Belly dance-based workout employs 'holistic' approach to fitness

It also emphasizes self-esteem for women

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter


photoEdel Verzosa follows the instructor's moves during her first Bellyfit class Wednesday evening at Fit on 1st in Vancouver. Verzosa is a regular attendee of Zumba classes.


photoMarlainna Renton participates in breathing and meditation exercises at the beginning of the Bellyfit class. The classes always start with meditation before picking up the pace with dance cardio.


photo Kelly Emerson increases the speed of dance moves at her Bellyfit class Wednesday at Fit on 1st in east Vancouver. Emerson has been teaching Bellyfit for two years.


The rhythmic beat of the music sets the pace.

Bellyfit classes

Fit on 1st: 17908 S.E. First St., Vancouver. Classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Drop-in cost is $8 per class. 360-909-3331.

Vamonos Studio: 315 East Reserve St., Vancouver. Classes Tuesdays, Thursdays, first and third Saturdays. Drop-in cost is $6 per class. 360-980-2110.

• For more information about Bellyfit classes, visit Bellyfit Northwest's Facebook page.

First, the music is slow and soft as the women relax their bodies, deeply inhaling and fully exhaling. They give thanks for their bodies, expressing gratefulness for their torsos, hips and arms.

Then, with the music growing faster and louder, they swing their hips from side to side to the beat. They brush off their doubts in their bodies with a flick of the wrists. They swirl their hips in figure-eight motions. They shimmy their shoulders.

The class may be called Bellyfit, but the workout goes far beyond the midsection.

"It's holistic," said Kelly Emerson, certified Bellyfit instructor and owner of the Fit on 1st gym in east Vancouver. "It's really a nice opportunity to get in touch with the mind and spirit, as well as the physical workout."

Bellyfit is a women-only class that blends belly dancing with African and Indian dance. It includes inspirations from Pilates, mindful meditation and yoga. And it's all wrapped up in an hourlong session.

Bellyfit is wildly popular in Canada, where it originated, but is just beginning to gain steam in the U.S. Emerson was only the third certified instructor in the U.S. when she earned certification two years ago. Now, Bellyfit is spreading across the U.S. and Clark County.

Emerson has offered the class at Fit on 1st for nearly two years. Just this month, the Vancouver Zumba studio, Vamonos Studio, added the class to its schedule. Other instructors are also beginning to offer occasional classes at local studios or through community education programs.

"Everyone's loving it so far," said Jennifer Shaw, owner of Vamonos.

The dance-inspired class is upbeat and aerobic, but not in the same fast-paced way as Zumba.

Edel Verzosa, a regular attendee of Zumba classes, took her first Bellyfit class Wednesday at Fit on 1st. The experience was better than she expected, she said.

"It's not as high impact (as Zumba), but I could feel it," she said after the class. "I'm sure I'm going to be sore tomorrow."

Bellyfit moves are more controlled, Emerson said.

Each Bellyfit class begins with some brief meditation and warm-up moves. From there, the class launches into cardio dance, which includes belly dance techniques. After the cardio workout, the class transitions into core-focused Pilates with moves working the abs, hips and derriere. The class concludes with yoga-inspired stretching.

"It's everything that I love to do to get a workout in," said Janet Hatfield, a Fit on 1st Bellyfit student for the past two years.

The class also allows women to get in touch with their feminine side as they move to the beautiful, flowing music, Hatfield said.

In addition to the femininity, the class hopes to inspire confidence among women and nurture their spirit, Emerson said.

"We're very superficial," Emerson said. "Bellyfit wants to inspire women to accept their bodies and be comfortable in their bodies."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546;;;