The AALIM BellyDance Academy is offering exercise classes in Oklahoma City, Norman and Midwest City that can help women burn calories, strengthen muscles and increase flexibility.
Academy owner Soraya Al Musri said the dance style works because it focuses on the body's core muscle groups. Like Pilates, belly dancing helps strengthen muscles in the abdomen, lower and middle back. But unlike the slow, delicate movements of Pilates, belly dancing is a fast-paced exercise that yields a workout without too much strain.
"We make them sweat," Musri said with a laugh. "It's a very natural form of movement. We're not contorting our bodies."
The AALIM BellyDance Academy, 2520 N. Meridian, is a nonprofit dance company Musri started in 1997. She has been teaching belly dancing for 30 years, as well as other types of Middle Eastern dance, including Persian and Gypsy styles.
She describes the belly dancing style as comfortable and social. When women visit the gym, they are usually isolated and forced to stick to a solo exercise routine. But at her classes, interaction with other women is part of the process. She said the classes are tough, but her students motivate and encourage each other.
Another bonus of the class is the significant results. Musri said within a matter of weeks after the first class, she notices her students losing weight, becoming more toned and even more confident.
"The more comfortable these ladies get with what they're doing, the more they realize they can do it," she said. "They can rejuvenate, gather strength and go out and attack the world again."
Beginner's classes are held 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays at the Meridian location and throughout the week at satelite locations. The first session is free, and each class is $8 after that. Intermediate and advanced classes are also available, and children's classes begin in January.