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Annual Bellydancers of Color Association Expo Encourages Sensual Healing

Shantella Y. Sherman | 5/28/2009, 12:40 a.m.

Friends Valerie Rasheed-Dale and Vaiyyah Abdullah found that among the many perks to bellydancing was looking and feeling better in midlife than they ever had in their 20s. In fact, this year€s annual Bellydancers of Color Association Movement and Wellness Expo, brought thousands of African American women from around the country out to share their testimonies, demonstrate their moves, and fellowship with one another.

For Rasheed-Dale, a financial educator from Roanoke, Va. who makes the four-hour trip in to the District weekly for bellydancing classes, health concerns took the forefront in her decision to join classes.
€Bellydancing is sensual, but it is also fun. It€s about the healing and corrective power of the movements in bellydancing that help women physically and mentally,€ she said.

Rasheed-Dale said the movements are good for reproductive health, as well as a host of ailments brought on by poor diet and exercise.

€I had arthritis or the beginnings of it, inflammation in my joints, and also some issues with cholesterol and blood pressure. After a few weeks of consistent classes, the changes were overwhelming; the inflammation in my joints disappeared and my cholesterol went down 28 points,€ Rasheed-Dale said.
Subsequent visits to her doctor since beginning bellydancing classes have charted lowered dosages for blood pressure medications, the loss of more than 60 pounds, and created a sense of empowerment in Rasheed-Dale, echoed non-stop by the women attending the BOCA Expo. Mused Rasheed-Dale, €I am in better shape now than my daughters.€

Abdullah, who introduced Raheed-Dale to bellydancing, is not far behind. A college professor at Montgomery College, Abdullah said she was first encouraged to attend classes out of curiosity. Despite already taking several cardio and other exercise classes, none met the specific needs of Black women like bellydancing.

€I understood that any type of exercise classes would help get women into shape, but the focus at Mamasita Studio was specifically for women and dealt with a lot of the issues Black women struggle with in their health and exercise routines. These exercises tend to tone and strengthen a woman€s feminine self and ward off things like uterine fibroids,€ Abdullah said.
Abdullah said that in addition to the comfortable all-female classes, there was no place she tried that had the type of energy as MamaSita€s.

€I could not find that vibe anywhere. It is not only the fun of doing the exercises, but also the camaraderie and sisterhood you feel. This crosses all racial lines, there are no barriers, just a sisterhood of women learning how live healthy,€ Abdullah said.

Hosted by Dr. Sunyatta Amen, executive director of BOCA and owner of MamaSita Movement and Wellness Studio in Northwest, the event embraced Amen€s naturopathic mission to €teach the world to live a natural, sexy life through movement.€ Using ancient forms of movement that incorporate Tai Chi, bellydance, and Kung Fu techniques, Amen€s classes are designed to tone and revitalize internal and external troublespots of the female body.

Aside from the on-the-spot testimonials at BOCA, evidence supports Amen€s claims that fibroids, cysts, long menstrual cycles, and fertility issues are positively affected or eliminated altogether without surgery or drugs, belly dance and proper eating habits.

For Kava Napthali, belly dance has helped shrink fibroids, and now, five-months pregnant, will hopefully aid in the delivery of her second child. Napthali, a social worker from Delaware, said she came to support the event and connect with other pregnant dancers.

€I have known some of these women for years and they knew me before my son was born. They had seen me discouraged that I would ever have one child let alone be pregnant with a second baby. This is like a homecoming for us, but then we also get to put on our hip scarves and shake our hips,€ Napthali said.

At least one international medical group took a page from belly dance as an ancient prenatal exercise in advising its customers. In a 2007 report from the Kaiser Foundation pregnant women were encouraged to consider belly dance as a means of strengthening uterine muscles for labor and delivery and as an alternative to drug therapies while in delivery.

Classes at MamaSita Movement and Wellness are open and do not require membership. To learn more go to www.gomamasita.com.