Sharon Sherman’s hips swayed and jingled, following the lead of her dance instructor. Sherman and fellow student Renee Parker began belly dancing nearly a month ago after Richmond Main Street Initiative launched the free fitness class downtown.
“I like the movement, the music, the women. It takes me a little while to get the moves, but it is really fun and I’ve been losing weight,” Sherman said.
Sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, the community-based Richmond Main Street Initiative began offering a free Zumba class in March of 2012. But Alicia Gallo, outreach coordinator for the initiative, said this year the community members requested less intense classes that were more accessible for people with mobility issues.
“We started looking for classes that would suit the demands within the community and we really appreciated these women’s body-positive philosophy and outlook,” Gallo said.
Soon after they recruited the group Your Body Raks, a belly dance duo out of the Bay Area that promotes wellness and movement for bodies at every size.
It’s important that the women leading the class look similar to the women taking the class, because there are stereotypes that surround belly dance, said Your Body Raks co-founder Etang Inyang.
“I would have never tried belly dancing if I hadn’t seen someone who looked like me teaching the class,” said Inyang, who started dancing in 2003.
By being full figured black women, Inyang believes that she and her fellow instructor, Tammy Johnson, make it easier for women to try something new.
“Our bodies are bold and beautiful and we should move them, instead of waiting to lose 10 pounds,” Inyang said.
Belly dance, which originated in Northern Africa, was traditionally practiced by women and men of all ages and sizes. Your Body Raks uses this history to inform women against the western stereotypes that the dance form has adapted.
“It is important for black women to appreciate belly dance as an African dance. It is connected to our history and culture,” Inyang said.
The class is held at 5:30 pm every Friday at the BBK Health and Healing Center in Richmond. Each week 15-20 participates of various colors and sizes join in on this hour of fitness.
“Because of my health issues, Zumba is too much. But I love this class, I wish they had it twice a week,” Parker said. Years ago we didn’t have access to stuff like this, not in Richmond,” said Parker.