Belly Dancing Their Way to Health and Self Esteem

Stephanie López shows some of her moves. (Photo courtesy of LucyAlia Turull via EDLP)

El Diario La Prensa reports on a dance fitness class in Washington Heights that helps voluptuous women stay healthy and discover the real beauty of their own bodies. Below is a translation of the article from Spanish.

A group of Hispanic women in Washington Heights has learned how to handle the difficulties in their lives by moving their entire bodies, down to the very last muscle. Belly dancing has been their recipe for feeling good about their curves and literally “sweating their way” to self-esteem.

Most of these women had given up going to the gym for lack of motivation, but thanks to Fusion Tribal Belly Dance – a modern variation of belly dancing that combines hip hop, flamenco, and other rhythms – they found a way to do something more than simply tone their bodies and burn calories.

Every week, during exercise sessions that also serve as group therapy, the participants discover the beauty and worth of their curves after having suffered through years of harassment from people who put them down because of their voluptuous figures.

Stephanie López, a young woman of Dominican descent, has been practicing this type of dance for nine years. Now 18, she said it has helped her to maintain a healthy weight and better posture.

“I’m full-bodied, and I always had problems because of what my classmates would tell me in school,” she said. But those days are gone, she said. “I’m very confident about my body now.”

The women tell a story with their sensually charged movements, while simultaneously releasing tensions and channeling insecurities.

“I teach them to dance in a way that makes them feel beautiful, which they never thought they would be able to do with their bodies,” said the group’s instructor, Lucy Alia Turull, a dancer of Puerto Rican heritage with more than 30 years of experience. “It gives you great sense of freedom to understand who you are as a woman while exercising, without thinking about what you are doing.”

Healthy, Inside and Out

According to Turull and her followers, practicing this type of belly dance on a continual basis improves health. As a low-impact exercise, it contributes to cardiac and respiratory health, and reduces stress and muscle pain.

“I’ve discovered bones and muscles I didn’t even know I had,” joked Norga Méndez, 67, who has a heart problem. “It doesn’t just involve learning how to move, but also how to breathe and take control of your body.”

Since she began dancing four years ago, Méndez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said her life has changed for the better.

“I feel good inside and out,” she said. “I stay active and I don’t get tired from climbing the stairs.”

At the beginning, Méndez thought she needed to have a perfect figure to do belly dance, but her experience has shown her that the opposite is true.

“This lets me be myself,” she said.

Giselle Román, 19, who is of Cuban-Dominican heritage, developed a passion for the dance, which led her to join Turull’s group four years ago after several “very boring” attempts at exercising in a gym.

“When I dance, I feel very happy and more sure of myself, but when I don’t do it, my attitude changes and I feel incomplete,” said Román.

The group practices at sites in Upper Manhattan or at people’s homes while it seeks a permanent location. As an extension of their therapeutic classes, the group gathers at Turull’s home on Fridays to dance, exchange ideas, and organize performances at health centers, an initiative that the women say is a way to show people just how good they feel.

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