No. 1: An interview with Michelle Ava, JOMDC Founder and 40th Anniversary Honoree
We’re talking just after the blizzard. Winter Storm Jonas took out the East Coast for the weekend, forcing JOMDC to close the studios. Michelle Ava, JOMDC founder, remembers the 80s when snow would cover the old Dupont Circle studio. The neighbors would all appear, like a dream, to help dig out the street. We wanted to hear more about Michelle’s major reflections on the past four decades. Many things are the same, like our original mission, “Dance is for Everyone.” But we’ve evolved, too. With over 100 faculty members, 5,000 dancers each week, and numerous community outreach sites, JOMDC is older, wiser, and bursting with dancing energy!
Our mission is still very clear: Dance is for Everyone. How has your life changed over the years while living this mission? Personal changes? Professional changes?
“Dance is for Everyone” is a philosophy. It was a strong belief that developed and materialized over time. I had just graduated with my Master’s in dance and I was beginning to teach throughout the city. I kept asking myself, “What is next for me?” I also was beginning to notice movement in a way that I hadn’t before. Whenever I was out and about doing ordinary things, I could sense the amazing motion in everything. My life changed the moment I realized I had a passion for building an environment where everyBODY has a place to be, to dance, and to create regardless of age, body type, or level of experience. A place for professional dancers and recreational dancers. What mattered to me was that we were working together and finding joy. Approximately six months before opening the studio, I sat down for my daily meditation practice and I asked myself, “What is next?” After 20 minutes in silence, I opened my eyes and it was clear – I’ll open a space where everyone can dance and call it Joy of Motion. The rest is history.
Joy of Motion Dance Center is turning 40 this year. What can you say about getting older?
For starters, I still love to dance. It’s a healing art! To me, growing older gracefully is about surrendering to the changes that occur both physically and emotionally. People’s capacities change and the acceptance of that, and aligning with that, is the journey. For me, it’s about self-examination and awareness that helps this transition. I’m utilizing the wisdom from my journey to be a more effective mentor and teacher. Nothing is permanent; everything changes. We must go with the flow and accept in order to find happiness.
JOMDC is all about education and opportunity. Our outreach initiatives offer free dance classes, concerts, and performance opportunities to hundreds of students throughout the region. You’ve participated in our Seniors in Motion program, and your company, AVAdance/ImproVolutions, has performed in nearly all the Senior in Motion concerts. What impression do you have about how the program affects each student?
As a community-based activity, free classes are vital for individuals that have limited exposure to dance and the arts. The Seniors is Motion concerts are spellbinding, because the cast of the show is 80% seniors and the audience is 100% seniors. You can hear the crowd swell with pride. They become joyful just by watching.
My company, AVAdance/ImproVolutions, gets the audience on their feet and it’s a totally new and inspiring experience for all. We turn on the lights in the audience, and play hits from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We are encouraging and fostering creativity, and giving the best possible opportunity to develop and express personal artistic voice. This is an essential aspect of education in the performing arts and in movement therapy. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than to share this joy with others.
What is the greatest lesson getting older has taught you? About life? About love? About dance? About business?
Business and art work together. It’s a marriage! Structure, planning, and support are essential for successful fruition of artistic goals. From this platform, build a container to hold a creative vision, then protect it, nurture it. Work as hard as you can to build a team, just as hard as you work to build a dance. Above all else, if you come from your heart and are true to yourself, everything will fall into place.