When one thinks of fitness classes, belly dancing might not come to mind. But belly dance can be an effective, fun way to get a workout. Kari Bennett, belly dance instructor, has begun holding belly dance fitness classes at Studio X in Minot.
"I've gone to other fun dance-based fitness classes," Bennett said. "Belly dance is not a high-powered cardio workout like Zumba. It is a lot softer. Instead of focusing on keeping the heart rate up, we focus on isolating the muscles -- for example, moving only your hips and nothing else."
"As much as I want to be someone who loves going to the gym, I'm not much of a work out person unless it's something I enjoy like a dance class," she added. "I think that's true of a lot of people. They want to keep fit in a way that's interesting and fun."
Katina Tengesdal/MDN - - Belly dancing teacher Kari Bennett, foreground, and class participant Lisa Harmon demonstrate a few dance moves. Bennett said it’s nice to be in a fitness class where women are being supportive rather than competitive.
Bennett has recently moved to the Minot area. She began belly dancing five years ago, first in a fitness class that formed into a dance troupe. Since then, she has performed with various troupes at festivals and events in Colorado and California.
"I started dancing when a friend of mine from work invited me to a belly dance class," Bennett said. "I tried it and I loved it. For me, it was a chance to get off the couch and start moving again, and it's been a big confidence-builder, being surrounded by positive people."
"It's nice to be in an environment where women are supportive and not competitive," she added.
Bennett explained that belly dance can be a good workout because it engages a variety of muscles. Abdominals are the muscles that most people think of first as being the muscles most worked in belly dance, but the quad muscles also gain a lot of strength because knees are kept soft to allow the hips to move freely. The arms and the upper back are challenged by the lifted upper body posture.
Dancers work on strength, range of motion, and using muscles in a new way.
Some might think of belly dance as strictly sensual, but it began as a folk dance in the Middle East and northern Africa. The term "belly dance" was coined by promoter Sol Bloom during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. He used the term to entice individuals to come see the ethnic dancers on the midway.
"People might hear the word 'belly dance' and think it's something it's not," Bennett said. "There are so many styles now, everything from traditional folkloric, to tribal, to American cabaret, to fusion styles that blend belly dance with everything from hip-hop to ballet."
"Once people see it, they often say 'that wasn't as risque as I thought it would be,'" she said.
In her classes, Bennett likes to use a blending of different styles that she's learned. She focuses on teaching basic movements and vocabulary in her beginning class, and she also teaches a second class for choreography.
"Anyone can learn it, and I encourage people to try it out just to see if they like it," Bennett said. "A lot of women think they can't do it because they're not 'in shape,' but it's truly a dance for everybody."