Gaithersburg, Md. - In a petite dance studio located in the back entry of 420 Main Street, women are using an ancient belly dance with a modern flair to transform their bodies, minds, and spirits, with the help of Souzan Mills, 42, owner of Studio Booseh.
Studio Booseh offers Cardio Belly Barre, a combination of traditional belly dance, cardio, pilates and ballet barre; Beginner Belly Dance, traditional Egyptian belly dance; and Zumba, a latin-inspired dance-fitness program. And, for a monthly membership, clients can take as many dance classes they want, five days a week.
Today, there are many ways people can get into shape. For example, people can take many different forms of dance, martial arts, a cardio boot camp, or just go to the gym. In fact, there are more choices now than ever before. However, at Studio Booseh, Egyptian belly dance, one of the oldest forms of dance, is the preferred method to get in shape, while having some fun. But, that’s not all.
Mills, a certified personal trainer and competitive belly dancer, has added her own flare to this ancient dance. She modernized her approach to belly dance with Cardio Belly Barre, a program that incorporates Egyptian belly dance with cardio, a ballet barre, and floor pilates.
Nina Japanwalla, 51, of Bethesda, who has been a member of Studio Booseh since the very beginning, talks about how she came to Studio Booseh and what kind of health benefits she gets out of attending Cardio Belly Barre.
“I actually started off with Souzan in spring 2009, when I was at Lifetime Fitness gym,” Japanwalla said. “I was a member there, and she started belly dance classes. I always wanted to take belly dance classes, and I knew since Lifetime hired her that she would be authentic.” However, Lifetime Fitness cancelled its belly dance classes. So, “Ever since then I’ve been stalking her,” Japanwalla said, smirking.
Japanwalla says the additionally cardio and pilates moves make the Cardio Belly Barre class a weight-bearing exercise program, and that adds even more benefits to her health. “Which is what I need at this age,” Japanwalla said. “Honestly, all women 30 years old and older benefit from weight-bearing exercises for bone and muscle strength.”
Moreover, “It is also beneficial mentally and emotionally when you come to Studio Booseh and meet with like-minded people who are also interested in dancing and fitness,” she said. “You see how it is in class; we always talk and joke around. The class time really goes by quickly. We moan and groan, complain, and b— all the time, during the barre and floor pilates, but we enjoy doing what we are doing. That is why we come back for more. Mentally, I feel more charged up, with all the endorphins pumping… .”
Studio Booseh is not a strict, stuffy dance studio. In fact, most of its members are quite aware of and pleased with the studio’s ambience. A typical class can look and feel like this:
Trance, instrumental, or Middle Eastern music can be heard in the background of Cardio Belly Barre, along with some light-hearted chit chat about the “painful” exercise moves (not really painful). The combination of the music, silly jokes, and sweet-smelling aromatherapy, can put one at ease. Finally, after the pilates floor warm up, Mills speeds up the program with some Bollywood tunes and about 45 minutes of belly dance and cardio moves, ranging from easy to difficult.
The Woman Behind the Brand
Today, one can’t imagine where Studio Booseh’s owner gets the strength to build her business, especially after hearing all that Mills had endured as a child of a revolution and as an adult breast cancer survivor. However, hidden behind her braided hair, Studio Booseh shirt, and pink dancer toesox, is a woman with much strength and spirituality. She has indeed accomplished much and triumphed over her past.
Mills began belly dancing in Iran at 3 years old. As a young girl, she watched the dancers on television, when Shah of Iran was the King. She says life wasn't easy growing up in a disciplined household. Also, the revolution in Iran had caused its own people to leave the country to avoid conflict. Mills found out very early in life that dancing could be an emotional outlet; it could help alleviate her depression.
“It was very traumatizing to watch people getting killed or thinking you or your loved ones are next,” she said, adding “You could be prosecuted for speaking.”
At 11 years old, Mills and her mother and two brothers left Iran and headed to Switzerland. “We were rejected a Visa every time we requested,” she said, recounting the difficulty. “We were told by the American embassy in Geneva that my brother needs to go back to fight in the war.”
While the older brother stayed in Switzerland, the rest of the family traveled back to Iran. “It was the worse experience in my life,” Mills said, meaning her separation from her older brother. Like many war refugees, Mills became overloaded with much grief and sorrow. Her older brother shared so much with her: he fought with her, laughed with her, and danced with her—her entire life.
Mills eventually left Iran for good. She traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, lived there for a while, and then finally came to the United States at age 14 to stay with her distant aunt.
Up until her early adult years, Mills danced for fun during family parties and because of her family and friend’s encouragements. But that changed in 1997, when Mills took her dance “hobby” a step beyond and competed in the Miss Belly Dancer competition in Atlantic City, NJ. She frequented Atlantic City, and finally landed her biggest performance at 28 years old at Taj Mahal in 2000, during a time when there were hardly any Persian dancers competing in belly dancing on stage. Mills’ mother openly encouraged her to continue dancing and pursue her dreams. Moreover, it is evident when Mills dances that she takes belly dancing quite seriously. For her, belly dancing is not just a fun thing to do, it is also a form of meditation and prayer. She said, “As an artist, Iranian woman, and by having a very strong and open-minded mother, I knew what I wanted.”
Eventually, Mills worked as a medical esthetician, got married, and her husband built her a home dance studio 2005, so she could be home with her two very young boys. It was a way for her to make money and to deal with postpartum depression. In 2010, when the home studio could no longer hold all of her clients, she rented a place on Main Street in the Kentlands.
After working so hard to open her first real studio, she lost two important people in her life within one year. Finally, Mills hit her all time low, when she found out that she had breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, according to the Centers for Disease and Prevention.
“I asked God, constantly, why me?” Mills said. “But I figured, I can ask God all I want, but I need to move forward. So, I kept on dancing until the night before my surgery.”
Then, “I was back in the studio after two weeks, on my feet to teach again,” she said, adding she could not have done it without a family and friends. “I learned throughout the years, I am here for one reason and that is to help others with whatever ability God has given me. I also learned how dancing has been important in my life and how much it has helped me.”
Belly dance and Persian dance have so many benefits in terms of mental and physical health and childbirth, Mills said. “You have to admit, it (belly dance) was a very ancient dance, before any other dance was discovered. So, I would have to say belly dancing was the best workout back then, and is now today, before any boot camps.”
Belly Dance Benefits
Raks Sharki, also called belly dance, is a form of dance that many are familiar with. But, few understand the effects it has on the human body. The graceful hip drops, rolls, and pivots of this dance form utilize muscle groups in the abdomen, pelvis, trunk, spine and neck, working with the body, instead of against it.
Unlike ballet, which can potentially alter and deform the skeleton, or other dance forms that work against rather than with the body's physical inclinations, Raks Sharki is based on movements that come naturally to the female form. There is a wealth of health benefits awaiting those who practice this form of dance, including:
• improved posture and muscle toning,
• weight loss,
• preparation for childbirth,
• improved digestive system,
• stress reduction,
• toned arms and full body, without any impact.
Today, belly dancing is more popular, because it’s an art form of dance and has a host of benefits. And, as for Studio Booseh, it is a very unique place, because Mill’s services are unique. Beside belly dancing and Zumba, her studio also provides beauty and fitness consultations, and helps women achieve their goals in terms of beauty and body makeovers.
Studio Booseh is sometimes compared to the equivalent of a high-end spa and dance studio all in one, because Mills offers a SkinFit program to improve her client’s skin, permanent makeup, other beauty services, along with her dance and fitness programs.
Mills and her two other belly dance instructors teach traditional Egyptian style belly dance, only Mills’ classes also offer the additional cardio exercise. Mills says, “As a personal trainer and dancer, every move is a dance move, and every dance move is a fitness move.”
As for Studio Booseh’s students, they can’t say enough about the belly dance instructor. “I love Souzan. She’s nice, while she’s kicking your butt,” said Betsy Fantle, 59, of Gaithersburg, adding all of the women at the studio are fantastic as well. “You make a lot of new friends, and there is a lot of diversity,” she said. “So that’s fun.”
Mills many talents include being a licensed esthetician since 1995, a certified personal/group fitness trainer since 2008, a nutrition coach since 2009, Beyond Barre certified since 2012, and a board certified permanent makeup artist. For more information on her services or to learn about belly dance or Zumba at Studio Booseh, visit the website, email, or call (301) 579-3344. Also, visit livingsocial to take advantage of Studio Booseh's coupon offer of three classes for $25.00.