Belly dance classes offer unique way to exercise in Folsom

By: Laura Newell, Telegraph staff writer
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FOLSOM, CA - Swaying hips, gentle arms and soft movements are all part of the spiritual dance and unique workout called belly dancing. Mary Chapman, 60, of Folsom has been teaching belly dancing in Folsom for 12 years after first learning the dance in 1974. Now, at the age of 60, she said she is stronger and healthier than ever before. “It is a real art form, it’s a combination of so many different cultures including Arabic, Turkish and Egyptian,” Chapman said. “The American version is very gothy and earthy. It’s beautiful.” Chapman teaches at Planet Earth Rising on Sutter Street in Folsom. She said women in her classes chose dancing names to help prepare their mind for the dance. “It’s about staying fit – mind, body and spirit,” she said. “You are dancing your emotions and feelings out.” Chapman, also known as Gypsy, said the sport is not only physically strengthening by lengthening and isolating the body through abdominal, leg, arm, head, neck and shoulder exercises, it can also spiritually uplift one’s mindset. “It works every part of your body and it is a gentle dance to strengthen and limber the body,” she said. “With me, I have had two major back surgeries. If it hadn’t been for belly dancing keeping my back strong, I would be walking with a cane right now.” She said it can be “an amazing healer” for any body type, age or level of student. “I call it the goddess dance,” Chapman said. Jan Bramson, 52, of Sacramento, said belly dancing has made her more confident in herself after starting 12 years ago with Chapman. “When I was a kid, I took ballet, jazz and tap, but never belly dancing,” Bramson said. “I finally had an opportunity with Gypsy when she started teaching in Folsom. It is a great workout.” Bramson is now at an advanced level and performs at local venues, festivals and events with Chapman’s dance troop. On average, she dances once a week. “I consider myself as a big woman, but I have fun getting dressed up and dancing with all of my friends,” Bramson said. “It makes me feel very happy. It gives me a sense of confidence. We are a social support group to each other. It just makes me feel joyful and content.” Chapman said new dancers need to remember to keep an open mind and stay patient with themselves. “We work really slowly in class to let every student catch up,” she said. “After a while the body starts remembering the movements. Don’t be critical of yourself or expect too much because this is a very different and unique workout. It’s a unique movement for your body.” But, she said if students stay with it, results will be noticeable for the dancer. “A woman carries her abdomen muscles under the fat, so we are soft looking,” Chapman said. “There are three layers to your abdomen and we learn how to use all three layers.” Belly dance student Lizette Finelli, of El Dorado Hills, started classes a year ago and within six months moved into the intermediate class. “Without a doubt, from my very first class, it has changed my life,” Finelli said. “There is no better way for a woman to honor her inner Goddess than the dance of the belly. It is sensual, fun and a phenomenal workout. I am down almost 30 pounds since I started and can honestly say I’m in the best shape of my life.” To contact Chapman, e-mail For more information on classes, call (916) 355-8844 or visit * * * KNOW AND Go What: Belly dancing class When: Tuesday 6-7 p.m., technique 7-8 p.m., beginning Wednesday 6:30-7:30 p.m., tribal fusion Thursday 6-7 p.m., beginning; 7:15-8:30, intermediate/advanced Where: Planet Earth Rising, 625 Sutter St., Folsom Cost: $12-$15 for drop in class, $40 for four classes Information: (916) 355-8844,