Fitness trend: Bellyfit dance class

Two Victoria friends stay in shape and in touch through Bellyfit dance classes

Fitness trend: Bellyfit dance class

Source: Best Health Magazine, November 2011

Emma Mason and Laura Paetkau have been friends for six years, but they weren’t workout buddies right away. The two became close four years ago, after Laura landed a practicum position (as part of her master’s degree at the University of Victoria) in the student counselling centre where Emma was employed.

Fast-forward to 2009, when Emma first tried Bellyfita workout combining yoga’s meditation and mind-body techniques with the heart-pumping and core-strengthening moves of belly dancing, plus Bollywood and African dance. ‘I needed a good cardio workout, and was drawn to the grounding and meditative aspects that start and close the classes,’ says Emma, 37. ‘It’s about feeling good in your body as you move.’

Laura, 35, was soon drawn in. ‘Emma kept telling me how much I’d love Bellyfit, and when I finally checked it out, I did. It incorporates so many of my favourite things: dance, good music, positive energy, strong women and friendship.’

Started in Victoria in 2007, Bellyfit takes its inspiration from belly dance’a traditional female dance form’and is designed specifically for the female body. ‘Many of the movements are focused in the hips, shoulders and rib cage, and are circular and undulating,’ says founder Alice Bracegirdle. ‘There’s a fluid, sensual feel that’s balanced with strength and female power.’

But it’s also designed as a fitness class with breakdowns of the moves’instructors show low- and high-intensity levels so participants can pick one based on their needs. ‘The idea is to focus on the feet first,’ says Bracegirdle. ‘Then you can add in the layers, such as hips or arms, when you’re ready. It’s simplified dance.’

Emma and Laura credit evening Bellyfit classes with helping them to stay connected even though they are now employed at separate places’both in counselling at post-secondary institutions in Victoria. The two are busy and it can sometimes be challenging to find the time to spend together. ‘Meeting at Bellyfit gives us a chance to work out and chat all at once,’ says Emma.

Both women share similar fitness goals. ‘Given our work in mental health, getting enough exercise is a huge part of our self-care. My goal is to be active, and meeting up with Laura motivates me to do that,’ says Emma. Laura is equally committed: ‘I still go to Bellyfit if Emma isn’t there, but it’s more fun with her.’

In class, Emma likes to follow her friend’s lead, literally: ‘Laura is more coordinated than I am so when I’m confused about the steps we’re doing, I just watch her.’ And Emma’s supportive and positive energy helps Laura stay in step in other ways. ‘I’m inspired by Emma’s commitment to her physical and spiritual well-being.’

More about Bellyfit

Bellyfit offers more than 300 classes across Canada every week (find one near you at

What to expect: One-hour classes begin with a standing meditation with focused breathing. Then a 35-minute cardio segment incorporates dance movements. After the cool-down, the class moves on to ab exercises, stretches and a final meditation. Calorie burn depends on your personal level of intensity, but it’s estimated to be in the range of 400 to 700 calories per class.

What to wear: Fitness shoes are recommended for the cardio portion. Wear moisture-wicking clothes you can comfortably move in.

This article was originally titled "Breathe, stretch, boogie!" in the November 2011 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!