Joy is a professional belly dancer, belly dance instructor, performer, and choreographer. She performs solo and as a member of the troupe she founded, Fire in the Belly, she hosts bellydance event and invites regional and national belly dancers to the area, and she teaches regular classes in both Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.
I caught up with her as she was preparing for a weekend of belly dance workshops, a group show she was coordinating called Belly Dance Revelry, and choreographing and rehearsing for her own solo performance during the show.
Editor's note: The following story is in the artist's own words, excerpted from one-on-one interviews.
Music as Movement
How do you translate the music into movement?
It's from the music. I mean that's my biggest inspiration.
I feel like there's a code, like I hear a pattern. It almost tells me what to do, like it actually lets me know, gives me cues, like okay, I know exactly how to express this. I mean not always, but a lot of times, I know what my body wants to do to this. It's almost like – I almost don't have control, it tells me what to do in the music, especially a drum solo.
Yeah, well I think I'm always learning I mean. And as long as I've been doing it, there's still so much to learn. You can go as deep as you want to, as in depth as you want to into this art form and you can just keep going. I feel like there is no end and there is no end as to what you can do with your body and how you can move it physically. So there's always still something more for me I guess even though I've been doing it for so long. And then there's sometimes I kind of get burnt out, but I think that's normal.
Enjoy the Process
What is it like to choreograph something for yourself, and then perform it in front of an audience?
I really enjoy the process. The performing is like the icing on the cake. And then a lot of times after performing, I'm like okay, I don't even really have to do it again. Like I'm ready to move on to the next thing, it's kind of a weird, because I've been sitting with it for a while and once I finish choreographing it, I'll perform it a few times and then a lot of times…I’ve done solos where I've only done it once and that's it.
Group dances like when I choreograph for me and Barbara, we'll do them often and that's different. And then sometimes I do get tired of them, like oh let's learn a new one because I'm sick of this one. And a lot of times I'll actually, just kind of put something to rest for awhile and then go back to it and I'll be like oh I actually like this again. I mean I really want to do this again.
Yeah, but I think I really enjoy the process although sometimes it can be really painful because sometimes I'm like oh God, this is horrible or I don't even feel like starting this, I'm overwhelmed. I've never had a child, so I don't know what it's like to be in labor, but there's kind of like labor pains that come with creating a choreography and you're like is this going to be good? I don't if it's going to be good, but there's still this need to do it.
Belly Dance as Art
I want people to think of belly dance – I want them to respect it as much as they would respect any other dance form and it's happening. It is happening, but very slowly. There's still people that don't get it and I think the more people see it and the more people know that they can take belly dance and they understand the like okay, this takes training, I think that helps that. But I think it should be on the same level as all other dance forms.
There are still so many misconceptions of it being like a sexual thing. It's a very sensual art form, I don't consider it a sexual art form. But if it is, it's okay too, like there shouldn't be a stigma about it. And I just feel like there is like a lot of sexism and ageism as well. I just turned 50 and I think some people expect a belly dancer to look a certain way, a certain age and that's kind of – that can be challenging to get through. We all have our insecurities, so it can be…I’m also working through my own stuff. So it helps empower me to do what I do at my age and also show people. I guess I'm still – it validates me to like…I still have so much to give with this art form at my age. And I'm getting older and I don't know when I'm going to stop, but I mean I don't think there should be a way like oh, you are not looking quite the picture of what people have of belly dance. I don't want to stop, I want to keep going. I want to dispel those misconceptions of what a belly dancer should look like, how old they should be. There's also men who belly dance, so it's not only a female art form, there are men who belly dance too.
Motivation to Continue
How do you push yourself to create, even during times when you may have some self-doubts about your work?
When I know I have a performance coming up, it's like no I have to do it. It forces me to do it. So that's a good motivator. But also, I want to finish it, I don't want to start something and not finish it. I want to finish something and see it through and see how it goes. And then a lot of times, I'll perform it and I'm like I'll forget some of the choreography and I'll just improv that section. I'm like oh darn, you know like I wish I could remember to do that one little part right there.
Joy and Celebration
Yeah I know, it's really funny too, because I'm extremely shy. I'm a very shy person and I think – I really don't know. That is a really good question.
I feel like there's something I have to express and that trumps all the insecurity and the music just makes me want to do that. And I feel like I want to bring something to keep on, like just – I don't know, just celebrating being alive at the moment, being in the moment and being alive and have people respond to that.
Make them feel like they tapped into some kind of emotion in themselves, like they are celebrating or they are like, I want to make them feel something whether it's just joy or just celebration.
Editor's note: Included below is video of Joy's full performance from Belly Dance Revelry, Oct 24th in Charlottesville Virginia.