Hidden in the lower level of Tapp’s Art Center resides a small studio that has become a sanctuary for the group of women who call it home every Wednesday night. Although they are here to meet for their weekly belly dance class, the students have also created a network of body positivity and female empowerment under the guide of their instructor.
“Tiny Coven” is the brainchild of Ashley Moore, the head instructor of “Bellydance FUNdamentals," a beginner course for those interested in the history of the art form. For six weeks, students learn how to choreograph their own pieces and even have the opportunity to showcase what they've learned in live shows.
According to her website, “We call it a coven because this is a place where all sorts of women — at various life-stages — spend time together, as peers and sisters, to dance and create, uninhibited and safe from judgement.”
Moore, who has been a belly dancer for 13 years, has been a member of the Tapp’s family since 2016. In the past she's hosted numerous belly dance workshops that drew sold out crowds and helped generate buzz, before deciding to permanently rent a studio through Tapp's.
“My classes are based on a very contemporary form of American bellydance based on a style named Datura," said Moore. "Aside from focusing on a clean dance aesthetic and technical foundation, my students celebrate diversity, self-reliance, inclusion, and collaboration."
For dance student Dayna Smith, Moore's class became a place of refuge.
Before becoming a member of "Tiny Coven", Smith was wary after past experiences at other organizations. Smith, who identifies as a transgender woman, was in search of a safe space.
“When a lot of trans people try to go yoga classes, using gyms, public facilities they get kind of ostracized or it’s not a welcomed environment," said Smith. "I had known Ashley since ... she first came to Columbia as a dancer and seen her perform, so I was going to outreach to her to see if the class would be a welcoming and safe space for me, and it has been."
Fellow dance student, Ashley Hutto, shares a similar sentiment.
"I started as somebody who didn't dance at all and Ashley was just really welcoming and she created an environment where everybody's welcomed, it's very inclusive," said Hutto. "It's a good environment for women to encourage one other and it gives us a space to exercise."
In addition to learning the foundations of belly dancing, Hutto has also learned “how to love myself, and how to be comfortable in the body that I am in."
Today, Moore's classes are held in a bigger studio that is under a new division of Tapp's known as the "Movement Arts Co-Op". Not too soon after getting "Tiny Coven" off the ground, Moore worked directly with Caitlin Bright, the owner of Tapp's, and helped develop the M.A.C. as a work spaces for artists to collaborate with the community through dance.
“One goal of The M.A.C. is to provide a variety of movement, dance and mindfulness classes to those who seek opportunities to explore their own personal growth,” Moore said. “Above that, however, is to provide an affordable space for artists, practitioners and instructors to develop their work in a lively, affordable space where they can meet and learn from a huge family of artists who also work in the Tapp's Arts Center.”
While Tiny Coven has since gained a loyal following, Moore is just getting started. Over time, she hopes to expand both her class and the M.A.C. as a whole.
“In the future, I would love to have a dozen artists on our calendar, rehearsing and teaching in our studio — with an annual collaborative performance held for the public in any or all of our performance spaces: The Space Hall, The Skyline Room, and The Fountain Room,” Moore said.