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Unleashing the inner goddess

Fitness: Yolates at Goddess Fitness Dance is one of the many classes designed to embrace femininity

Posted: September 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 2, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Emma Ridley, owner and founder of Goddess Fitness Dance in Saugus, leads a yolates class. Ridley, who trained at the Royal Ballet in London, was 236 pounds before she founded Goddess Fitness Dance seven years ago.

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As my dear friend Robert likes to remind me, I have a lot of male chi.

My favorite bands are Rage Against the Machine and Social Distortion.

Until very recently, I proudly drove a dirty, black four-wheel-drive truck.

My makeup routine is the occasional swipe of mascara and, for fitness, I walk my pit bull mixes, Sam and Buster, every morning through the woods where we live, rain, snow or shine.

There is no pastel in my wardrobe, and I consider going to the mall a form of torture.

So, the notion of embracing my inner goddess is not immediately natural for me. But one thing I am is game for new experiences, so I was curious to try a class at Goddess Fitness Dance in Saugus.

Goddess Fitness Dance is a hyper-feminine studio with feather boas draped on plush paisley and animal-print couches and ottomans.

The decor includes a portrait of Marilyn Monroe and major swaths of pink and touches of bling throughout. There’s also a daycare room with games and toys for the children of clients.

Goddess Fitness Dance founder Emma Ridley is a tanned and super-toned sylph sporting tiny shorts and a tight tank top, as well as a charming British accent.

Ridley, who studied with the Royal Ballet and relocated to the United States from London 20 years ago, founded Goddess Fitness in 2004.

“I was 236 pounds. I had three babies and gave myself permission to eat whatever I wanted,” she said, pulling out an album to prove it. The pale, overweight woman in the photo and the Pamela Anderson look-alike in front of me are worlds apart. “But going to the gym to do weights or treadmill didn‘t make sense to me. I didn‘t want to work out in a masculine way.”

Instead, Ridley combined her classical ballet training with yoga and came up with the concept of Goddess Fitness Dance, which features classes ranging from yolates (a combination of yoga and pilates) to circus fitness to pole dancing.

“This is not the old ’80s kick-style aerobics. There are no men here, so the environment is very calming,“ she said. “I want women to fall in love with themselves again. Who are we not to be goddesses?”

Classes take place in a large, red studio with heavy velvet curtains, crystal chandeliers and new-age music softly playing in the background. The floors are polished dark wood, and my fellow goddesses were busy laying out their yoga mats amid the intimate and soothing ambience.

There was an interesting mix of women in the class, from their 20s to their 40s or 50s. Some were moms, some were pregnant and some were in better shape than others, but everyone was game and enthusiastic as Ridley took to the elevated stage and began the class.

Part motivational speaker, part therapist, part coach, Ridley folded her taut body into a series of intricate yoga moves, encouraging her class to get caught up in their breath, not their heads.

The class heeded her call, happily huffing and puffing along to Ridley’s amplified deep breathing.

“You have to create space for clarity, for existence,” she said. “With every breath, you are cleansing your aura. What you release, what you take in, it’s all a choice.”

Her arms flickering like candles, Ridley was fascinating: beautiful to watch, yet challenging to emulate, at least for me.
This wasn’t my first yoga rodeo by a long shot, but I was out of practice and could feel it.

The nice thing about yoga, or yolates, as Ridley reminded everyone, is that it’s not a competitive sport.

“There is no wrong, there is no right, do what feels good to you,” she said, leaving the stage a few times to help align our postures for maximum impact.

Her touch was kind, gentle, and the accompanying words were encouraging.

Not that Ridley’s class wasn’t a workout.

At one point, she had us squatting like frogs, encouraging us to hop through the forest.

As my thighs burned, Ridley said, “Ten more. Come on, you can do this! You’re goddesses!”

I squeezed out another seven and felt very proud of myself for it.

Occasionally during the 90-minute class, Ridley would punctuate the air with a happy “Whee,” which made me giggle.
This was a woman who really loved her job, and her enthusiasm was catching.

The results of her life’s work certainly couldn’t be ignored — Ridley has an amazing body and a buoyant spirit.

At the end of the workout came my favorite part: meditation. Ridley brought out body-length pillows and soft blankets for everyone to get comfortable with.

Then she turned up the stereo, and the studio was awash in crashing waves, birds chirping and other relaxing sounds, as well as a vibration that could be felt by touching the floor.

“Focus on the vibrating floor. Let your thoughts go and become connected to your breath. See where it takes you,” Ridley said.

For some reason, I was transported back to Maui, which I had visited about 10 years ago, more specifically to the warm ocean waters where I came face to face with a turtle during a snorkel excursion.

I paddled alongside this turtle for what seemed like an eternity, placing my face in the water when it submerged itself and watching with delight when it would come up for air above the surface.

This was one of the last times I can remember feeling true joy and wonder.

It was awesome to revisit.

After our 15 minutes of meditation, I emerged with a smile on my face, the twinge of muscles I knew would be sore the next day and a renewed desire to seize the moment.

My time at Goddess Fitness Dance was fun, it was a great workout, and I felt special, indeed.

What girl, or aspiring goddess, couldn’t use more of that?

Goddess Fitness Dance is located at 26635 Valley Center Drive, Saugus. For more information, call (661) 251-2831 or visit www.goddessfitnessdance.com.

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