Today’s Word: Unexpected Bonuses

I grew up surrounded by belly dance. As soon as my parents were married, my father forbade my mother (Jamila Salimpour) from performing as a belly dancer; but by the time I was old enough to remember, he allowed her to teach. When my mother and I left the house, we escaped to the real world, which for us happened to be the belly dance world full of dancers, costumes, music, instruments, etc.

I am fortunate to have some documentation from those days; and from that time, I am most asked about one particular photo shown here. I remember the day fairly well.

When I was about two, my mother had scheduled a professional photo session in San Francisco for her student Erna. My mother often coached and costumed her students during their photo sessions. She brought along her assuit, bedouin jewelry, etc, and this time she brought me along, as well. The deal was, if I was “good”, I could have my photo taken. When the photographer finished, they all started to wrap up; I begged my mother for my photo to be taken, reminding my mother of her promise since I had been very “good”. She draped a few necklaces on me, and I started posing. The photographer secretly informed my mother that he had no more film left in the camera so he would pretend to snap a few shots of me.

Later, when the photographer developed the film of Erna’s photo shoot, he realized there had been film left in the camera, and this was the shot he got. It’s the photo that wasn’t meant to happen; it was the unexpected bonus. He phoned my mother and said, “I have a surprise for you”.

In every classroom or workshop I teach, I find those surprises and unexpected bonuses. It’s the woman who learns she is welcome in class despite her age and/or size. It’s the woman who only has time for one class a week but gives it her full attention when she is there. It’s the woman who finally allows herself the freedom to enjoy the music and to explore that through her body movements. They may not be professionals, but they still undergo the same training. And their small but vital victories (improving posture, balancing, learning to point their feet, etc.) can still change their lives for the better.

The work in the classroom creates and prepares for moments of growth and development. And these moments might just seem like little snapshots in time. . but they are the surprises and unexpected bonuses. They are the pictures we might not notice, but I think they might just be some of the most important ones.


Unexpected Bonuses is part of our Today’s Word: Sometimes We Have Something to Say series in which we discuss in brief the common themes and questions facing dancers.