Dance has always been a significant part of Cathy Stoyko’s life. Her mother was a ballroom dance teacher, and with strong influences from her Ukrainian parents, she learned traditional folk dance at a Ukrainian school in Vancouver. She also has a background in competitive gymnastics and various forms of western dance. In 1996, Cathy moved to Denman Island, where she met her first serious teacher of Middle Eastern dance. It was a transformational period that shifted her focus to this ancient form of movement.
In the years that followed, she ardently studied and practiced many traditional women’s dances from the East, including Indian classical and folk, Persian, Flamenco-Arabic fusion, and Romani. She travelled to India, Turkey, and Seattle to seek out teachers and further her studies. Drawing from these varied yet comparable styles, she became inspired to respectfully teach and share these dances in her community.
In 2004, Cathy purchased a Catholic church in Cumberland originally built in 1884 that is now known as The Abbey Studio, transforming it into a place to teach weekly dance classes, host workshops, and hold events. The interior was updated with wooden floors, stage lighting, and full-length mirrors, among other additions. Cathy sees herself as the caretaker of this important heritage building, making it available to rent for cultural events and workshops that she feels align with her vision of the space. It has become a valuable and well-used community venue.
All of Cathy’s dance classes are rooted in what we call belly dancing—a Western term believed to have been coined in the late nineteenth century—an ever-evolving and often misunderstood dance form. As a dancer and teacher, Cathy draws from many styles that result in a unique blend. When pressed for a description of what she teaches, Cathy’s short answer is “contemporary fusion belly dance with ancient roots that celebrate the beauty and strength of women, nature, and the seasons.” A large part of what appeals to Cathy about this form of dance is its inclusiveness and accessibility. It’s for all ages, body types, and fitness levels, and can be powerful and cathartic. As Cathy explains, “We can carry a lot of trauma in our bodies, and dancing in this way provides an opportunity to release any blockages. It involves moving certain parts of the body as one might have never moved them before. It builds confidence, strength, and grace. I’ve seen a real shift in many of my students as they grow more comfortable in their skin.”
Cathy’s classes are primarily for adults, and she wishes to dispel the notion that dancing and performing is only for children. Dance, like music, is universal throughout history. Dance also has many health benefits—not just physical, but emotional, social, and cognitive. As a form of physical exercise, it’s suitable for all ages because it’s both non-impact and weight-bearing. Many moves involve isolating certain areas, which improves flexibility, particularly of the torso. It also helps to increase strength throughout the body.
As author Wendy Buonaventura writes in her book Serpent of the Nile, “The dance is a showing rather than a showing off, a showing of the physical self in the best setting of all, an atmosphere of encouragement and appreciation. It is assumed that all of us, rather than the specially gifted few, are dancers.”
The vast majority of Cathy’s students are women, however anyone who wishes to participate is welcome. Upcoming sessions run from February to July. You can read more about Cathy, her dance classes and schedules, and her performance group Arcana Dea Dance, at cathystoykodance.blogspot.com.