Belly dance is one of the oldest known forms of dance, believed to have originated in the Middle East. In El Cerrito, California, belly dancers flock to a modern day mecca — the dance studio of legendary performer and teacher Suhaila Salimpour, who is from a belly-dancing dynasty. Her mother, Jamila Salimpour, ran the Baghdad Cabaret, a popular venue for Middle Eastern dance and music in the 1960s in San Francisco’s North Beach. Jamila went on to become a pioneering belly dance instructor, writing the first manual to categorize Middle Eastern dance movements.
Suhaila started dancing at the age two, and as a young woman toured the Middle East and Europe. When she returned to California she opened her school to teach a new generation of dancers, but she continued choreographing and performing. At one of her shows she attracted a talented fan, comedian Margaret Cho, who is now one of her pupils. Spark captures Suhaila giving Cho a private lesson, as well as Suhaila performing with her young daughter Isabella at Rakkasah West, the largest belly dance festival in the world.