The Rural Intelligence region offers a plethora of fitness and healing modalities, but it can be hard to know which is the one that fits your needs, your body type and your schedule. Enter Paula Boyajian, a yoga instructor certified in Interdisciplinary Yoga and Yoga for the Special Child, who has taken on the role of RI’s fitness contributor to sleuth out the details of the many health and wellness options in our area.
Are you like me and shy away from “free" offers: the baker’s complimentary samples that aren’t quite fresh; the TV announcer promising a second item at no cost – except for shipping? Well, the notion “you get what you pay for" has been altered for me after taking a free Bellyfit class at Great Barrington’s Renaissance Arts & Wellness Center. The class was offered as part of instructor Lynn Chiavacci’s final certification process and will be included in RAWC’s September “Boutique Fitness" lineup. So belly up to the center’s registration desk and sign up for this invigorating and inspiring class.
What It Is
Created by a Canadian, Alice Bracegirdle, Bellyfit is a class designed for a woman’s body. It combines worldwide dance traditions like belly dancing, Bollywood and African dance with contemporary exercise. Instructor Lynn Chiavacci explained that Canadian healthcare providers are more mindful of women’s unique needs. Bellyfit dovetails with this approach by providing a holistic way for women to move, rediscover themselves and enjoy being in their bodies. The result is a calorie-burning, sweat-inducing routine that celebrates women’s strength and wisdom. There’s no pressure to be a model-type here; in fact, Lynn said, “The hardest part of the class may be when we just let our bellies really hang out." And that’s because Bellyfit doesn’t just welcome but celebrates women of varying body types.
Instructor Lynn Chiavacci and Pat Navarino.
All Levels. Philosophically speaking, it seems that excluding any woman who wanted to try Bellyfit would be in direct opposition to its tenets. Practically speaking, the routines can be followed by beginners since Lynn’s cuing is excellent. She starts us off with a very still, centering exercise and a gentle warmup follows. When the “dancey" part begins, one movement is introduced at a time. Following your own wisdom, doing what you can and what you enjoy is the governing principal.
Much like a traditional aerobics class, you can burn lots of calories and sweat up a storm. Unlike a traditional class, you achieve this through recognizable exercises and exotic moves that make you feel like you’re in the closing scene of Slumdog Millionaire. So while you target body parts, you also feel enchanting and graceful. You may not even notice that you’re spot toning. For instance, during a belly-dance hip bump you’re working your obliques. As in all dance styles, ideally your upper and lower body move together so you have to focus, coordinate moves and balance. If you’re not already focused, coordinated and balanced, you will be after Bellyfit.
Although Lynn is just being certified as a Bellyfit instructor, she graduated from college with a degree in Health Education (her minor was Athletic Training). After several years teaching and training high school students, she gave birth to daughter Alessandra and decided to leave behind a hectic, inflexible schedule. Lynn’s teaching skills, sense of humor and respect for her students remain strong — not to mention her incredible attention to detail. While doing a pelvic tilt she clarified that the movement comes from the pelvis and abs, not the buttocks — a small change that made a big difference in what muscles I could feel working. Throughout the class, Lynn offers options for beginners and experienced alike. Between my knowledge of my body and Lynn’s expertise, I challenged myself without risk of injury or morning-after aches.
The center’s founder and director, Pat Navarino, is proud to say what you may have heard lots of employers say: her staff is like a family. But at RAWC, it’s true and it shows. The exquisite desk, armoires and flower arrangements in the check-in area make it feel like you're walking into a country home. The first floor buzzes with artists at work and a small gallery boasts art by locals. This creative, supportive energy wafts to the second floor where there’s a new massage space, yoga room and the studio where Bellyfit takes place.
One drop-in class is $20; an eight-week class is $150. Monthly punch cards are available for $120.
Bellyfit at Renaissance Arts Center
420 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington, MA