#GirlCrush: The Globe-Trotting Belly Dancer

ebony qualls bellydance wildcard

She hails from the town of Mckeesport, Pennsylvania. Population…mmm about 20,000. But to look at Ebony Qualls with her enviable, curly ‘fro and international flavor, you’d think, well, anywhere else.

Washington, DC has her now, and it’s where she’s an uber-popular belly dance instructor AKA The Bellydance Wildcard. It’s where she created “ShimmyHIIT” a brand-new fitness dance you’ll hear about soon. And it’s from where she often departs to trek around the world to teach, perform and just be. (Thus far, she’s visited multiple cities on every continent, except Antarctica.).

Look around Crush, and you’ll see that we’ve had a #girlcrush on Qualls for a minute. She’s been a model in two of our fitness features. Read on and you might find yourself a little in awe, too. 

Three best words to describe yourself.

Grateful, Adventurous, Optimistic

Alter Ego name?

Elbow Knee (It would be my roller derby name if I was a derby girl. I’m more of a roller dancer, though)

ebony qualls bellydance wildcard
The Bellydance Wildcard

What inspired you to create ShimmyHIIT?

For years, I was separately doing cardio classes or running, belly dance drills classes and resistance training.  I needed to find a way to get it all done quicker. I was a big fan of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) – so I wondered – why not add a layer of belly dance drills as an active recovery section in between HIIT sections?

What can people expect?

Anyone who has some beginner level experience in belly dance can do ShimmyHIIT. Folks may feel intimidated by HIIT workouts, thinking they’ll be too hard or that they need to “work up to” it. The truth is, that this class is ‘choose your own adventure’ in terms of difficulty and challenge, so you can start wherever you are. The sections are timed, so if in one minute you decide to do 5 pushups or 15 – that’s all up to you. I have several women in their mid to upper 60s who kill it in this class!

What’s the challenge in what you do?

Creating a workout that is intense and challenging, but not super intimidating, and is fun, too. So, I made the HIIT sections 6 minutes long. This makes the workout attainable for anyone at any fitness level. I’m also a master of distracting the class with really good music – high energy for the HIIT sections – downtempo or soul for the recovery sections. People always come up to me after class to ask about the music.

What’s the joy?

Seeing women do workouts that they didn’t know they were strong enough to do and watching them get stronger and amaze themselves. They look at me crazy at first when I say we’re going to do things like “one-legged Burpees”. They don’t believe they can do it, so it’s cool to watch them try, succeed, then be surprised at how they get better at it every week. 

Last place you traveled:

I’ve left DC a lot when the weather turned colder. My last big trip was teaching and performing in Bali, Indonesia. That was just a lovely place. In 2018, I’ve run away to the Bahamas, Miami (twice), Cancun, Los Angeles, Palm Desert and Asheville, NC.

Absolute-favorite place you’ve traveled and why:

My favorite place in the world is Black Rock City,  a temporary city that 70,000 of us build in the desert of Nevada once a year to create a radical experiment (and experience) in community. It’s called Burning Man. It’s my favorite place because of the genuine kindness that persists among burners, and because it’s important for me to practice principles such as self reliance and immediacy. I expand and learn new things about myself every year that I go (6 years and counting).

burning man
Burning Man

Next place on your list:

Oakland, Calif. to appear in film called Blood – the third installment in a trilogy of films created to bring awareness to cancer and to fund cancer research.

Who inspired your love of international travel?

My mother. She would tell me her travel stories when I was younger, and I started out in my early 20s with a backpacking trip through Europe. Nowadays, I feel extremely blessed and lucky for the opportunities that come my way to share dance around the globe. Teaching and performing has taken me to cities such as Tokyo, New Delhi, Seoul, and Paris. I remember wishing that I’d be able to dance and travel extensively, and that wish came true.

One thing you do every single day without fail?

I drink two pints of water every morning. I drink the first as soon as I wake up, and then a second – I sip as I get dressed and ready to go to work. Staying hydrated is so important!

Last time you danced with abandon:

I try to occasionally take Ecstatic Dance or 5 Rhythms dance classes. Gatherings like that encourage me to not TRY to do anything while dancing except be. There, I’m not thinking about technique or any kind of aesthetic. I just let go and move however I feel from moment to moment.

ebony qualls bellydance wildcard
Qualls, giving us a 1970s Chaka Khan vibe.

How long has your hair been natural?

Since 1996. I really was over the whole blow dry, curl or flat iron, wear curlers-to-bed situation. I remember, even as far back as junior high, feeling like I shouldn’t have to spend my time doing things like that. By 1996, I was wearing my natural curls. I didn’t know many other Black women were doing the same back then.

Favorite hair product for moisture:

Shea Moisture JBCO leave-in, and coconut oil

Music. Who or what are you feeling right now?

I’m in love with Toro Y Moi. So chill and moody with an 80s nostalgic feel. I have “No Show” on repeat. I can’t wait to see him perform in person someday. We should be friends.

Any hidden talents?

I can do an eyeball shimmy. It’s weird.

How do you chill?

Weekly dinner gatherings with my crew of friends. We either go to someone’s house or meet at a good restaurant. My friends are all creative types, so we’re often talking about our latest projects, telling hilarious stories, drinking good wine and appreciating time spent together.

Last and most vital question: Sneakers or tennis shoes?

Trainers (in an English accent – just to be silly)

If you’re in the Washington, DC area, try a ShimmyHIIT class for yourself. Follow Ebony Qualls on Instagram @ebonydances.

More #GirlCrushes:

Cycled! Owner Shayla Cornick

CJ Harris Creates Emoji’s for Us


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