By Brandi Malarkey
TAP member and community contributor
“I’m terrified of performing and being in front of people,” dancer and owner of FM Aerial & Movement Arts Yvette Reyes confessed. “It’s been a huge learning experience.”
An incredibly surprising statement from a woman who for several years has performed regularly in public all over the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area, Reyes’ words bely the quiet confidence she exudes.
Reyes and her staff have demonstrated the grace, power and smooth movements of both aerial arts and pole work at everything from large community events, like Bridge Bash~Welcome Students, to cozy neighborhood coffee shops.
During a recent interview at her studio, I noticed the tall ceilings necessary to accommodate the aerial silks give the intimate space a cheery openness that sends Reyes’ voice echoing throughout the room. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she settles in to share about her passion for creating a safe space in the community for people who wish to learn or practice movement arts.
How did you first get involved in pole dancing and aerial movement?
A: After graduating high school, I applied for college, but even with a scholarship I couldn’t afford to go. I ended up going to Thief River Falls trade school for welding while also working full time.
I spent 16 hours a day in steel-toed boots, going to school 8 hours and working 8 hours. I graduated, and got my diploma, and was working and living in Moorhead a week later. But I felt like I had to do more —that welding can’t be the only thing that I do.
However, there is this idea that the only way to change the world is to go to a prestigious four-year college, and follow the steps society says you need to, in a specific order. I had very low confidence and low self-esteem. Then I learned about a 4-week pole dancing class. I was really hesitant to take it, so it took me awhile to sign up. But then I did, and I came in every week to practice and it was easy to see when I was progressing, and I was meeting talented people who were creating a community. The more I learned, the more confidence I gained, until I became the one welcoming people in.
What made you decide to purchase FM Aerial & Movement Arts?
A: I am kind of a reluctant business owner. It is a hard decision when people want to sell a small business, especially in a niche area. When the previous owner started looking to move on, I had been a student for three years, and had started teaching the year before.
The space is really cozy and comfy, small and intimate. I feel it is very welcoming for people who may have anxiety in larger classes, and it’s very conducive to building relationships and friendships. I never intended to be a business owner, but I didn’t want to see it close. This had become a safe place for me and I found myself saying, “Me! I’ll be the one!” I wanted to build on what was here to make it a safe place for others.
What does building a safe space mean to you?
A: As a person of color growing up in a small town in Minnesota I had a lot of ignorance directed my way and experienced a lot of microaggressions. I always felt like I was an outsider. So, I started researching boarding schools and I obtained a scholarship to United World of Colleges USA in New Mexico. The selection process was intensive, so everyone who attended wanted to be there badly.
I was amazed by the different people coming together with different and unique ideas, from different parts of Africa, Palestine, Afghanistan. Everyone wanted to change the world. It was so profound. That’s what I want to create ideally here. A place where people feel safe to put their minds together and create.
Are you succeeding in building that safe space?
A: We’re succeeding, but it’s not easy. It takes a lot of perception and awareness. I’m consistently talking with the instructors on two fronts. Newer instructors can be very inwardly focused because they are anxious and don’t want to mess up. It can take time to train new instructors to be more aware. How do people interact in classes? What conversations are happening? How does the instructor introduce people, acknowledge pronouns, make sure the environment is comfortable for someone who is non-binary? It’s a continual “I noticed this, what did you notice? This is what is going on in the world, how do you feel about it?” It’s important that the instructors are all on the same page.
Also, hiring is very important to me. As a person of color, I want to hire other people of color. Can we incorporate American sign language into the studio? How can I find people who sign fluently? How can I get different people to be a part of the studio without feeling othered? I want my teachers to feel that they are valued for all their time and effort. I don’t just want to provide a space for us all to come together and learn from each other. I also want to set the standard for taking care of instructors.
It’s constantly checking in on every class, every week, being very present in the studio. It’s keeping classes small so that students can interact with each other and make connections. Sometimes I feel like a matchmaker, but with friends. It takes a lot of time, but I also very rewarding.
What is most important to you about your art and business?
A: I want the studio to be a hug, where people feel enveloped and safe. When I first started, pole could be pretty competitive. But it is so much more than just who can do the hardest tricks. It’s developing a movement practice, a form of release, a way to work through feelings, and be creative. People come to me concerned that they are too old, or too busy, or too big, or too something. However, with both pole and aerial you can take the art step by step. Everyone else in the classes are either at the same level or have struggled through it themselves, and that creates a very supportive environment. We celebrate the small improvements. You don’t have to completely succeed to be on the right track.
It results in such positive change. People grow in confidence, in their lives and with their bodies. They take that confidence into the spaces where they interact with other people, and it really permeates different parts of their lives. It’s a confidence thing for me, too. Knowing I have this space, and I am proud of it, makes it easier to go into other spaces and introduce myself.
FM Aerial & Movement Arts is located at 508 Oak St. N Suite A Fargo and offers a variety of classes in pole dancing and aerial silks, as well as Lyra and various dancing options.
About the Author
TAP partner and community content contributor Brandi Malarkey is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, administrator, and occasional hot mess. She is a collector of dead bugs and good books, and a believer that ordinary miracles and small kindnesses have the power to change the world. Learn more about Brandi on her website: www.itsallmalarkey.com.