One of my major motivations in starting this blog was to have the motivation to finally dive into researching the burning questions I’ve always had as a global fusion dancer. Over 13 years of dancing and teaching, there have been a handful of questions I’ve never had the chance to sit down and research, so during my hiatus from running a studio business, Everyday Tribal became a home for me to do the research, ask the questions, and write up the answers for all of us to finally go, “ahhhhhh I get it now!”

So far, I’ve been able to connect with some of the foremothers of our dance style – the earliest professionals, the groundbreakers, the trailblazers….and I can now explain to students in the future why there are two different moves, both named “choo choo.” Who was this mysterious ‘Maya’ that we have a name moved after? And where the heck did the “fifi” come from?
Each time, I pose the open-ended question to all of you lovely readers – what questions do YOU want answered about our dance culture?
Last month, Erica answered my call:
“Where did the omi come from? And how is it really pronounced – ahhh me or O me?”
GOOD one!


AMI vs OMI: Pronunciation & Technique

I’ve known for a while that there is an internal hip circle in hula/Tahitian dance called the ‘ami’ – pronounced “ah – mee.” But with my very little experience with Tahitian dance classes, I went ahead and confirmed:

The hula ami is pronounced ah’mee. It is known as a hip rotation and is the foundation for a family of move variations. The move is generated from the thighs and legs with an emphasis on the back loop of the circle, as seen below:

gifs website

As opposed to the bellydance ‘omi’ (or ami…some studios use both interchangeably, while some just call it an ami). The bellydance omi is described as an interior hip circle and is typically taught initiating from the lower abs contracting forward and then releasing, with the tempo accented (if at all) on the forward movement.

gifs website

So I went to the source of the majority of our bellydance nomenclature: the grandmother of tribal bellydance, Jamila Salimpour.

(As you probably know, Jamila passed away last year, but her legacy continues through her daughter Suhaila and the Suhaila International School. Of course, Suhaila has created a legacy in her own right, of which you’ll get a tiny taste by reading on…)

Fortunately, I struck gold with my first inquiry!

So, which came first? The chicken or the egg? The Polynesian ami or the bellydance omi?


Vonda from the Suhaila International School had this detailed info to share with me:

The “ami” was brought into the Salimpour format by Suhaila when she was in grade school.

Suhaila was taking Hawaiian and Tahitian from a professional teacher specifically brought in to teach at a Richmond ballet studio in the mid-1970s.

(The ballet school brought in professionals from various world dances to provide their students a well rounded dance experience.)

It was from this initial introduction to this particular dance form that Suhaila brought the “ami” into her mother’s program.

The ami’s traditional emphasis on the back of the circle was maintained for a couple of years.



At that time, the term in the School was spelled “ami” or “omi”, and eventually most people settled on “omi”. As others branched off from the Salimpour School, they tended to take the “omi” spelling.

As Suhaila moved into middle school (late 70s), the movement became what we now call an interior hip circle, where you can opt to keep the movement smoothly consistent or make an artistic choice to emphasize part of the circle. However, the move was called ami, omi, and/or interior hip circle for quite a while.

And there you have it.

(Thanks to Vonda at the Suhaila International School for connecting me with the right information!)

Comment below with variations or conflicting information that you have learned – we love a good debate.

*Share with your teacher, your students, and your bellydance friends! And send us your questions – I love to research!*

And if you want to learn more History of the Moves, check out these past posts: