If you are a woman who regardless of age or experience levels is seeking a new and different way to dance your way to fitness, Raqs Mystique Studio of Dance is the perfect antidote to predictability when it comes to obtaining a solid fitness workout. Located at 316 S. Hamilton Street in Old Town Saginaw, and started by proprietors Deidre Aranjo and Jeanie Cardinal, this new venture allows patrons to drop into Belly Dance Fitness and Drill classes that made a workout feel like an indulgence.
The Troupe meets on Tuesday evenings at 6:15 PM and also offers a broad range of classes ranging from beginning choreography to Mideastern Dance, Salsa, Yoga, Zumba, and Pilates classes. Additionally Raqs Mystique features a unique retail store featuring new and consignment belly dance costumes and work out wear, in addition to custom crafted soaps, costume jewelry, and hip scarves.
“We actually started dancing in another group and moved out on our own, as Deidre and I shared a different direction and vision of what women can get out of dance,” explains Jeanie. “We were working out of a different location for three or four years and then bouncing around from place to place when one of the girls that dances with us told us about our new location, which we absolutely love. I’ve always liked the charm of the Old Town area and feel that this new location has the right spark that we needed.”
The types of dance classes offered at Raqs Mystique centers upon a unique Middle Eastern Style that fuses together the movement from that along with Ballet & Jazz together into a Middle Eastern hybrid. “It is belly dancing,” notes Deidre, “but incorporates many different styles into this Arabic format.”
What is it about this fusion of styles the duo has put together that they find appealing? “One of the things I like is that as a choreographer, I don’t want to be suck in one style of dance. Often I will go to a workshop and learn a choreography just to take certain elements from it because I like to mix it up. Some dance troupes are stuck in one style, whereas we go from Cabaret style to more traditional styles like American Tribal that is earthier. We try to mix things up.”
According to Jeanie, everybody that starts dancing at Raqs Mystique will move and progress to different levels faster than others. “With our troupe we have 11 of us dancing together and originally my daughter and I began together and then Deidre and I clicked together. We developed an exercise dance program that uses belly dance moves to exercise and is much more fun that doing sit ups and crunches.”
“So much of this is also about storytelling,” adds Deidre. “That’s what drew us together because it’s a more expressive form of dance. I think it’s very feminine. Unfortunately, a lot of people hear the word belly dancer and think of a pole dancer or a stripper, so one of our missions is to help people know this is not something you need to shy away from children’s’ eyes. In fact one of our choreographies is a routine that involves mothers and daughters.”
Presently Belly Dance Fitness classes go from 6:15-7:00 PM on Tuesday evenings, with Beginning Belly Dance Choreography classes from 7:00 – 7:45 PM, which is open to beginner dancers familiar with the basic moves. Wednesdays the Raqs Mystique Troupe Class meets from 6:15-8:00 PM; and Saturdays are reserved for Zumba Classes with Eric Steinke. The fee schedule is eminently reasonable, with the Belly Dance Fitness class, for example, only costing $20.00 for a 4-class punch card or $8.00 for a drop-in If you decide to stay for an extra half hour of dance there is an additional $3.00 charge per class.
“One of the things I find really interesting about belly dancing is that it seems to help women become more acceptable about themselves,” reflects Jeanie. “When you think of a belly dancer you think of a thin tall woman with tight muscles dancing, but a lot of dancers are more full-figured, so we range from very thin women to not so thin women in our troupe.”
“But I feel this experience also makes more full-figured women feel comfortable about who they are. It brings a lightheartedness and an enjoyment to what they are doing and they tend to end up liking themselves more. The desire to dance and be beautiful converges and we all encourage one another, so there is a lot of confidence building within the group. All of a sudden a woman is not uncomfortable waling out on a stage just because she might not be a size 6.”
“We offer a good core workout with lots of cardio and very controlled and isolated body movements,” adds Deidre. “One of the things I enjoy about dancing is that this is my reprieve. I come here regardless of how my day is going and when I finish dancing all my stress is relieved. Even our husbands will encourage us and say, ‘You seem stressed – you really need to go and dance!,” she laughs.
As for future longer term goals, apart from adding more classes the duo is also trying to obtain grants, as they would like to offer free classes to girls from the 7-12th grades. “If we could offer a 30 minute class once a week to give these girls something to focus upon and look forward to, I believe it would help them overcome some body image issues that are prominent right now, especially within that age group.”
In talking with Jeanie & Deidre one cannot help but become drawn into the both the enthusiasm and actualization of their dream. More than simply practice their distinct choreographies, the troupe also takes their act onto the road, performing at different gatherings & festivities. When asked the most memorable place they’ve performed, both women point to Chicago. “It was outside which is always a little challenging, depending on the props one is using. One time when we were in Chicago it got a little windy and we were dancing with the swords. When the wind caught it that was a bit challenging. But so far we’ve danced everywhere from The Eagles Club to Street Fairs.”
The only thing this dance troupe will not perform is private parties, as they are family oriented. Indeed, one thing Raqs would like to start doing is holding Halafas, which is the Eastern word for ‘party’. “Instead of going to Kokomos people can rent space for birthday parties and give girls an hour dance class along with tables set with cake and finger cymbals and scarves – again, a different party atmosphere that is healthy, self-affirming, and out of the ordinary,” states Deidre.
Yet another plan in the making is the introduction of a First Thursday of the Month. “We’re trying to encourage drumming circles and bring them back to life,” notes Jeanie. “We intend to open our doors the first Thursday of the month to anybody who wants to do a drumming circle at no charge, just for people to get an opportunity to learn about our studio. On occasion we will also feature a local artist and promote the work of local artists.”
And in June the duo plan to feature a 2-day Yoga Training seminar that will allow certification so Raqs Mystique may also offer Yoga classes along with Zumba and Dance into the mix.
As we close down our session, I’m curious as to given the rigors of Dance & Ballet, whether Middle Eastern dance also carries a limited lifespan physically upon the body. “I would have to say not really,” reflects Jeanie, “because it isn’t as hard on the body. Women never seem to lose their core memory imprint of dancing regarding the moves. You may not have the stamina that you once had, but every woman that dances with us possess the moves. I’ve been fortunate enough to dance next to ladies in their ‘80s that are still out there doing it, which is another thing that I like about it – there is no age or size limitations and you can do whatever you want. This inspires me as I get older. I don’t want to give this up.”
“Our guest instructor that we regularly host is Aida Al Adawi. One of the Stars in American Belly Dance Legends, Aida Al Adawi, along with Jamila Salimpour left a legacy of dance in America. Founding the original American Tribal Style, known for her knowledge and amazing Turkish Drop move, she toured and taught throughout the United States. Aida currently instructs dance and music at Oakland University and also teaches out of her home in Pontiac.”
Both women also wish to emphasize they have plenty of space available for rent to other instructors seeking to conduct other styles of classes. “We’d like to have someone conduct a one-time workshop and teach people henna or reike or art classes because we have the space,” says Deidre. “We want to open Raqs to the community and engage the community.”
“Another idea that has been on the back burner is offering classes to autistic children that might not fit in with a normal dance class,” she concludes. “Just the movement alone is helpful, whether using tambourines or moving with the veils. I want to take the things that I enjoy about dancing and share with other people and give that joy back to someone else.”
So check them out. On April 3rd and the first Thursday of every month Bring Your Own Drum for the open drumming circle now forming from 7:00 – 9 PM; and be sure to inquire about all their other many wonderful dance classes and fitness routines.
Additionally, their annual Middle Eastern Dinner & Dance will be held on May 30th at the Dow Event Center. Doors open at 6:30. Entertainment includes Raqs Mystique Dance Troupe and various guest belly dance troupes from across Michigan. A cash bar will be available. After the performances the dance floor is opened up to everyone.
You can check out their schedule and learn more at raqsmystique.com or by phoning 989-513-2514 or 989-615-7439.