Kicking of my 2020 interviews with entrepreneurs is Belinda Raji. I met Belinda back in 2014, at Curlvolution natural hair event. Back then she had her own organic natural hair care range BEUNIQUE and I was a fan of the range. Six years later, now a mum of three (two of whom are a pair of twins) she spearheads her fitness business, B’s Dance Fitness. International Women’s Day is upon us and I really wanted to share her story with you. This is Belinda’s interview.
The Belinda Raji Interview
TTT: Tell us a bit about yourself.
BR: My name is Belinda Raji, I’m 39 years old mother of 3 girls, a 6 year old and twins who are 2. I been have married to my first love for 11 years – been with him since I was 17 years old. I seem to find it hard to not keep busy. I was a classroom teacher for 15 years teaching A Level and GCSE Media and Film Studies, and alongside that I owned my own hair care business, which was called BEUNIQUE Hair Care.
Currently, I’m a Progress Tutor in a Sixth Form College. I also teach dance fitness, and I’m studying at home to be a Gym Instructor and Personal Trainer.
TTT: How did the idea for B’s Dance Fitness come to about?
BR: I have ALWAYS loved to dance, so much so that I was supposed to study it at uni. I did the auditions and was awarded a place which I accepted and was ready to leave home. However, my boyfriend (who is now my husband) didn’t want me to leave London, so I changed my degree to Media and Communications. It’s like I have come full circle into what I truly love! For years, I wanted to leave classroom teaching. Just before getting pregnant with the twins, I started an Exercise to Music qualification. I gained certificates in Fitness Instructing and also in Teaching Exercise, Movement and Dance. It wasn’t easy. We were going through IVF the appointments didn’t allow for me to take my assessments. So I returned when I 15 weeks pregnant after semi recovering from hyperemesis gravidarum and did the assessment.
As part of the qualification, I also became certified to teach Zumba. Zumba was always something I thought I loved but I was finding it hard to remember routines it was like I was forcing my body to do something it wasn’t supposed to do. I was used to freestyling and coming up with routines that way – SO that’s when I created my own style.
This year will mark two years since I started teaching my classes and it’s taken me close to that to really work on and create my concept, which is called Sweat 2 The Beat.
TTT: What’s the biggest misconception about dance fitness classes?
BR: That all there is is ZUMBA. Beto Perez has done an amazing job with Zumba. Even a sentence like that sounds a little condescending, but Zumba has a monopoly on the industry. It’s hard for me to approach gyms because they see little ole me with what I believe is a great class and all they want is Zumba. There are some amazing dance fitness concepts coming up and gyms need to be more open to them they are in a position to help retain more members by diversifying their offer.
However, back to the original question – I can only answer with regard to my class and that is people want to go to a dance fitness class but they stop themselves. They think they need to be “dancers” THEY DON’T. If you like music and you like to move to music you can do dance fitness; at it’s core dance fitness is about building confidence and setting yourself free. You should not care about anything apart from you and the music. If you get a move wrong so what? In my Sweat 2 The Beat class I keep songs for a minimum of 4 – 6 weeks, this way my ladies know what’s coming. I can see them grow in confidence from week to week with the songs and the moves.
TTT: Does your expat experience influence your brand aesthetic? If so, how?
BR: I’m actually not an expat. Both of my parents are from Trinidad but I was born here, in England. I don’t believe my heritage has an impact on my brand aesthetic but I do feature soca on my playlists!
TTT: What has been your most rewarding feedback to date?
BR: It’s when people comment about my smile – I don’t even recognise that I’m doing it but I love what I do and dancing brings me joy, so when I smile the class smiles with me and everyone has fun. Most recently a gym cancelled my class – they didn’t contact me or anything just stopped the class before Christmas and said that they would get back to me and they didn’t.
They ignored all my emails. I wrote a message to a gym instructor and class participant who worked at said gym and said I was thinking of giving up – I wasn’t sure if the environment was right for me and they wrote back, “Don’t you dare pack anything in, you are an amazing instructor with a fantastic, vibrant, sincere aura. The women loved your class and most certainly have been asking… Please don’t be disheartened, you do a fantastic job and have always made us ladies feel good in class” This made me feel really good.
TTT: Where do you see B’s Dance Fitness in 2-3 years?
BR: Because of family and full time work commitments, I’m taking things a step at a time. I have a little (or rather big plan) of what I want to do but I don’t want to give away my ideas or dreams. Let’s say it involves owning my own gym with a particular clientele and concept – a group that I feel are not being sufficiently catered for within the fitness industry.
TTT: Finish the sentence ‘yuh is ah Trini fuh true if…’
BR: You know how to order a “doubles” lol you either want ‘slight’ pepper or ‘plenty’ pepper. I have ‘slight’ with some chadon beni chutney – Yes my mouth is dribbling with the thought lol!
(Updated 14th May 2020)
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