Vashti has over twenty years of experience teaching and performing belly dance. The former Artistic Director for Bellydance Odyssey Productions/Dance Odyssey Studio, Vashti is an award-winning performer and choreographer. Vashti has studied and performed a variety of stylizations within the "belly dance diaspora" but has dedicated her focus to the Suhaila Salimpour Format for the past seven years. Vashti became certified in Level 3 of Suhaila Salimpour's format in 2009 and has assisted Suhaila in both domestic and international workshops. In 2008, Vashti released an instructional DVD produced by Cheeky Girl Productions featuring her signature Spanish Gypsy stylization with Suhaila Salimpour's technical format.

Class Schedule


Instructional DVD

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Sunday, May 3, 2009


I don't really know what it means anymore. I mean, I know that most belly dancers (at least those who are being intellectually honest) consider themselves fusion artists at some level. Truly, how can an American dancer learning a dance form with origins in Middle Eastern cultural contexts be anything but a fusion artist?

It is interesting though, that other dance forms are struggling with notions of "fusion." This from a letter to the editor in the March 2009 edition of Dance Magazine:

"But pushing the boundaries of traditional dance does not mean always fusin it with a contemporary dance vocabulary. There are so many aspects that must be developed beyond the movement: rhythmic complexity, ability to improvise within the structure, as well as storytelling, poetry, singing and recitation."

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Just finished another choreography workshop with Suhaila. Today we learned a choreography from the mid-1990s set to Warda's "Nar el Ghera" -- which is sometimes referred to "Ouly" at the school.

I'm not yet sure how much I will retain but I just feel that my capacity to learn choreography is developing like a "muscle" in my body. It is as though I am so much able to receive information from Suhaila. I don't mean to suggest that her work is predictable -- it is anything but that! Rather, the learning process itself is becoming much more clear.

There is something very incredible, delightful and truly marvelous about learning an artist's body of work. Each choreography I learn from her has its own story....its own voice. They are like individual personalities/identities.

"Ouly's" personality feels different to me. I cannot fully fathom why or how yet....but I'm so intrigued!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


If you had told me two years ago that I would attend Suhaila Salimpour's Level Four weeklong workshop I would probably have laughed in your face. It is still somewhat impossible to wrap my mind around it. That I was able to participate in the workshop is truly a testimony to her certification format and instruction.

I am blessed enough to live close enough to the mothership (yes, we call it that -- I know the word probably makes some uncomfortable -- adding to the whole alien abduction image -- but it truly does feel like you are docking "home" when you walk through the door) to attend weekly classes with Suhaila. Time with Suhaila in the classroom environment is precious and I try to soak up every moment as fully as possible. But, truly, the ability to do that -- to remain open to her instruction and to trust her format and her teaching -- required me to make the conscious decision to jump in completely with my body, mind and soul. I had to consciously choose to trust her -- and in many ways that meant letting go of the past. Past habits, past crutches, past excuses and my parts of my ego.

While I have always believed that a truly skilled teacher never stops studying, I found myself challenged when it came time to acknowledge that her format was a complete departure from everything I had learned in the previous fifteen years of belly dance instruction -- and that I would have to start over. So, start over I did -- in Level One classes. And thus began the "reconstruction." After several cycles in Level One classes -- I started doubling up with Level Two classes and then stayed in Level Two....for....a...very.....long.....time. At the time, Level Two felt like the place where I would make my home. I was so utterly challenged by the stamina necessary and the unlocking of my body's muscle movement. So much had my first teacher utilized the "3/4 shimmy" (what I now understand as walking 1/2 time with 3/4 glute squeezes downbeat on the left double time) that ANY time I lost the mind/body connection in my drilling, my body would automatically resort to the "3/4 shimmy." I was so frustrated that I began to detest the "3/4 shimmy." (I've only recently re-visited that particular constellation of layers while working on upper body layering in Level Three). Don't get me wrong -- I'm not mad at my first teacher -- my training is MY responsibility as a dancer.

And so, there I stayed for a long time. In 2007, after losing 100 lbs, I pushed through Level Two and began my Level Three journey. Now, I did not necessarily need to lose the weight to excel in the format. But the loss of weight did catalyze a series of changes that paved the way: 1) I was no longer in chronic pain -- let alone the sort of pain that always accompanied physical exertion; 2) I began to re-gain self confidence -- I believed I could do it.

While I took Level Three classes for several months -- it was not until the Level Three weeklong workshop that I felt I had truly reached a transitory point in my training. From that perspective, the format all made sense. I could never have been prepared for the performance training in Level Three without having passed through the physical requirements of Levels One and Two. In fact, physical isolations are no longer my emotional focal point. Isolations, layering, drilling are...well, they just are and they will always be. It is like breathing -- the learning doesn't stop and I don't expect it to stop...I don't want it to stop. As far as I can tell, there is no final accomplishment. To be sure, muscles become stronger and more easy to access -- and then something else in the body requires attention -- the hamstrings get tighter or other issues arise that need maintenance -- but that is the beauty of it -- there is always something to work with. No, the difficulty in Level Three, for me...is all anchored in authentic emotional expression and presence in my dance. And, I gotta tell ya...sometimes I'd rather do double time releve around the room for two hours than face all the feelings and experiences I have to in order to reach that experience of authentic emotional expression. Because, for me, getting there -- to an honest place requires me to journey through some difficult memories and experiences. It is, however, the richest experience -- the experience of feeling my true self -- even if only for an "8 count." Also, there are the unintended blessings -- I am walking this path with a precious group of dancers -- who are all on their own journeys. We walk together -- though so differently. Just bearing witness to their process and experience is such a gift.

Level Four assumes facility in Levels One and Two and takes the lessons of Level Three into a different, evolved place. Where emotional perspective work in Level Three feels unleashed and raw -- Level Four emotional perspective work is directed and focused. I felt that "broken open" feeling throughout the entire workshop -- even during choreography instruction. I truly feel that as I practice accessing that emotionally open and authentic place -- I learn better. Memory is no longer addled by emotional hang-ups. I am unconcerned with the progress of others -- and focused exclusively on my dancing....it is such a liberating place to be.

I am also experiencing a sort of renaissance with my early dance training. The Level Four choreographies are intricate and include dance movement that I learned and was fluent in as a child and young adult (when I trained more classically). So, my body is re-discovering vocabulary that it has not "spoken" in many years. It's cool.

So, in short, I am so incredibly happy to be at this juncture in my training. I am happy to achieved as much as I have -- and happier still that I have so much in front of me.

(photograph above -- Level Four weeklong workshop participants)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I don't want to forget October....

October was a huge month for me. So many creative projects. I don't want to forget about them!
I started the month traveling with my teacher, Suhaila Salimpour. She was booked to teach in Mexico City at the first belly dance Congress in Mexico. The trip was a bit rough...but we had a wonderful time. I returned home to begin frantically working on a haunted mansion project with my three-year-old son. We worked on it throughout the month of October. Somewhere around mid-October I started a jury trial -- interrupting it to travel to Chicago where I performed in the Cairo Raks Chicago show featuring Aida Nour. It was a fabulous production and Aida Nour is an incredible teacher and performer. (I also had catching up with Karim Nagi!). I returned to the Bay Area, where we hosted Aida Nour in our own workshops in San Francisco....and before I knew it AZIZA was here for Luna Gitana and her weeklong workshop.....AND we finished the haunted mansion.....whew! no wonder I'm exhausted....

(Photos from top: The Completed Haunted Mansion; AZIZA and Andres, AZIZA in Andres' skunk head from his Halloween costume; Shoshanna, Chellcy, Dahlia Moon, Amira and Vashti backstage at Cairo Raks Chicago; Suhaila's workshop attendees in Mexico City; Isabella at Frida's Blue House)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Yosemite::Endings and Beginnings

Why is so damn hard to know when to end something? I am ALWAYS ready to embark upon a new project....I say "yes" to just about anything creative. But, I never know when to stop. I think it could be my Taurus rising -- that could explain that stubborn streak that runs through my veins. 

So, I'm in Yosemite. Enjoying the serenity of silence. Watching the collection of rain on trees and the many environmental transitions that signal the change of the season. It is Thanksgiving and I am grateful for so many things.

A few short weeks ago, Bellydance Odyssey Productions announced the last Luna Gitana Belly Dance Festival. Just a few days ago, we announced the closure of Dance Odyssey Studio. I've received so many wonderful, kind email messages from people expressing their concerns and well wishes. It is a little overwhelming....overwhelming to read about how important we are to the community when we have struggled so hard for so long with poor attendance at our events and in our classes. As painful as it is to close these doors (both physical and emotional) there is a part of me that feels so free. 

This year (August 2008) was my first Level Three workshop with Suhaila Salimpour. It was a strenuous workshop -- it pushed me emotionally and physically. But it also pushed me artistically -- in ways that I did not comprehend initially -- but like the change of season, the falling of leaves -- the transition was inevitable and destined. I have been able to find peace with the end of Luna Gitana because I realized that (not unlike parenting) -- I needed to stop wanting something for my community that it does not want for itself. High quality theatrical production is so very important to me....but it is not so important to most of the Santa Cruz dance scene. Students want to have fun and enjoy their hobby...and who am I to want more from them? If I want more...then I need to fulfill my own dreams, expectations and goals...instead of trying to provide pathways for others. 

So, it is with this departure and closure that I prepare to attend Suhaila's Level Four workshop next week. Wish me only goodness......