‘Dance can heal’
When Joy Morris-Burton and Aerick Burton first crossed paths on a walk near their respective homes in Kalamazoo’s Vine neighborhood years ago, there was an instant connection that poets write about and painters portray with pastels.
The path the two have since taken together is a more realistic version of love at first sight, traversing the ups and downs in creating their own family and an extended family of artists, culminating with the opening of their dance studio Move With Joy in the Edison neighborhood earlier this month.
“We’ve struggled through years of trying to be dancers and artists and make a living somehow, and have kids, and we’ve been able to do it, but just barely,” says Joy. “If we can help a few other dancers and artists to get up to the place where they can do this for their job, that’s the goal.”
Their studio at 1103 Portage Street – and their pathway toward opening it – is as unconventional as their location, on the ground floor of The Creamery, a new affordable housing development that offers the city’s first 24-hour drop in child care.
In 2020, when the pandemic pressed pause on the classes she was teaching at the time, Joy took to YouTube and started filming virtual dance classes for her students. The positive response she received inspired her to teach some outdoor community classes for a $5 drop-in fee. More dancers showed up that she did not normally see in her previous studio classes.
She then rented out a space in the basement of Endurance gym, which she soon outgrew. As The Creamery project began to open its doors to residents, her classes moved to the third floor community room, which proved too small for her popularity too.
Through this, Joy and Aerick realized there was a missing piece in the community: an affordable and accessible place for people to express themselves through art and movement.
“I really think that dance can heal,” says Joy. “It can help people get through what they need to get through and process their emotions.”
Growing up, Morris-Burton loved to dance, but couldn’t always afford the expensive shoes, leotards, and tuition fees that came along with it. The prim and proper standards of formal dance class and performance attire did not resonate with her, and she didn’t get along well with the rigid guidelines of the style of dance.
As a classically trained ballet dancer, Morris-Burton was often criticized for adding in tricks and moves that did not traditionally belong in a ballet piece. Her experiences as a child as well as through teaching at many studios over the years inspired her break from the traditional ballet culture. She was moved to create a space that allows for all styles of dance to blend together.
“Dance can be more than just these boxes. Movement is movement and you don’t have to put it in a box,” says Joy as she hops from a triple pirouette into a back walkover and kicks her leg up over her head. “You can do ballet, and add these other flavors. I think a lot of people don’t see that often, so this is something really new and I’m so excited about all of the possibilities.”
Joy has been teaching dance, yoga, and Pilates for over 20 years, beginning at the now closed Weaver Dance Studio in the Vine Neighborhood. She earned her dance degree from Eastern Michigan University. While in school, she became pregnant with her first child. After graduation, she moved home to Kalamazoo to raise her daughter and continued to teach dance at various studios in the area.
Aerick, a Knox College graduate and former public school teacher, is a visual artist as well as dancer. His origami art was featured in Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize in 2018 and 2021 and he’s a founder of the local breakdance group Kalamazocrew.
Both are members of the multi-style dance company Breakin’ Ballet, which is housed at Move With Joy. At the new studio, Aerick’s art will be featured in a gallery section, and he will teach origami and other art classes.
Current classes also include Lyrical and Contemporary Ballet, Yoga Pilates Fusion, Beginning Breaking, Jazz, Hip Hop, and Acrobatic Dance. The couple says they will keep the schedule fluid to adjust to the community’s needs.
In addition to regular class offerings, the couple will be opening up their space to paid collaborations with local artists during monthly Art Mix and Dance Mix classes. These classes will give local artists a platform to teach, show, and discuss their work, and connect with the community.
“People were just so excited to see adult dancers of all types come together, and it’s just this beautiful community that we had no idea would grow so quickly,” said Morris-Burton.
A few weeks in, Joy and Aerick sit in their new studio on a bench that she painted for him. On it are the words: “Dandelions were never weeds, but rather a magical beautiful flower.”
“We met when we were both in this situation where according to everyone else, we were failing at life, but we found each other and then we were able to create something much more beautiful,” Joy says, like the dried petals of a dandelion blown into the wind. “And that’s kind of what we’re trying to do, some people maybe saw us as those weeds, but now we’re trying to spread out this magic and get more dandelions growing all around.”
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