By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Peoria, Illinois belly dancer and instructor Pava Johnson grew up with a combination of classical dance and Serbian folk dance and music. But, when she discovered belly dancing, she immediately fell in love with the art form.
Pava was born and raised in Peoria. The daughter of Serbian parents, she was surrounded by their culture and music. Her father had a Serbian Tamburitzan band. Her mother, a folk dancer, enrolled Pava in dance when she was only four years old, “because I was so clumsy,” she recalled. She studied, and later taught, a variety of dance forms including ballet, tap, point, jazz, tumbling, Hawaiian, Tahitian and Gypsy Flamenco.
She first discovered belly dancing after the birth of her son. When she happened to see an advertisement for belly dancing classes, she enrolled immediately, “to get fit again and get back into shape. I loved the art form!” she said.
“For four years, I went back and forth to Chicago taking lessons and dancing. I started my own classes here because I wanted people to understand that it is an art form. Belly dancing is the mind, body and spirit. I wanted to be an all-around belly dancer, but my real love is gypsy belly dancing, but I do a lot of eastern European and Indian belly dancing. It’s just joyful music.”
“You don’t need to have a dance background in order to learn to belly dance. It’s a different art form. And, it’s the best workout any woman can do. It’s specifically geared to where women want to shape up. It tones you up from the chest down, mostly working on the core. And, it’s not hard on your shins.”
Pava explained that any woman can learn to belly dance. “But,” she said, “I don’t teach children. Belly dancing is geared to a feminine body, and young children don’t have that yet. Children need a background in the fine arts, toe, tap, and ballet – the things other children do.”
Pava’s favorite part? “Teaching,” she said. “I love being a teacher. I like to share my gift with others. It’s almost a light bulb moment. They start learning the steps and listening to the music. Then they learn the choreography, and then they learn to enjoy their choreography. You can see when all of a sudden, boom, they’ve got their combinations.”
“I choreograph music for my troupe,” she explained, “But for myself, I have to feel it. I’ve never done the same dance twice. It’s based on how I feel at the time. Dancing is expressing your life.”
For Pava, dancing is the best therapy. “I don’t care how down in the dumps I am, I can always go down to my studio and put on some music, it changes my mood. It just lifts up what’s going on. It helps tremendously. Normally, I’ll just randomly pick out a CD and put it on, but sometimes I’ll pick some Serbian music because it reminds me of my folks. I just can’t sit still when I hear gypsy or Serbian music.”
For more information, visit Pava’s website at www.pavaproductions.com.