Magic at Mills College

Over a year ago, Ann Murphy, the head of the Dance Department at Mills College, and I met for dinner. She had learned about my dance program through one of my students who had recently received her MA from Mills and wrote her thesis about my format.

Ann was fascinated with what I had created, my work, my process, and wanted to learn more. 

And when we met, I told her about my new (but really, old) program called Core Dimension. And her eyes just lit up! 

She said that our meeting was perfect timing because one of the longtime professors was retiring, and they needed someone to teach a movement class with theatrical applications. What a serendipity!

Core Dimension is all of the performance, creative, and expressive elements of the Suhaila Salimpour format that aren’t exclusive to belly dance. They’re not culturally-driven or rooted in the Arab world or even any part of the Middle East. When I was separating these aspects of my program out from the regionally-specific parts—such as music, etiquette, customs, and history—my vision was that they could be applied to any kind of performance. And not just dance, but theater, public speaking, singing, and teaching. 

So, this fall, in the midst of COVID, I taught my first semester of Core Dimension at Mills College. It wasn’t my first semester there ever, though. About 15 years ago, I had taught belly dance, which I’ll be doing again this spring. So I was so excited to return, to share knowledge and techniques that don’t have to be connected to belly dance, even with all the challenges of teaching over Zoom. 

At first I wasn’t sure how to organize the curriculum. Because of COVID, we had to be completely virtual. The students and I met online, from our homes. And the students themselves weren’t sure what to expect either. One saw the word “core” and thought that she’d work on her abdominal strength!

But after a few weeks, it was clear that the students were all in. They just dug deep into the material. They were fearless and creative, and each of them moves and expresses themselves in a unique and personal way. They weren’t afraid of moving or experimenting. They dove right in, grabbed the material, and ran with it!

After the course ended, the feedback I got was even more inspiring. They told me that they were so excited to use these creative and expressive techniques in their theatrical theses, in their own dance companies, and when teaching their own students.

They made me so proud!

These are the dance creators and educators of the future, and to have influenced them in their process was such an honor and a huge joy.

I didn’t want the class to end. But I can’t wait to see what they create for their final thesis performances and even beyond, in their lives after college and graduate school.

To have made a mark like this on students that I have never even met in person is incredibly special. And it shows that if the material is strong and the students are ready, we can make deep connections and authentic creative work.

In a few weeks, I’ll be teaching again at Mills, but this semester I am teaching belly dance. And many of the students from my Core Dimension class will be there. I can’t wait for class to start!

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