Burning calories in an alternative way

Ryan Haidet

Emilie “Mia Donna” Watt teaches her African dance class tribal fusion belly dancing Friday. Watt wears hand felted and dyed wool in her hair. The wool is meant to make her appear larger than life, a belief held by many belly dancers.

Credit: Jason Hall

For most, the holidays are a time to eat – which leads to people gaining weight.

Belly dancing, African dancing, fire spinning and snowboarding provide students with alternative methods of burning calories and staying in shape.

“I belly dance and spin poi,” said Emilie Watt, senior recreational management major. “Poi is the Hawaiian art of spinning fire on chains, which I do every day.

“To stay in shape, you must have some kind of base,” Watt said. “Fire spinning increases cardio, and it also builds your muscles like yoga does.”

Watt said there is something simple people can try to see if they would like spinning poi.

“Get glowsticks and tie them to the ends of shoestrings to see if you like it, then go online and order a set of poi.”

Fire spinning also provides her a stress-free break from homework.

“If I’m really stressed out, I’ll go spin for three songs. I use spinning poi as a form of study break.”

She said she takes a study break to spin instead of grabbing a quick snack.

“When I come back to studying, I’m physically and mentally ready to continue,” Watt said.

Spinning poi isn’t the only exercise Watt does, though. She belly dances, horseback rides, runs and does yoga.

“I do 40 minutes on the elliptical, an hour of body sculpting, 45 minutes of yoga and belly dance and I spin (poi) for about a half hour,” Watt said. She also runs four or five miles a few days a week.

She repeats this routine almost every day and balances her life as a college student.

“I don’t watch television. Never,” she said. “I don’t remember the last time I watched television.”

Watt has advice for those who may be thinking about getting into better shape.

“Realize you are at a beginning point, and it won’t be easy or fun to start out.”

She said when she first started she would push herself a bit further each day.

“I would try to go one more minute on the elliptical each time,” she said.

She said a major thing to overcome is the fear of starting.

“I was afraid to start,” she said. “It’s all mind over matter. You just have to think you can do it.

“I needed to be healthy so I would be able to perform my skills better,” she said. “The exercises I do are to help strengthen my belly dancing.”

Another way Watt says she stays healthy is by eating a healthy diet.

“I don’t eat fast food or anything that’s sugar-based,” she said. “I have a salad a day, fresh fruit, and I try to have salmon once a week.”

Watt said she knows exactly what she wants to do in the future with her healthy personality.

“I hope to open a cultural center that will have all sorts of alternative forms of exercise.”

She hopes to include juggling, fire arts, different ethnic dances and yoga.

Watt, who has turned belly dancing into a career, said belly dancing originated in Egypt and was used to assist women with childbirth.

She has made belly dancing a major part of her life and travels with a troupe, Gypsy Soul Belly Dance.

This troupe, made up of six women, performs belly dancing across the country.

Belly dancing involves “isolated movements, working each muscle group in the body,” said Melanie Miller, a member of the belly dance troupe.

“Anyone can belly dance. It doesn’t take a certain body type or level of fitness to begin. Plus, you learn awesome dance moves, and the music is fun and upbeat.”

To get involved in belly dancing, Miller said to take beginner classes in Pilates.

“Kent State offers these classes,” she said. “It strengthens your body and gives you more flexibility and control. The point is to start small and build up. Don’t over exhaust yourself all at once or you’ll be less motivated to go back.”

Miller said she became involved with belly dancing because she said exercise was always a challenge for her and she wanted to find something interesting.

“I decided that if I was going to exercise, I’d find an activity where I would get exercise but that I’d also be learning something fun,” Miller said. “I tried tap dance class first and hated it. Then I tried belly dancing and loved it. I felt an immediate connection between the movements, the music and my teacher.”

Durenda Webendorfer, another member of the belly dance troupe, said belly dancing is the best form of exercise she has ever done.

“As a person with fibromyalgia and arthritis, this has proven to be very beneficial in reducing flare-ups,” Webendorfer said.

As for her Thanksgiving dinner, she said she didn’t eat a lot, “but I would tell someone who did that they should put on a CD and dance while you clean up.”

Another student involved in the African dance class enjoys exercising on the slopes.

“I snowboard because it’s fun,” said Jennice Fox, senior public relations major. “I can stay active and beat the winter blues. It is really motivating to improve at a board sport because you get better every time you go out.”

Fox also has joined the unique dancing classes.

“This semester I took an African dance class,” Fox said. “It is two hours of jumping and moving and really hard, physical work.”

Fox said she wants to sign up for more fitness-related classes for next semester too.

For more information on Watt’s belly dancing troupe, visit the Web site at http://tribes.tribe.net/gypsysoul.

Contact health reporter Ryan Haidet at [email protected].