With its U-Haul dealer and drab office strips, Columbia’s Red Branch Road may not seem like a likely spot for a boutique specializing in plus-size dance wear. But this past June, the Boutique by ShimmySista added some style to the area.
Glenna Cush, the store’s belly dancing founder, knows all too well what it’s like as a plus-size woman trying to find something to wear that’s flattering and stylish — especially when it comes to dance and athletic wear. When she started belly dancing in 2008, the options were scant, she recalls.
“Yeah, you can wear gym clothes and, you know, sweatpants,” says Cush, who performs under the moniker Iona. “But all the other girls had on these cute little tops. Hip scarves and all that kind of stuff. And I had a very difficult time trying to find ... something that fit plus-size and looked attractive.”
After a failed attempt to find an outfit in time for her recital at a convention, an idea struck.
“I thought, if I’m having trouble, other people must be having trouble, too,” she says.
Cush started humbly, with a website, her own ShimmySista collection and booths at conventions and events. Still, Cush, who lives in Windsor Mill and works in marketing for the state government, gained a fervent following.
The brick-and-mortar store is bursting with decadence. You can find sequined, bejeweled and bedazzled tops, wide-leg pants, dresses and sets. There are hip scarves covered in coins, T-shirts emblazoned with messages like “I [heart] my curves” and “Got curves?” along with an eclectic mix of jewelry. The store also sells general workout, “athleisure” and versatile casual options.
“At other places there’s an asterisk for the plus sizes. But here, there’s an asterisk on the smaller sizes,” says Cush.
The ShimmySista boutique has become a sort of springboard for the local belly dancing community. For starters, the store is staffed by other area belly dancers. Cush holds happy hour belly dancing workshops, and people can book dancers for parties.
“I want people to see that you don’t have to be a certain body type to live your life,” says Cush.
Before Cush, women had to get creative or simply plead with the heavens, says devoted customer Narvia Summers.
“I was making my own stuff because you couldn’t find anything,” she says. “You either made your own, or had somebody make it, or you didn’t dance. And a lot of people didn’t dance because they didn’t have anything to wear.”
“I was searching the internet and saying a prayer that things would come in from China,” says another customer, Stephanie Franklin.
The testimonials abound. Cush recalls women crying in her booths out of joy of finally finding something to wear.
“The essence of belly dance is empowering yourself through movement. And when you have clothes that fit you really well, it enhances and makes you feel more comfortable in your movements,” says Franklin. “[Cush] offers that. She’s a hidden gem.”