“Strong, beautiful, and worthy of attention”: Empowering women through dance
Insights from Malik Turley, Hip Circle Empowerment Center (Evanston)
The mainstream fitness industry is a far cry from empowering. Malik Turley decided to do things differently: “A lot of fitness places will talk about, you know, we welcome everybody, and that’s great and we do too. The big difference for us is that not only do we welcome you, but that we don’t expect you to change… we’re not trying to ‘fix your flaws’.”Her dance and fitness studio, Hip Circle Empowerment Center, encourages women to come in and move their bodies for the sake of moving them, “building your strength both inside and out, because it feels good, because it’s part of self-care, because it helps you on an emotional level as well as a physical level.” Not to shrink sizes.
Malik offers her students yoga, pilates, bellydance, and much more at Hip Circle, with the mission that “through dance, fitness, and community we empower ALL women to believe they are strong, beautiful, and worthy of attention”.
Bellydancing has a special place in her heart: “[Bellydance] was one of the first places that I didn’t feel uncomfortable in my own skin… Being a much heavier woman… you’re not really allowed to feel good in your body. I think you are, but society says not so much. And so it was this nice little break from the pressures of the way society looks at women, and I went that one time and I was like, well, I have to be here forever.”
Bellydance, and the woman that shared it with her, was so uplifting and empowering for Malik that she has been working to spread that feeling ever since. First, as a teacher traveling throughout Chicago, from the South Side to the North Shore. Then, as the owner of Hip Circle Studio in her hometown of Evanston. And now, as the founder of the newly established non-profit Hip Circle Empowerment Center, making her classes “more accessible to more people in the community, so that dollars stop being a barrier and one more reason not to take care of yourself.”
So where exactly is the magic? “Empowering” has become such a buzzword. What does Malik really do differently from LA Fitness or SoulCycle?
It starts with marketing. No shame tactics. Instead of telling women that they need to get “bikini-body ready”, Malik hosted a body-positive bathing suit photo shoot: “Based on what society is telling women they can’t or shouldn’t do, I say no actually you can do the things. You want to wear your bathing suit? I don’t care how much you weigh ... you are you and you count no matter what package you are sitting inside.”
The magic lies in Malik’s celebration of all women and all bodies, establishing a safe and supportive environment for every woman who walks in the room. (This is unfortunately rare for her industry, where fat shaming runs rampant.) She’s banned the word “can’t” in her studio and tells her students “you are the mistress of your own mat”. Her classes are never competitive. Moms can strap their babies to their bellies and come to class, or bring their daughters. Girls as young as 12 and women “as old as the sun” are welcome in every class. Malik thinks that’s part of the magic too: “so that 12-year-old hears all about the 45-year-old’s battles with menopause and the 70-year-old hears about the 12-year-old’s school drama with the mean girls… we all share experiences while we’re moving, while we’re sweating.”
“What we’ve created is an environment that really does help women get stronger outside of the center. We’ve had women who found the strength to start their own businesses or who found the strength to start auditioning for shows… to launch or go further with music careers, things like that which have nothing to do directly with what we’re doing here, and yet being in a space where you’re in a room full of other women who are actively supporting each other in a really genuine way has that side effect of helping you sit up straighter, or helping you speak up at that meeting….”
Malik’s words speak for themselves: “What does it mean to have empowered women? Well, if we’ve got women who do believe… they are beautiful, strong, and worthy of attention… if we do, when we do, believe those three things, we will not be stuck behind things. If we get more people, more women, in that mindset more businesses will open, more businesses will be head by women, in terms of CEOs, more women will run for office, and what will that do? What is the global impact that this could have? It’s almost limitless. So, step one, Evanston. Step two, the world.”
Thank you, Malik, for your incredible work. Take a class, move your body, and bring a little bit of that magic into your life.