Dancing Queen

Story by Jeannie Stone

Like high school sweethearts on prom night, the ladies of Joy Murphy’s ballroom dance class mingle inside the entry, their voices twittering with excitement. They are discussing the optimum heel heights for dancing and complimenting each other on new hairstyles. The fellows strike out on their own shaking hands, commenting on the change in weather and waiting for the business at hand. At the appointed time the strains of “Cloud” by Anne Murray summon the couples onto the dance floor, and the instructor and hostess of the hour flashes a smile at each student. Her love of dance is obvious.

Joy Murphy, 48, is a tour de force of the local dance community, having taught more than 1,000 children and adults over the last 30 years. She has participated in beauty pageants on the local and state levels as judge, choreographer and modeling coach, taught as an adjunct professor in the continuing education classes offered by Arkansas Tech University, and represented the performing arts on the board of the River Valley Arts Center. Murphy has acted as the regional director for the State of Arkansas’s National Dance Week and hosted monthly country and western and ballroom dance lessons in a community lacking in refined entertainment venues for adults.

Murphy fell in love with dance as a young girl. “I was the first child and first grandchild, so I was pretty spoiled,” Murphy said, “and although my parents weren’t too impressed with my desire to dance at first, my grandmother encouraged me.”

Her interest in dance was also encouraged by Murphy’s two aunts who were heavy into the Elvis scene. Murphy began formal training in 1972 under Ann Taylor, owner of Russellville Dance and Gymnastics.

“She was my inspiration,” Murphy said. “Not only did she teach me quality dance technique but reinforced the power of prayer for quality of life.”

Murphy has memories of her mother and Taylor instilling in her healthy competition skills.

“They taught me to never be intimidated by my competitors, and I was always encouraged to be the best I could be,” Murphy said. “Our classes were held in the back room of the Hughes Center, and by the time I was sixteen I was her assistant teacher.”

Taylor, who may also be responsible for imparting her savvy marketing know-how on the young Murphy, opened seven schools across the state and into Mississippi and Alabama. Murphy was the premiere dance instructor.

“I went through a lot of kids in those days,” Murphy said. “I had a lot of energy back then, and that was a good way to channel all of it. I would just dance till I was soaking wet. I’d work all my stress out.”

Dancing is beneficial to mind and body said Murphy. “Dance is 95 percent mental. Most people get in here and don’t know how come they just can’t do it,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it than just emulating the moves.”

Murphy contends that ballet technique is at the core of all dance styles, except hip hop which is footed in African dance.

“Pilates is another form of exercise that is considered a dancer’s workout,” she said. “It conditions and prepares the body and mind in harmony using core strength.”

The early years as an instructor, combined with the quality of her training, gave Murphy the confidence to open her own studio when she was 18 years old. Dance with Joy Studio currently offers instruction in Pilates and Callinetics, yoga, belly dancing, ballroom dancing, country western dancing, line dancing and individual instruction.

Her daughter Jessica Askew–Russo teaches traditional ballet, jazz and tap classes to children from 2 years to college age. She also teaches hip-hop. Jessica is the mother of her only grandchild, Blayden.

Adults of all ages and abilities flock to the state-of-the-art studio located on Crow Mountain. LeAnne Burris and Nancy Canerday have been dancing with Joy for a total of 16 years and are presently belly dancing.

The women have performed with the class at community events including Party in the Park, the annual art festival hosted by the Hughes Center, the River Valley Arts Center and the Prevention Coalition.

“I would never get out on stage by myself,” Burris insisted.

“Me neither,” Canerday said. “There’s courage in groups.”

“I like to tango, and Jim likes to waltz,” Laura Lewis of Dardanelle said. She and her husband, Jim, have taken ballroom dance for two and a half years. He is a retired chemistry and physics teacher from Ola High School; she is retired as the superintendent of Western Yell County school district.

True to the jovial atmosphere, Laura said, “We dance better with Joy acting as our referee.”

Tammy Walters of London had to drag her husband Harrel the first time, but he surprised them both. “He likes it,” she said.

“We like all the dances,” Harrel said, “but Swing is the best.”

Brenda Morgan of Dover laughed. “Oh, the Walters are dancing fools. They are really good at everything.”

Unlike the Walters, it was Jimmy Morgan who talked his wife into trying it out. “When we go on cruises we dance the night away,” Brenda said.

Jimmy, retired from ANO, agreed. “It’s really nice to get our and dance instead of justwatchingotherpeoplehaveallthefun.”

Brenda leans in conspiratorially, “You know, I went on the last cruise investigating the new dance moves, but Joy was way aheadofthem.They’vegotnothingonher.”

Murphy has worked to establish ballroom dancing in the Russellville School District for some time.

“The powers that be are just not showing a lot of interest,” she said. “I mean, I know it’d be good for the kids to develop social graces, manners and confidence. There are grants out there so it wouldn’t cost them a dime.”

Other school districts, smaller than Russellville, have indicated interest. “That might be a sign to turn my attentions elsewhere for now,” she said.

Party in the Park is fast approaching and the organizers try to promote as much diversity in that event as possible, said Joy.

An old English dance troupe from Little Rock will be returning this year. And because it coincides with National Dance Week, she plans to perform and teach a class at the local library, teach Country and Western dance at a public school and at a day care.

In other words, Joy Murphy will dance … with joy.

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