Off the clock with Joyce Price, dancer
Dance gives Joyce Price’s life both structure and freedom. It has also provided her the satisfaction of passing on creativity and discipline to three generations and made her the designated “auntie” to a second family of dancers ranging in age from seven to 70.
“In my family, dancing is part of our culture,” says Price, a BRC Blue Team administrative assistant. “It’s so cleansing because you’re free. You can move any way you want.”
Maybe you saw Price’s littlest dance troupe of seven- to eight-year-old girls at UCOP’s Aug. 18 Taste of Diversity event. Price’s own dance career began at about that same age, when she started moving around the kitchen to the jazz or R&B music her mom played on the radio. That was soon followed by lessons, performances, competitions, and a life, Price says, “consumed” by dance.
Dance has so infused her life that you may see her break out with a little hand gesture or larger motion to illustrate a point. Before joining UCOP in 2003, Price danced full time, taking classes at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, performing and teaching as well as training other teachers.
She now leads four groups at Humanity Baptist Church in North Oakland through the church’s Spiritual Movements of Arts Dance Ministry, which she founded.
Her dancers, mostly girls, perform during service and other church events dressed in long, white gowns to take the emphasis off their figures and place it on the spirituality of their movement.
Maxine Pegues, who serves as overseer minister to the Dance Ministry, says Price’s dancers opened her eyes to another form that praise could take beyond prayer and song: one that uses the body as the instrument.
“When the dancers are moving in unison, in combination with the music, it’s an awesome thing to see—you can just feel the spirit flowing,” Pegues says. “Those girls are just so eager to dance; I believe that’s what Joyce instills in them.”
Price’s bond with her girls goes well beyond dance, Pegues adds. She often acts as their confidante, smoothing over a ruffled family relationship or poor performance at school.
“These kids have become part of my family,” Price says. “Especially when they’re young, you get protective. And I care about them not just being good dancers; I want them to get good grades and be good citizens too.”
Price sometimes has students who have been sexually abused or whose parents use drugs. She believes these “damaged” kids have been sent to her for a reason.
“I can tell when something else is going on with them,” she says. “I have to help them get through it and take control of their bodies again.” All performances are preceded by a group check-in to establish a spirit of community and a sense that “if one looks bad, we all look bad.”
Her approach to classes takes into account that each individual learns differently, so she presents new material in a variety of ways.
“I show everything three times,” Price says. “Some people need to count their steps. Then I’ll do it again and say ‘Watch me!’ — that’s for the visual person. Then I tell them to grab their partner’s hand, so they can talk it through and help each other.”
She has made sacrifices to give so much of herself to her dancers, she says. Her daughter Melissa once scolded her for spending more time with her students than with her own family. And, although she would like to have a relationship or marriage in her life, she’s still way too busy to make that happen.
“I say every year I’m going to retire, but I never do,” she says with a smile and a little shrug. “I just love to dance. I’m going to dance until the Lord says something different.”