The following is post by Portia, founder and CEO of Belly Motions, one of the largest Belly Dance studios in the United States.

The story behind the belly…

It was 2003 and I was a senior in college at the University of Florida.  Still unsure of who I was and what I wanted to do with my life I focused on my major, Sociology, and hoped to join the Peace Corps after graduation to experience the outside world.  I had spent my last four years teaching group exercise classes at the University’s Rec Center and really enjoyed the feeling of motivating and teaching people.  Little did I know this teaching experience would set me up for something magnificent…

It was fall semester and Shakira’s hit “Whenever, Wherever” was constantly on the radio. Before you knew it there was a Belly Dance class being offered at the Rec Center.  I took my first class.

After three months of taking Belly Dance, my world transformed.  I no longer cared that my butt giggled and began to gain control of a body image/eating disorder that I struggled with for years.  I found the strength to leave my physically and mentally abusive boyfriend and finally gained the self esteem that I had been missing.  My “ethnic look” seemed to find a safe place, I no longer felt ashamed to not look “white”.  I had a new sense of self.

Jeez, did Belly Dance really do that for me? Yes, and I wanted more.

In the Summer of 2003 I graduated and set off on my new journey to become a pro Belly Dancer (what that meant?, I had no idea!). Would I move to New York, L.A. or Miami?  I chose Miami for the weather, culture and the quality of Belly Dance teachers here at that time.

My first moved to Miami and lived in Westchester on Bird Road & 97th Ave in a beautiful efficiency.

It was a sunny morning when I began the six hour drive from Gainesville to South Florida.  As I drove I thought to myself, “What would Miami look like?  Where would I work?”  Once I arrived, I found a small efficiency behind a beautiful home in Westchester (Bird Road) complete with a peacock, chickens, a spunky Chihuahua and cats (my favorite)!  What I enjoyed most about the property were the mango and avocado trees, it was a tropical paradise…and only $450.00 a month!

Next, I became a Kindergarten Teacher at Miami Shores Elementary to fuel my Belly Dance studies and survive financially.  As a Teacher my days were filled with early mornings, stressful afternoons and never ending lesson plans.  My day started at 5:30am and finished around 5:30pm after an hour and a half of traffic.  Once home, it was off with my shoes and on with my hip scarf and Belly Dance music.  I would dance the evening away in my tiny little space.

Tamalyn Dallal, one of my first teachers.

On weekends I would drive to Miami Beach to study at the Mid Eastern Dance Exchange.  I would learn from Tamalyn Dallal, the “grandmother of Miami Belly Dance.”  During week nights I would study at the University of Miami with Aireen, now a retired dancer.  She became my main mentor and role model.

Side note: It was at UM where I first met Valarie, who equally shared a love of Belly Dance.  Four years later this amazing women would become the Belly Motions “G.O.D.”…that’s “General Operations Director”…haha, get it?

Honestly, at the beginning of my dance journey I was pathetic. I could barely perform most isolations properly and my footwork was non existent.  I was awkward and clumsy with poor posture.  What I did have was a look, the drive and the fitness background.  My first goal, get a side job as a Belly Dance Fitness Instructor.  And that’s what I did.

My first teaching job was at Temple Gym, a Christian women’s gym that was located on Bird Road.  At first it was hard to convince the owners that Belly Dance was an ancient art form and not a strip tease.  They believed in me and gave me a shot!  My classes continued to grow as did my experience and love for the dance.

After a year and a half of teaching academics I was drained, lifeless and depressed.  At age 25 I felt like was 85!  I gave everything to my teaching position and it almost destroyed me.  I needed an escape, I needed to follow my passion.  It was at this very same time I got referred by a dear friend for a pharmaceutical sales position with a huge salary, company car, and amazing medical benefits.  I went to the interview.  Out of 100 people who applied I got the job.

I called the next day and declined the position.  I recall the Regional Manager saying, “Are you sure you want to decline?  Do you know how good this position is?”  I felt confused but refocused on my dream of becoming a Belly Dancer.  That same week I put my two weeks notice in at the elementary school.

The original Belly Motions logo! From a sketch by a Teacher's aid during my Kindergarten class.

On January 29, 2005 Belly Motions was born.

Like most businesses the first year was rough. I was the owner, the manager, the main teacher, the bookkeeper, the secretary, the studio cleaner!  Wow, talk about changing hats. During the day I answered phones, at night I taught and on weekends I performed at restaurants and at private parties. I was clueless at first but never gave up and constantly educated myself.  With time I learned how to run a business AND become a Belly Dancer!

But 2005 came with many additional challenges.  If you were here in Miami at the time, you’ll remember this was the year of storms.  Hurricane after hurricane we were hit.  With water leaking through the ceiling, no AC, and a battery operated boom box I somehow pressed on.  There were tears, fears, and doubts. Money was tight, attendance was low and I was exhausted.  I remember not having enough cash to buy a Gatorade and bag of peanuts at the Circle K Mart.  It was embarrassing but I loved what I did, so I never gave up.

Side note: 2005 was the same year Miss Luisa, her sister Alexandra and Caitlin Ray began taking classes….little did we all know that one day they would be main Instructors and Performers for the company!!!

Belly Motions Open House, circa 2006. Miss Luisa, Caitlin Ray, Alexandra and Valarie.

Belly Motions 2 Year Anniversary Show 2006 - in the parking lot! Jeez, we've come a long way!

2006 was looking more promising.  I figured out how to get our website on the Google search engines, the Miami Herald did a main story on Belly Motions and students were spreading the word.  They liked Belly Dance, they liked me and they liked Belly Motions.  Things were looking up.

2007 brought an exciting, yet scary opportunity.  The ground floor space in the building became vacant.  Would Belly Motions like to relocate to a store front location with more space?  The construction costs would be tremendous and the rent would be double, “Should I do it?” I thought.  I contemplated for one night and made the move! And that brings us to our current space.  Turns out it was the best decision I could have made!

Belly Motions 3rd Year Anniversary Show - 2007

2008-2009-2010-2011-2012…this would take many more blogs to recap!  To keep it short, I worked my butt off and many of the teachers and staff you see today joined the team!

After 8 years we have a full staff of Sales Associates, Teachers, Performers and even a General Manager!  We’ve gone from having performances in the parking lot, to filling theaters with hundred’s of happy guests.  To this day we’ve had over 5000 students come through our doors and over 800 private bookings.  We have developed a Belly Motions boutique, Online Store and Online School.  Yay!

Belly Motions will always be  a “Mom & Pop Shop” with down-to-earth employees, quality products and great customer service. Belly Motions is more than a dance studio, it’s a place to share stories, make friends, laugh, get in shape and find yourself.  I am proud of this company, what it stands for and the people that make it operate.

Belly Motions 4th Year Anniversary - F.I.U. Wertheim PAC (2009)

Thank you for keeping us in business! Your participation enables eight wonderful employees to earn a living doing what they love.

This is the Belly Motions story.