Thursday, March 13, 2014

Belly Dancing? Yes, Belly Dancing!

Okay, we talk about exercise with diabetes all the time. It can be really hard to motivate yourself to get out there and get moving.  I think that the winter that we have had in the Midwest has made it more difficult. I don’t think we have been without snow on the ground for three months! It seems that it is either snowing or it is incredibly cold. Not exactly inspiration to get out and get moving. 

So let’s think outside the box a bit. Why not try something new. Maybe something that might be outside your comfort zone. 

I have had a fascination with belly dancing. Yes, belly dancing. I don’t know why. I am the most uncoordinated person on earth but there is something about it that is appealing to me. I also think it might do something with my mid-section, which, truth be told, could use some serious help. 

I was fortunate to meet Malik Turley, the owner of Hip Circle Studio in Evanston, IL.  She teaches belly dancing classes in her studio.  She has agreed to answer question about the classes. I think sometimes it is hard to walk in to try something new – a (in this case) silly fear of the unknown. 

(Okay, who wants to walk into a class and find that everyone is young, beautiful, and great at the activity? It would just be discouraging. Maybe I am alone but I would prefer to know what the class is really like before I decide to try it. Yea, just call me chicken. I am sure it doesn’t apply to you!)

If you have ever wondered about taking a belly dance class, here is your chance to get an idea of what it might be like. Even if you don’t live in this area, it might embolden you to ask these questions at your local studio to see if you would feel comfortable. 

Malik Turley

Interview with Malik Turley

Q1 – I have always had a fascination with belly dancing and I see that your studio, Hip Circle Studio offers classes. Is belly dancing easy to start and learn at any age or weight?

YES! The movements are very organic, it is a zero-low impact activity, and it’s just plain fun! I've had students as young as 4 and as old as 85 start belly dancing with me. I was 100 pounds over the “recommended” weight for my frame when I started dancing and felt like it was the first thing I tried where my curves were an asset rather than something to be worked around or past.

Q2 – Is it just for fun or is it good exercise? What body benefits will one see from starting belly dancing?

Oh, it’s exercise! We do a lot of strengthening of the muscles in your back, arms, core, and legs all through dance postures and movements. I've developed a CardioBelly class that gets you sweaty (and burns calories in the process), but our technique classes are more about strength and tone. 

Q3 – Do you need to wear any special clothes? 

Not really. I prefer to see students in pants so I can see their knees /leg placement. A top that stops at the navel or hip line is ideal for being able to see and adjust the upper body techniques. We have hip scarves for women to borrow when they come to class - that’s really the only “special” piece of clothing. If you imagine what you might wear to yoga or Pilates class, that’s what most students wear. Now, I've also had women in the studio who are not yet comfortable with form-fitting clothes who choose to wear big t-shirts over skirts. If that’s what you need to do to start dancing, or if the clothing I described above makes you uncomfortable, wear whatever you want! I can work around it and help you find comfort in your own skin.

Q4 – What is the typical age range in your beginning class?

We have a few middle-school aged girls who come to class, but mostly we have adults in the 20 - 65 year old range at any given class. I really love that the ages are so varied and think it brings a depth to the class that goes well beyond the dancing. There’s something just right about sitting in a circle of women of all ages, sharing conversation about our day while we do a glute-squeeze exercise. We’re all learning from each other in that circle.

Q5 – How long do students stay in the basic class? Do some never leave? 

I have some women who've been in my BaseFusion class for years! I have others who jumped over to intermediate after only a couple of months. It’s really up to the individual and her comfort level. Goals play a part, too. If you want to perform and dig into choreography then you’ll be drawn to the intermediate class. If you just want to move your body in a fun way, BaseFusion (and CardioBelly) can be all you need.

Q6 – What happens in the intermediate class?

We get into choreography and performance topics in intermediate. This class is where Zahara Fusion, our performance troupe, is developed. Performance is never mandatory but putting together complete dances and learning them in a polished, performance-ready way is our focus in Intermediate.

Q7 – Is the class just open or are there sessions. If there are sessions, how many classes to a session? How long is each class?

All of our belly dance classes are open to drop-ins. I do have a 12-week curriculum for BaseFusion, but you can jump in and out at any point since I’ve developed each individual lesson as a stand-alone experience. All of our belly dance classes are 60 minutes, with the exception of Mother/Daughter Belly dance which is 45 minutes.

Q8 – How is the attitude in the class? Is it fun or does it differ from class to class? Is there talking during the class? It is a “go in as strangers, come out as friends” class? 

Is “go in as strangers, come out as friends” a thing? If it is, that’s what we've got going at all of our classes at the studio. Fun, community, support - that’s what happens. We talk about all sorts of things while we dance. We laugh. We have a really good time. When new folks arrive for their first class it is not uncommon for the other students to start the welcome wagon before I even get a word out! 

Q9 – Am I going to feel like an idiot because I am clumsy and full figured? Are there all shapes and sizes in the class? 

We have it all - no worries! We have women who are sporty and athletic. We have women who are living with MS and Fibromyalgia. We have women with hip and knee replacements. We have women who are lifelong dancers. We have women who don’t always know their left from their right. We have women who are carrying hundreds of pounds. We have it all. And at the front of the room we have me - I’ve had back surgery twice. I have danced at my heaviest and my lightest weights (and in-between). I appreciate women, whatever their size, shape, coordination, and have created a place of welcoming and acceptance. I know people hesitate to try things and feel like weight and such get in the way. That’s why I opened Hip Circle Studio - so ALL women could feel good moving their bodies and getting started on a path to health and wellness. Oh, and belly dance is SO WELCOMING to women of all shapes and sizes.  Curves are celebrated in this art form. Shimmies look delicious when you have something to move. Undulations are beautiful on full-figured women. I’m rambling - come, try a class, I promise it won’t matter if you go left when I go right, and I promise you won’t be judged based on size, shape, or coordination.

Q10 – Can you tell me about your background and training in belly dance? 

I started dancing 10+ years ago here in Evanston. I had a beautiful teacher, Linnea Jewitt, who taught with care and love and created a space where my 30s, had-3-babies, never-danced-before body was welcomed alongside beautiful 16 year old girls.  In the community she created I found a way to love and respect my body that I didn't know was possible. I've studied with other instructors here and there over the years but the other common-thread teacher was and is Rachel Brice. I am currently working my way through her newly developed/still developing 8 Elements program. I've been teaching for about 7 years, directing Zahara Fusion for about 5 years. I love bringing women together through belly dance and really credit Linnea getting me off to such a strong start.

Would you like more information about Hip Circle Studio? 

Please check out their web site at  They have a great variety of classes and meetups. 

Well, there you have it! Hopefully all your belly dance questions are answered. Yes, I will go to a class and then let you know how it went. I will be your guide into the world of belly dance…

If you have any other fitness activities that you might be interested in but are hesitating because you don’t know what it would be like, I would be happy to check it out for you. Just let me know what interests you and what questions you have and I will see what I can do. 

Thanks for reading!

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