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Poulsbo's Dance Within unveils the belly dance
Poulsbo’s Claudine McCormick instills fab moves and
confidence in women of all ages.
POULSBO — There’s something stirring among the women of Kitsap. It’s a spirit of self-confidence, of sisterhood rather than competition, of joy and health and, above all, fun.
It seems to be contagious, and can be traced back to a single, hip-shakin’ source:
“Up, boom! Up, boom!” shouts belly dancing instructor Claudine McCormick of The Dance Within Studio in Poulsbo. “Keep those knees bent!”
It’s a Monday evening, and a handful of women have left their work, family and home obligations behind to engage in some seriously energetic activities: shimmies, body twists, “Charlie’s Angels” crunches — even cranial sword balancing. It’s all a part of McCormick’s BellyFit and belly dancing courses, which are offered in five-week sessions. A new session will begin through Poulsbo’s Parks and Recreation department Monday.
From Shakira and the Cheetah Girls to tribal fusion tunes, McCormick’s studio is vibrating with life. The walls are a pallet of colors, the ceiling painted a bright sky blue complete with feathery white clouds. Women of all ages, sizes and shapes are dancing, some of them with hips adorned by coin belts. Laughing, the scene appears more like one from a girls’ night in than would ever be seen in a gym, and the dance certainly looks more stimulating than an elliptical machine.
Cheering, clapping, stretching and shaking, the group hits all the pivotal muscle groups, working from top to toe their arms, abs, backs, glutes and legs. Situated in the second floor studio in a neighborhood overlooking Liberty Bay, the barefoot band of merry dancers are like a welcoming club with just one rule: no boys allowed.
”I want it to be a safe place for us to be fun and free,” explained McCormick, 37. “We get kinda crazy sometimes.”
It’s a chance for girls and women – she’s taught students from age 3 to 83 – to “open up and be proud,” she said.
“I’m kind of a fun teacher, I’d say,” she added. “I don’t want people to feel intimidated when they come in.”
Those on all areas of the fitness spectrum are welcome, and no pre-requisites are required. McCormick, who studied sociology and women’s studies at the University of California Santa Cruz, and who’s a certified team-builder, made it her goal to create a safe, non-judgmental environment. Her studio’s philosophy: to encourage self-confidence in a fun, non-competitive atmosphere.
And from the looks of things, it’s clear the energetic belly dancing leader has done just that.
During their final session, McCormick’s dancers give sword balancing a try (a special treat on the last day of class), and place the unsharpened weapons atop their heads, skinny-side up. Princesses balancing books on their heads certainly take second tier to these gals, who, like divas, wave their arms gracefully through the air all while sporting the ancient battle gear.
From knee lifts to Egyptian walking, McCormick has helped to shape the correct posture and technique in the students, not worrying so much about making them look good, but making them better.
“I’m proud to say that,” she said.
And instilled in each is a physical confidence rare in 21st century, media-saturated society.
”I saw a show and I saw how self confident everyone was and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want that,’” said student Amanda McNeil, 26, of her first taste of belly dancing. And what struck her most: no one was worried about what they looked like.
“That was the thing that got me on that one,” she said. Two years later, McNeil is still enjoying lessons on the craft. It’s one created by women, for women, she said.
Unlike the sexual images put forward in Hollywood stereotypes, belly dance is an ancient art with roots in the Middle East and North Africa. There, it was passed from generation to generation by mothers, grandmothers and aunts, used to heighten a spirit of sisterhood and express joy in exciting life events.
When new mom Stephanie Rosas, 32, stumbled upon the BellyFit class, her friends from work were quick to jump on board, and now she says they’re recruiting everyone they can.
”I wanted to get out of the house and do something,” she said, stating with a laugh she stands adamantly against the practice of exercising (including taking the stairs at Harrison Medical Center, where she’s employed). “We’ve been trying to get everyone at work - we might have all the janitors here soon.”
Co-worker Pam George, 51, and friend Shan-Marie Stockman, 43, said the class was a perfect fit.
”I said, ‘I have found the greatest class,’” George said. “It’s for women, by women. It’s all about feeling good about yourself.”
”This was exactly what I was looking for,” she said.
Though McCormick will part from the Parks and Rec department this fall, new and current students can still find class information on her studio’s Web site, thedancewithin.com.
Belly dancers-to-be, or those with experience, can visit the Web site, call Parks and Rec at (360) 779-9898, or call McCormick at (360) 697-7712 for information on the sessions beginning Monday.
“I’ve always known that I was going to do powerful work,” McCormick said. “But belly dancing actually found me. That became a tool for me.”
After eight years of teaching she now has more than 50 students. Classes for youth range from the Little Genies and Arabian Princesses to Diamonds in the Rough and the Jewels of the Nile teen troupe. With each, she teaches not just dance, but the idea of culture and sisterhood, involving the girls in trust activities and mentoring partnerships with other students. She’s looking to offer mother/daughter courses and a tribal fusion session in the future.
“Belly dancing is really a dance for everybody and every body. You discover muscles you never knew you had,” she said. “A lot of women just dance for themselves. It’s an amazing gift to have.”