Belly dance instructor shapes up confidence
BEST FITNESS TRAINER
Penny Morris says she doesn’t look like the typical fitness trainer. But the voluptuous redhead who dons lipstick, jewelry and rows of coins around her hips does more than help women get fit.
Morris helps women find confidence from the inside-out through a timeless and ancient form of expression.
The owner of Crystal Bindi Studios in Traverse City is a belly dance instructor, earning “Best Fitness Trainer in Grand Traverse County” for our Best of Northern Michigan survey.
A NEW CONFIDENCE
On a Monday evening, a dozen women—varying in age and shape—stand in front of the wall-length mirrors at Crystal Bindi, tossing their hips and rolling their shoulders to the rhythm of Arabic music. There’s plenty of laughter as the clients ranging in experience from one year to five interact with their instructor.
“This is when we’re slamming the car door shut and we’ve got an arm-full of groceries,” Morris says, popping her hip to the right.
Morris started in the fitness industry in 2002 working as a trainer for Curves International. Around that time, she had lost a significant amount of weight, but she still felt like the same insecure person. At the age of 35, along with her 16-year-old daughter Adrian, Morris took her first belly dance class (Middle Eastern dance).
Not only did Morris see changes in herself, she also saw them in her daughter.
“Like most teenagers, she was very insecure about her body. She used to hide behind baggy t-shirts and pants. One day she came downstairs with a box full of baggy clothes and said, ‘Mom, take these to Goodwill. I’m going to start dressing like a girl,’” she recalled.
“The transformation was amazing and I thought, ‘Wow. I want to be like that.’” Adrian’s interest in belly dancing grew and she told her mother that although she would still attend college, she wanted to teach belly dancing.
However, Adrian’s dream was cut short when a car accident took her life at the age of 17.
“I had two decisions,” Morris says through fresh tears. “I could either walk away from it and never look at it again, or I could take up the task that she started and keep going with it. And that’s what I chose to do, because that’s who she was and that’s who I wanted to be.”
“I wanted to give the confidence I saw in her to other women. Over the course of this journey, I’ve realized that most people choose to look at the outside,” says Morris.
“People will call me and say, ‘I’ve al ways wanted to do (belly dancing) but I want to lose five pounds first. I say to them, don’t wait. Do it now. You have to love yourself now. When you start to love yourself now—whatever body you happen to be wearing at the time—you’re going to start making better choices for yourself; and that’s where true fitness comes from.
“As a society, it’s a shame to define fitness by a shape or size. Genetically, women are designed to hold extra body fat because somebody still has to nurse the children in times of famine. So to beat ourselves up for something we’re genetically programmed for is such a waste.”
Morris says that while gyms have their place, belly dancing allows women to connect with themselves on multiple levels. She points specifically to the action of swaying.
“It’s very much like rocking a baby,” she says. “Our hips are designed to swivel, but we don’t move that way in society. There is a natural flow to your body in belly dancing.”
“Belly dancing is psychological fitness,” adds Sharon Leduc, Morris’s teacher who is now a client. “It’s about the connection with other women.”
While some people may be intimidated shaking their hips in front of a mirror, Morris provides a comfortable atmosphere with plenty of guidance.
“Penny is very gracious in giving us direction,” said Piper Gills, a student of five years. “You really have to train your body to do a particular move, but she’s always there giving us that reassurance.”
She also provides useful tips for students outside the studio.
“She’ll give us exercises to do while in the car,” said Maia Stephens, the recreation programmer for Michigan State Parks and Harbors who spends up to eight hours on the road.
“For example, you can do belly drums. So while you’re driving, you’re tightening your core and focusing on specific movements. It’s learning to control your body movements and strengthening at the same time.”
Along with her Crystal Bindi classes, Morris is also a facilitator at Michael’s Place (a healing place for grieving families) and a certified massage therapist and a singer/songwriter.
Belly dance classes include “Bellydance Fitness,” “Senior Shimmy,” “Energy Stretch,” “Cardio Bellydance Workout,” “Intermediate Bellydance Choreography” and “Bellydance for Empowerment.”
Crystal Bindi Studios is located in Logans Landing, 2062 South Airport Rd., Traverse City. Call 231-932-0668 or visit crystalbindistudio.com.