.  She observed that the movement started in the gluteus maximus and, over time with practice, grew to include the gluteus medius and minimus.  She continued developing the technique throughout high school to Prince’s other albums:  1999 in 1982 and Purple Rain in 1984.

In 1982 she discovered that she could squeeze her glutes into a vibration, which is a continuous, sustained glute contraction (of one glute or both) held to create a vibration or trembling quality like a shimmy.  She honed her technique so that her vibrations had different and controllable levels of intensity and speed.

Suhaila had been using her glute work in her performances from an early age; but it wasn’t until the 1990s, once she returned from performing professionally in the Middle East, that her method was introduced to the greater bellydance world.  Suhaila’s novel technique was an immediate sensation.  It was considered revolutionary by some, and controversial by others.  But, because of her method’s effectiveness, using glute work for hipwork, became a recognized standard by 2005.

Cover for Suhaila's Stretch and Tone warmup DVD. Originally published on VHS in 2003.
Suhaila in Japan in 2012 demonstrating the muscles used for hipwork.

Glutework in the Media

Suhaila had been developing and using her glutework in practice and performance since the early 1980s and she intermittently introduced some of the related concepts in her classes and workshops.  But it was in the 1990s that Suhaila officially began teaching her glutework in her classes and workshops. The first official instructional video featuring her glutework was Stretch and Tone published in 1993.  The video features one of Suhaila’s glute development exercises used in her class warmups. Sitting in straddle sit, dancers learn to contract and release each glute independently, both together, and at various tempos.

The next instructional video featuring her glutework, both seated and standing, was the Fitness Fusion series published and produced by Gaiam in 20o4.  (See the Fitness Fusion videos here.)

Someone turned footage of Suhaila’s seated glute exercise from one of the Fitness Fusion workouts into an internet meme (these glutes are made for walking) which caught the attention of Ellen Degeneres who invited Suhaila to be on The Ellen Degeneres Show on April 25, 2007, Episode 146 of Season 4.

DVD Cover for Suhaila's Bellydance Fitness Fusion Buns published in 2004.
Behind the scenes at Suhaila's Stretch and Tone video shoot c1993. Production, direction, and music by Raja Zahr. Filmed at North Hollywood Stage.
Workshop in Chile, 2005. Students in straddle sit working on glute development. Photo by Marcos Oyarzun.
Front of the packaging for Suhaila's Stretch and Tone video published in 1990.
Back of the packaging for Suhaila's Stretch and Tone video published in 1990.