Belly dancing as a form of exercise has been offered in Athens for years. It’s not only a compelling way to get a workout, but it is also a dance that helps women feel good in their own skin.
Ellie Olin has been teaching belly dancing since 2003 after she learned the dance herself in 2000. Olin self-taught herself the art of belly dancing, until she found a local teacher in Athens who taught her more of the traditional dance styles.
“I’m just so drawn to the dance, and I find it very therapeutic,” Olin said. “It’s my weekly time to dance, and I believe it’s beneficial for me just as much as I think it is for my students.”
Olin not only dances for herself, but teaches other women how to feel good about themselves and be able to move in ways they never thought they could.
“It’s good for women to be in a class where they can just explore different ways of moving and feel safe while doing it,” Olin said.
Belly dancing classes are offered every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. through Dec. 20 at the ARTS/West building. The classes are $8.
Olin has taught many women who at first feel nervous and don’t think they’re capable of belly dancing because they’re afraid of showing their stomachs, but then they experience the class and end up enjoying it.
“The women who try it for the first time think it’s great because we’re just normal, fun women,” Olin said. “I’m very protective of how my class is run, and I try and make sure it’s a very non-judgemental space.”
Olin’s first class consisted of energized women who have taken belly dancing with her before, and always find it a fun way of exercising and being with friends.
“It’s a good amount of layering between exercise and fun,” Gina Scarano, an Athens resident who attended a belly dancing class, said. “It doesn’t feel as much like exercise though because it’s dancing.”
Metra Peterson, who also attend a class, sees it as being “the best exercise in town.”
“It’s always a blast and the space we have is wonderful,” Peterson said. “We were a more experienced group tonight so we didn’t have to go over a lot of basics, which was nice.”
Despite the experience level of the women who came to Olin’s first class after the summer break, anyone is welcome to come learn the art of belly dancing.
“People don’t know if belly dancing is right for them unless they give it a chance,” Olin said. “Some people come just for the workout and the community of women and end up finding out they really like belly dancing.”
Although the class is tailored more toward empowering women, men are also welcome to come to classes.
“Some men are really good belly dancers,” Olin said. “They have fluid movements that are able to create sharp, staccato, pop-and-lock type of movements mixed with a more traditional style like hip circles.”
Belly dancing is great for a person’s core, with a lot of focus on correct body posture, alignment and awareness.
“It’s definitely a low-impact form of exercise for people who have back problems, but it’s still a high-energy atmosphere,” Olin said. “People also find out they can move certain muscles in a way they never could.”
Some people get even more involved and start buying fun belly dancing garb that could include hip belts decorated with beads, sequins, crystals, coins, beaded fringe and embroidery.
“There’s just this dress-up aspect that people really enjoy,” Olin said.
Olin has had people come who solely want to perform, but also people who just want to get in shape.
“I think to stick with an exercise to enjoy, it has to be interesting,” Olin said. “This is one of those things where every week is different, and I think that keeps people motivated.”
Leah Bound also attended Olin’s first class with the intent of coming back for more every week.
“I love the camaraderie,” Bound said. “Getting together with my friends to dance is the highlight of my week.”