An Interview with Joy Naik

I’ve admired Joy Naik from before I even met her. I saw her performance, A Time to Dance (ATTD), when I had a brand new baby and had just moved to Virginia Beach. I didn’t know a soul in town, let alone another dancer who also happened to be a military spouse. After the performance, I took a deep breath and introduced myself. To my delight, I found that Joy is to be admired not only for her talent and craftsmanship as a dancer, dance teacher, and choreographer, but also for her sparkling enthusiasm, kindness, optimism, and drive. Her work is a testament to the power of the arts to move whole communities. Now, in her own words, here’s Joy’s story…

MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today. 

Joy: I always laugh whenever the question of where I met my spouse is brought up. Like any proper military spouse, we met at a bar in Norfolk, Va lol. As corny as it sounds it honestly was love at first sight for both of us from the moment we met. As a dancer, I love that we danced the night away when we met. He didn’t know I was a dancer and I guess was just smitten with my moves lol. He was already in the Navy when I met him and I have been with him on this journey for the last 13.5 years and four kids later.
I was born in Norfolk, VA and although I was mainly raised in Chesapeake, VA I moved around a lot as a child and lived in MI, NY, and FL as well as Northern, VA. So I’d like to think that my childhood travels helped me in a way to prepare for my role as a MilSpouse because I cannot stand to live in an area for too long and am ready for the next location. I write this though as we have been stationed in Norfolk for the last six years and it seems as if this is where we’ll be retiring. But as every military spouse knows that could change in a moment.

MilspoFAN: How did you become a dancer and what role does dance play in your life now?

Joy: My dancing started at the age of ten in Harlem, New York at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. My dad saw in the paper that DTH was holding scholarship auditions and with only about two weeks worth of dance training from when I was like three I was able to impress the teachers to be one of the dancers picked and remained on scholarship my whole time there. You know you love something when you don’t mind being a ten-year-old in a class full of five-year-olds (ten is considered old to start dance). But I absolutely fell in love with the discipline and artistic expression of ballet and was able to start pointe work within 1.5 years of training.
Being able to have the influence of Arthur Mitchell at the start of your dance career is something that will never be taken for granted. I still remember the first correction he ever gave me during a gala rehearsal. Blinded by the lights on the stage and sitting in a split I hear this booming voice through the speakers say, “You there in the fuchsia leotard. Point your foot!” I’ve made sure my foot was pointed ever since lol…
Although dance has had to take a bit of a backseat due to my car accident 3 years ago, it is still a very important part of my life. Once a passion is in you it’s hard to just let it go.

MilspoFAN: How has your identity as a dancer shifted over time and what are your hopes and dreams for your future as an artist?

Joy: Oh, it had no choice but to change and it’s mainly due to the car accident. The accident happened just five days after my last A Time To Dance (ATTD) performance and as I was coming back home from teaching. I just knew that I would bounce right back and smoothly continue the vision I saw for it and the dancers. Things don’t always go as planned in life and I have had many moments where I wondered if I should be realistic with four kids and my body not in the shape that I would like for it to be and just give up. Then I remembered something that I told someone…that even if I couldn’t walk anymore I would teach dance even from a wheelchair if need be because I knew this was something that I was meant to do and use to inspire and give hope with.
So my dreams as an artist are to hopefully inspire other artists to continue their love of dance but also to still reach people in the audience with the language of dance in a way that only it can. There is just something powerful about seeing a performer pour their heart and life experiences out on a stage…

MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?

Joy: I know of spouses that have given up positions as Vice President’s of companies because of pcs moves, only to arrive at the new station and not being able to get a job particularly in overseas locations in the field that they are in and that is just one of the many sacrifices made. As dancers, one of our main goals is to join a company eventually and it’s hard to commit to one when you have to pcs so often. Well, mil spouses learn quickly that there is no sense in lamenting what we can’t do. So with each new duty station, I would immediately set out to see how dance could be a part of my life there and it has always worked out whether it was through teaching and/or performing.
The duty station with the most impact for me artistically, however, was Rota, Spain. It was there where I not only really saw the struggle with being in the military and trying to pursue one’s love of dance but also was able to produce two shows of my own which prepared me to be able to take on A Time To Dance.

MilspoFAN: I first met you after attending a moving dance concert that you produced honoring military members, families, and memorializing the anniversary of 9/11. Tell the readers about that performance, what it meant to you, and how you were able to make it happen. 

Joy: YES! So the beauty of how that started was one of my adult military dancers, MonCheri Charron, from Rota, Spain happened to be stationed here in VA with us. She was a student of mine in the adult ballet class that I was teaching there. She is a beautiful dancer inside and out. Long story short, after talking with her we both decided to try and figure out how we could say thank you to the military community through our art form. Talked to the local MWR director at JEBLCFS (Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story)
and had some very adventurous artists and in two months A Time To Dance was presented. Many different dance art forms were represented such as jazz, ballet, hip-hop, tap and lyrical as a way to say thank you to the men and women in our armed forces. Elbert Watson, who I have looked up to since I was 12 years old allowed his dance troupe to perform with us that night as well. I was amazed and I must say I felt a bit inadequate to even be on the same stage with him but he was so awesome with guiding me artistically and spiritually through the whole process.
It meant everything to me to be able to not only have every part of the military family represented on the stage but to also honor our Vietnam Military Veterans with the “Goodnight Saigon” performance. Three Vets from the war were honored with a standing ovation that night. Out of everything that we did during the show that number was the one where if the show had to end at that moment I felt like the mission was completed. One of the vets on the stage was my grandfather Howard Wilson Sr. who was a Marine in the War. He passed away in 2016 after being able to be in that particular number three times. If I am blessed to be able to do it again I will be doing it in his memory.

MilspoFAN: Tell us about your choreographic and artistic aesthetic.

Joy: HA! Without giving away too many secrets, to be honest, if it doesn’t move me I can’t do it. I can’t put it in the choreography.  Even as simple as where dancers are positioned. It has to feel right. Oh, and I love “quirks,” if you will. What I mean is let’s say the song sounds hurried, then I want to show that by continuously having a dancer running in the background while everything else is going on. Or if there is a very strong beat, then I will have a dancer pounding their fists on the floor while everything else is going on around them…but again if I don’t feel it then it doesn’t go in the piece lol.

MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity? What or who inspires you?

Joy: Quite simply life inspires me. Celebration, I want to show it. Happy, you are out with your friends at a club, let’s bring that joy and carefree spirit to the stage. Pain and suffering, let’s bring that to people’s attention. Your loved one is deployed, let’s show that we understand the pain.
After one of the A Time To Dance performances, a mother came up to me to tell me that her daughter cried during the Spouse Tribute number when I had my kids come out to the stage to act as if we were video chatting with my husband. Those moments and feedback from the audience are what inspires me to do what I do because in that moment her daughter not only felt a release by expressing her emotion but by knowing that once again she isn’t alone. So yes, my biggest inspiration is life itself and everything that comes with it.

MilspoFAN: What impact has motherhood had on your dancing?

Joy: I love this question. Well, first it has given me a huge appreciation and understanding of my adult dancers who are fellow mamas. Before kids and I would teach adults it was different. Not bad just different. Now I know how to mold my classes better to their needs and not just physically but the fact that after taking care of their household all day whether stay at home or by working they still decide to come to class is not lost on me. So I do my best to make sure that the beauty and grace of ballet, the smoothness and sass of jazz, or the rhythm and beat of tap is given to them in a way that makes them want more of it. That they are challenged just enough to know that I don’t think of them as just adult dancers coming in once a week but as artists coming to learn a beautiful art form.
I can relate to the struggles if you will of being a mom and a dancer and in turn that has turned me into a better teacher.
And then to be able to have my kids witness my journey with all of the joys and struggles with it is more than I can ask for in this life!

MilspoFAN: What’s next for you artistically and personally?

Joy: Part of the beauty of being a military spouse is that you never know what’s next. And that’s doubly true if you are a mil spouse and an artist. I would love to be able to say what exactly is next but it could be anything and my goal is to be ready for it when it happens.

MilspoFAN: Is there anything else that you would like to share with MilspoFAN readers? 

Joy: I have a lot of things planned for dancers in the military community that I would love for everyone to be on the lookout for. But let’s say that you don’t read or see anything else from me beyond this interview then I would just like to say this:

There is something in you that you were born to do. You can feel it. Maybe you forgot what it was because of where life has taken you, but it’s there. I just want to encourage you to nurture it however you can because you never know where your gift will lead you or how it will inspire others. Particularly as a mil spouse we lose our identity and we think we are nothing more than a dependent and our spouse’s social security number (lol). I get it and I know it’s hard, but the fact that you are even reading this message on a page called the Military Spouse Fine Artists Network: Worldwide means that the desire in you to bring your gift out is there.

Maybe the best way you can nurture it now is just by simply talking about your passion. So start there. Just whatever you do with the one life you are given is make sure you don’t hide yourself. Another beautiful thing about being able to do you as a mil spouse is the fact that we can do it in a lot of different places thanks to pcs season (lol)! Shine your light!

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Joy. We can’t wait to see what you do next!

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