Belly Dancing Fitness Classes in the Hudson Valley
Belly dancing classes attract Valley women for strenuous exercise — as well as social time together
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Willow (Christine Dempsey) performing a fusion of belly dance styles
Photograph courtesy of Willow
Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries all have their own region-specific form of movement. Turkish belly dance, Willow explains, tends to be more flamboyant than Egyptian; their costumes are skimpier, and their movements are less conservative. In the two classes she teaches — for beginners and for intermediate students, both at MAC Fitness in Kingston — she combines multiple styles. “I teach mixed classes with strong Turkish influences, but I include some Egyptian style,” she says. “They’re almost opposite, but I like to blend, not stick to one style. Many teachers do that and that’s how a lot of fusion styles have started in America.”
Like many teachers, she begins her beginner classes with some light physical training, including abdominal work and squats, but goes a bit deeper into strength training with the intermediate class. “It’s a very muscular dance form,” she explains, “and it takes work to do it properly — it’s not just about women shakin’ it. The movement comes from the inside out, so you’re toning and strengthening muscles all over your body; you’ll work muscles in your shoulders, chest, waist, hips, glutes, calves, and feet. My classes aren’t as aerobic — you won’t sweat like you would in Zumba, but you might be a little sore the next day.”
Hanesworth teaches Egyptian-style belly dance to a class
Photograph courtesy of Angelique Hanesworth
Angelique Hanesworth, a teacher and performer from New Paltz who goes by her first name, also focuses more on Egyptian style and its culture. “Everybody does it in Egypt, even little girls with their aunts and mothers,” she says (although she does note that “good girls don’t do it professionally”).
Even though the Egyptian style is closest to her heart (“It’s elegant, graceful, powerful, and I love the music and orchestration”), Angelique’s classes at the Living Seed in New Paltz also combine elements of other cultures. “I have many students who have different preferences: some like to do Turkish, some prefer tribal — a new form that’s developed over the last 10-15 years. So I base classes on strengthening and technique,” she explains. Sessions begin with a more physically demanding warm-up of crunches, stretches, lunges, and other exercises that might be a little intimidating to a beginner, but those who come back a few times find it easier to handle. From there, she’ll cover basic techniques: proper arm placement — usually overhead or extended to the sides for periods of time, which can get tiring; controlled, wavelike movements of the torso called undulations; and figure eights or infinite symbols with the hips or chest. The movements are then incorporated in choreographed dances.
“In a class when we do choreographed movement, you’ll notice a variation of the dance, they’re not carbon copies of me, and that’s a good thing. I don’t want people to dance like me; I want them to learn basic technique, then make it their own,” she says. “An undulation is an undulation, but how you interpret it to music is how you define your style.”