I am surrounded by women of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultures. We are attempting to shimmy our hips and turn around in a circle to the rhythm of traditional Arabian music.
I’m doing something I never imagined I would. I’m belly dancing and it feels great!
“Belly dancing is the only dance that accepts women just as they are,” says Lucie De La Fontaine, the owner of Baladi National Baladi, a belly dancing school on King St.
Women of all ages, shapes and sizes can do it. Her students range in age from six to 60.
“It’s not important to lose pounds, what is most important is to accept the body that you have because we are women and we are different shapes,” says De La Fontaine.
Belly dancing is good for improving body image and self-esteem, as well as posture, circulation, arthritis and digestion. It is not a highly aerobic workout, but it stretches and tones a lot of smaller muscles that help support the abdomen, back and shoulders.
Baladi National is a labour of love for De La Fontaine. Her passion for Egyptian belly dancing and for helping women to improve their self-esteem comes from deep within her.
“I started belly dancing three weeks after having my second child and I have never stopped,” she says. She has been teaching belly dancing for 27 years, the last 13 years in Greater Sudbury.
Baladi National offers a range of belly dancing classes from beginner to advanced levels for adults and children (ages six to 12), as well as “gypsy” dancing and yoga classes.
While belly dancing has very soft movements, gypsy dancing has very big movements and tends to be more of an aerobic workout.
“You use big muscles to do gypsy dancing,” says instructor Rachelle Connors as she rustles her full length, flowing gypsy skirt. “You are really giving a statement when you gypsy dance…everything is big and yet it is so beautiful.”
There are many different styles of gypsy dancing, influenced by Indian, Russian, Greek, Turkish, Spanish and Egyptian cultures. The dances typically involve large, powerful movements and lots of stomping.
“It’s hard on the feet,” laughs Connors, “but I love it.”
The yoga classes are taught by Lise Brown, a certified yoga instructor. The techniques are soft and respect the natural limits of women’s bodies, says De La Fontaine. Classes involve basic postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and meditation.
De La Fontaine has worked hard to establish her unique dancing school in Sudbury. She started with a small group of women who took turns hosting classes in their homes.
As she accumulated more students, she moved from studio to studio. She finally arrived at her current location two years ago, a surprisingly beautiful studio tucked in the back of a 75-year old warehouse building in the Flour Mill area.
De La Fontaine would like to see more women join her classes, but she is constantly battling the negative perception people have of belly dancing. After 27 years of teaching, she is surprised that the stereotype still exists.
Belly dancing is a traditional style of dance that is beautiful, and is in no way disrespectful of a woman’s body, says De La Fontaine. In fact, it is the opposite.
In Arabian cultures, the dance was traditionally performed by women for women. The same is true at Baladi National.
De La Fontaine maintains a respectful and light-hearted atmosphere in her classes, creating a positive space where women can come together for fun and exercise. And it feels great!