FAIRBANKS — Belly dance isn’t just about dancing. It is about culture and geography, mental and physical health and above all, friendship.
Joyce Young was a single mother putting herself through college when she enrolled in her first belly dancing class in 2000. She danced in the back of the class for six months, thankful for the lack of mirrors, but started teaching just four years later. Now she has been teaching for eight years and owns Space for Movement Studio in downtown Fairbanks.
“Belly dance is a wonderful, low-impact way to get exercise. It’s gentle enough for any age, any ability and it also creates a sense of community,” Young said. “You’re not just going to the gym to work out and get your calories burned. You’re becoming part of a community while learning how to dance and becoming aware of other cultures.”
She said her students learn how to coordinate walking with hip movement, develop better posture and build self-esteem. “It teaches body awareness, both internally and externally,” Young said. “You become aware of where you are in space.”
Cynthia Serva, 50, used to fall down, get dizzy washing her hair in the shower, and slip on icy sidewalks during the winter. Now she practices twirling in Young’s belly dancing classes and performs with her friends on stage.
Serva, a mother of four, started belly dancing as a substitute to expensive vacations. “I don’t have the luxury of just plopping money down when I need sunshine, so this is my replacement,” she said. Serva started dancing four years ago with Young after she realized she was putting so much time into her family that she was neglecting herself in the process.
“Joyce is more body conscience than most of the other instructors, which I really appreciate because I’m not a young chicken,” Serva said. “I came in with two left feet, so she had to work hard to fix me.”
Young teaches a self-invented belly dancing technique called improvisational tribal style, in which performances are practiced but not choreographed. The dancers follow a leader’s cues using peripheral vision and what the instructor calls a “performance angle.” She enjoys this style because it gives her students the opportunity to dance together spontaneously while maintaining structure. It focuses on the performers’ strength, strong presence and sensuality.
“It’s more just like dancing with your sisters instead of learning something, memorizing it and performing it for an audience,” she said. “It’s more about dancing with a group.”
Sisters Caroline Carter and Sarah Salzman have been belly dancing for six years, three of which have been at Space for Movement. They take classes together at the studio three times per week.
Salzman said it has increased her flexibility and strength. “I have killer abs,” she said. “They’re insulated, but they’re there.”
Carter had ACL replacement surgery and said Young helps her work around the injury. She has not had any lower back issues since she started dancing. “It keeps your core engaged.”
Young and her students have performed at local events such as the Tanana Valley State Fair, The Midnight Sun Festival and the annual community belly dance recital, Cymbal Salaam.
“It gave me a different perception of my own body. I used to have a different opinion of myself, but belly dance really gives you confidence and self-esteem,” Young said.
The average class at the studio costs $12, but Young also offers early bird deals, punch cards and discounts for enrolling in additional classes. “I want to make it easier to take more classes, and support people who want to come and do many things.”
The women at Space for Movement have advice for newcomers and anyone interested in giving belly dance a chance.
“Don’t worry about it, we’re all different shapes and sizes,” Carter said. “Some people cover their stomach. It’s just a lot of fun and that’s the whole point of being here.”
“Don’t be afraid. That’s the thing I’ve encountered a lot, people who think ‘I’m too old, I can’t move like that.’ Cindy just turned 50 and she’s in here rocking, and I couldn’t shimmy to save my life six years ago. Don’t worry about us judging you because we won’t,” Salzman said.
“It’s important to work around everybody’s personalities so there’s never any negativity,” Serva said. “It makes you a better dancer and definitely a better person.”
“A lot of people are like ‘the goddess is within you and you must love yourself.’ I don’t do that,” Young said, “but I do think it’s a very personal relationship with yourself and you start to realize how beautiful you are.”
For more information, visit Joyce Young’s Space for Movement Studio at 410 Second Ave. or call 888-8578.