Taking Women’s Health out of the Waiting Room and onto the Dance Floor

Published On May 17, 2016 | May/June 2016

How one Austinite is changing women’s health in an unexpectedly exciting way

Melody Afkami and Davina Bruno

Hans Bos, contemporary admirer of dance said, “When I dance, I cannot judge, I cannot hate. I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance.” And that is why founder of Melody DanceFit, Melody Afkami, is using dance fitness to reinvigorate health and wellness among Austin’s women. With a degree in Psychology from the University of Texas, and formal training in pointe, jazz, hip-hop, and Latin ballroom, Melody is taking her experience to the masses in an amazing celebration of womanhood, gratitude and happiness.

According to Melody, one of the biggest issues facing women’s health today is a poor work/life balance. Women are naturally ambitious, and Austinites are no different, however, success often accompanies neglecting our bodies and general mindfulness. The mind and body are connected, and daily doses of stress can cause our bodies to react in some very specific ways – with stress, there is often a temporary increase in physical energy production. While this sounds like a great thing, this energy output normally compromises other bodily processes such as the digestive and immune systems. In women especially, this can lead to short and long-term health problems. Melody addresses this issue by bringing mindfulness and positivity back into women’s health so the focus is less on adding another task (working out) to the daily grind, and more on shifting focus from everyday stressors to inner wellness and balance.

Not only does work often compromise women’s wellness, but the modern-day beauty culture does little to uplift and motivate positive body images for women of all ages. Unlike a few decades ago when social media was mere science-fiction, the average woman today feels more insecure about her body, comparing herself with others constantly with social media images. Today, this reality manifests through eating disorders, poor community structures among women, and a lack of celebration of individual beauty and strength. “As women, it’s our responsibility to choose kindness over cattiness and understand we’re the most powerful when we stand with, and for, each other,” says Melody.

For Melody, this reality needed to be overcome in a novel way. Unlike many other fitness gurus, her focus is not solely on helping clients reach a specific physical goal, she started DanceFit to create a safe space for women to bond socially and form an uplifting community. “I strive to instill resilience, positive psychology, and emotional intelligence in my classes,” Melody states. “As women, we’re told to be so many things; to be skinnier, to be stronger, to be softer, to be tougher, to speak up, to quiet down, the list continues.” In the midst of a stellar playlist of modern tunes, a dark room and strobe lights, each of Melody’s classes is marked by her continuous verbal reassurances. By the end of each session, each person walks out happier and just a little bit healthier. “I believe in the power of movement and the empowerment it brings to people.” Even better, each of her weekly classes gives back to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that promotes economic independence among women by providing support, professional attire, and development tools. To each woman benefiting from Dress for Success, Melody’s mantra of empowerment and holistic wellness echoes far.
Practically, improving the state of women’s health in Austin begins in three simple places:
1/ Practicing gratitude scientifically leads to improved physical health.
2/ Working out with a group or partner provides accountability. Plus, the mixture of physical activity and socializing is a great form of therapy for women.
3/ Eating real food and finding a diet that’s right for you. If you are eating real food without preservatives and experience stable energy levels with no physical ailments, then you’re on the right track.

Melody’s tips for staying sweaty + sexy
1/ Be kind to yourself and others. Kindness has to come from within, and in order to easily give it out, you have to start by being kind to yourself. If you are kind to yourself, you are more likely to treat yourself with healthy food and exercise, and when you are consistently kind, you feel healthy from the inside out. Kindness is confident and sexy.
2/ Play. Play is an extremely underrated activity in adulthood, however, when we embrace the art of play, we claim a better quality of life, one with more laughter and less stress. To release even more endorphins, find an activity that allows you to sweat and play!
3/ Serve. Whether it’s helping your friend move or volunteering at your local soup kitchen, get involved and shift your mentality from “me” to “we.” Serving is sexy.
4/ Grow. Every day is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and others. We tend to resist pain, and discomfort, but those are often the moments in which we grow the most. Challenge complacency and do things that scare you.
5/ Dance. As Gabrielle Roth states, “Movement is both my medicine and meditation.” There is such a healing power in movement; it decreases stress, increases memory, and promotes social interaction and bonding.

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