Malik Turley, founder and executive director of Hip Circle Empowerment Center in Evanston, was offering virtual classes before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Then, on March 17, 2020, when the world went online, Turley said Hip Circle was prepared.
“We have been streaming classes for six years because we have students who have found us and then moved away, but didn’t want to stop taking classes,” she said. “We didn’t skip a beat – we flipped the switch and did everything online.”
Hip Circle is a non-profit belly dance and fitness studio on Howard Street. Turley explained that like the name, the goal of the center is to empower women and girls in their bodies and dispel diet culture.
Turley says that diet culture, which places value on restricting calories and negative self-talk emphasizing thinness as the goal, has no place at Hip Circle Empowerment Center. Turley is anti-diet culture and pro body positivity – the movement that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes – and the classes that are created at Hip Circle reflect that.
Through monthly workshops and classes such as Black Women Belly dance, Moxie Boxing and Gentle Yoga Explore and Stretch, Hip Circle offers guests an alternative to the classic gym setting, and for women and girls, Turley explained, a place where they can move their bodies and be appreciated.
“We aren’t going to use scare tactics or make you feel bad about yourself … we’re going to tell you you’re awesome, because you are, and we believe that,” said Turley. “You’re going to come and sweat, but it won’t be about how many calories you are burning. We don’t talk about that.”
The fitness classes are on a “pay what you can scale,” which was created when Hip Circle switched to a non-profit 501(c)(3) in 2017 after initially opening as a brick and mortar business in 2010. Even if you only have a dollar, Turley said, you can join.
“We want women and girls to come at any size, shape, age and ability,” she said. “There are not a lot of spaces where you can be all of yourself. We work with people to distance themselves from diet culture and have a break [from] all that negative messaging flooding you.”
Hip Circle offers a mother and daughter belly dance class, but Turley said that young women often join other classes as well via Zoom with their mothers. Many are 12 or older and hear conversations about empowerment, menopause, sandwich generations and other women-focused issues, Turley said.
“Even if we don’t talk about anything deep, the daughters are seeing actual people with thoughts and feelings and that is really powerful,” she said. “The daughters we have had that have grown up at Hip Circle are different from their peers. They’re really self-assured and cool young adults, and they know the power they have.”
Beginners are encouraged to join regardless of experience, and instructors offer modifications and adjustments in most of the classes. For the foreseeable future, all classes will remain virtual and once safe, Hip Circle will offer hybrid options.