About a year ago, Phyllica Barlett and her sister went to the gym to take a Zumba class. Fill-in instructor Valerie Poppel, known as Nefertiti to her students, introduced the class to a new workout program, SambaBelly Fitness.
This is where it all began.
“Dance has always been a part of my life, but never like this,” said the 20-year old Barlett, who grew up in Pennsylvania and moved to Delaware six years ago, graduating from Cape High in 2011.
“From that moment, I fell in love and never again had an interest in Zumba,” she said.
SambaBelly Fitness is a new dance fitness program that according to its website integrates bellydance, latin, and bollywood dance techniques with some of the hottest world music.
Aside from being lots of fun, SambaBelly has improved Barlett’s overall health and self-image.
“I have had unbelievable weight-loss success,” she said. Barlett has lost 50 pounds from SambaBelly alone since starting in November 2011.
Dancing has not only helped her lose weight; by focusing on her growing list of students, she's found new energy and enthusiasm.
“We want all women to know that success is guaranteed, no matter what age or size they are,” she said.
After taking SambaBelly classes for about six weeks or so, Nefertiti asked Barlett if she would be interested in performing with her. She performed a couple of shows alongside Nefertiti, and a few months later she was asked if she would be interested in becoming a SambaBelly Fitness instructor.
“I was completely blown away and honored that she considered me,” she said.
“Being one of the first instructors in this new company makes me feel so blessed and excited to see where it will go from here.”
She is currently teaching classes at Delaware Fitness in Milford, Flex Gym in Georgetown, Club Fitness in Lewes, World Gym in Millsboro and the YMCA in Rehoboth Beach.
Barlett said teaching SambaBelly classes is very satisfying. “The most rewarding thing is seeing the look on the women’s faces,” she said.
“Seeing the excitement that this art brings them makes me feel so accomplished already. I love knowing that my classes are helping them become the women they want to be.”
Barlett says the art of bellydance has changed her from the inside out. “I definitely feel that I have a new outlook on life,” she said. “I find the way I carry myself to be totally different."
"My entire life I have been picked on or made the outcast, but not with this," she said.
“Bellydance has taught me to step out of my shell and stand strong and confident in the spotlight,” she said. “I love the confidence that I have gained from this.”
Barlett said that SambaBelly struck a chord with her because it made her feel powerful and transformed her body for the better. "I have become a strong, confident woman who loves her body."
Barlett said she's been visiting her grandparents' home in Lewes since she was little, and some of her fondest memories are fishing and crabbing with her grandfather at the pier at Cape Henlopen State Park.
Her loved ones, she said, support her 100 percent. “They are always willing to drop everything for me to pursue this,” she said.
Barlett feels that there are a lot of misconceptions about bellydancing.
“Bellydancing is an art form, not a sex show,” she said. “Many people have the thought in their mind that we move in an erotic manner, but really our shows are very exotic and beautiful.”
In addition to teaching and dancing, Barlett works at Catchers Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. Last summer, Catchers hosted a Bellydance Hafla, where bellydancers, including Barlett, performed for the guests.
“From what I heard, everyone had a blast,” she said. “I hope we can have another event there in the future.”
For now, Barlett plans to stay in Delaware to “spread SambaBelly Fitness like a wild fire.” Eventually, she hopes to spread SambaBelly Fitness across the globe.
“I would love to travel the world, promoting and performing under the SambaBelly umbrella,” she said.