PENINSULA WOMAN: Belly dancer is a truck driver, too

PORT ANGELES — This spring, Jovi Deede is immersed in two vocations that have surprised, even baffled, her family.

Bellydancing and truck-driving.

About both, “They ask me, ‘Where did that come from?’” says Deede, a member of the Shula Azhar dance troupe and a driver for Lakeside Industries of Port Angeles.

The dancing — which Deede will offer at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday and every first Thursday of the month at Wine on the Waterfront — began by happenstance. Deede, nee Jovi Rudder, went with her friend Summer Northern to a class in Sequim back in 1996. She was 19 and just along for the ride.

“I was very shy,” says the woman who, these days, appears on stage as a whirling vision in veils and a bead-encrusted bra that shows off her blue belly tattoo.

“My whole life, I hadn’t been a dancer, except in my living room. I had no idea,” Deede adds, “that I had rhythm and grace.”

Yet unlike Northern, who later traded bellydancing lessons for mountain biking and other activities, Deede kept going to class.

With her instructor, Laura Samperi-Ferdig, she found inspiration and entree into a whole new world of music.

And over time, she learned to integrate music and movement, body and spirit. She learned dances from Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and even Bollywood-style moves from India. And as Deede developed her skills, she felt increasingly comfortable in her own skin. She became part of the North Olympic Beledi Club, a group named for a basic Middle Eastern drum rhythm.

Members of Beledi later formed Shula Azhar (, a six-woman troupe that will represent Port Angeles at next month’s Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle.

Dancing on stage, Deede says, feels fantastic, whether the audience is a crowd of rapt fans or a handful of people who keep talking among themselves. This performer doesn’t worry about numbers, nor about the occasional intoxicated person in the audience who starts cheering inappropriately.

“My goal is to do my best, have fun and connect with the music,” says Deede, 34, who has adopted the stage name Ajaya.

“Every audience is different. . . . I want to take them on a journey, get them caught up in the music and the emotion.”

Wine on the Waterfront has turned out to be an ideal venue for Shula Azhar, Deede says.

The group has been performing there for several months now, and in addition to the locals who love seeing the dancers, “the tourists are surprised to find something like that happening here,” adds Andy Griffiths, WOW’s manager. “They came to us with the idea, and we’re really glad to have them.”

For Deede and her sister dancers, belly­dancing is a time-honored art form, a mode of exercise and an affirmation of feminine beauty in all its variations.

“It’s really awesome . . . owning your body, learning to love your body, no matter what your body type is.”

In addition to performing — something the teenage Jovi didn’t imagine she would ever do — Deede is teaching bellydancing classes, also something she didn’t envision.

For information about classes, email

Meanwhile, her husband of 11 years, Jeremy Deede, is supportive of what she jokingly calls her “dance addiction.”

“He knows that it’s something I have to do,” she says, adding that as practices, teaching and performances take up considerable time each week, “open communication really helps keep a happy medium, or my family starts saying, ‘You’re dancing again?’”

Most of the women Deede dances with have likewise worked out “issues with spouses,” as she puts it, “as far as feeling guilt from choosing to dance every week instead of spending that time with family.

“We know though that moms need their own time too, and it’s pretty much, ‘If you want me sane, you won’t have a problem with me dancing!’”

And Deede, who has a 4-year-old son, Cyrus, and a 19-year-old stepdaughter, Gabrielle, receives abundant support from her husband.

“He is very proud,” she says. “He knows how hard Shula Azhar has worked to get accepted” into Folklife.

Deede grew up in Port Angeles, worked at the Bushwhacker restaurant as a teenager, then earned an associate degree at Peninsula College and was hired on as a pharmacy assistant at Jim’s Pharmacy.

That job wasn’t a good fit for her, though. Then, out of the blue, her sweetheart, Jeremy Deede, said, “Let’s go to truck-driving school.”

He, too, had been working in a job he found unsatisfying. So off they went to Tacoma, where they earned their Class A commercial driver’s licenses.

Swift Transportation of Troutdale, Ore., hired them both — when Jovi was just 22. She and Jeremy drove all over the West together, on long hauls across Utah, Oregon and California, at first driving “doubles,” trucks with a sleeper and a trailer; then they went to work for Oak Harbor Freight Lines and started hauling triples. Altogether, their vehicles stretched 105 feet in length.

That was “crazy,” Deede says now. “I’d never want to do it again, but it was good experience.”

Steering to prevent fishtailing, finding a place to park: Piloting a triple is not for the nervous.

“You learn to deal with what you have,” in weather conditions, roads, traffic and fatigue, she says.

As a driving team, Jovi and Jeremy got along, leavening the marathon drives with their own brand of humor. They got married in the midst of their long-haul tenure.

What does a truck driver do when he or she gets sleepy? There’s one appropriate response, Jeremy believes.

“I’ll take a 15- to 20-minute nap,” he says, adding that a driver must learn to recognize quickly the moment when it’s time to pull over and rest.

Some companies, however, give their truckers tight arrival deadlines, and that makes the job difficult, Deede adds.

So about 11 years ago, the couple quit long-haul, or “over the road” driving and went to work for Hermann Brothers in Port Angeles, where there were, fortunately, two openings at the same time.

They hauled wood chips and other loads for mills in Port Townsend, Everett, Tacoma and beyond.

After four years, Deede wanted work that would keep her closer to home, so she began stopping by Lakeside Industries’ Port Angeles office every week. For a while, it was “no, no openings.”

Then, “finally, it was, ‘You start on Monday,’” she remembers.

Deede has been with the asphalt paving company for seven years now.

“I’m home every night; I get to see beautiful scenery, especially out west with places like Lake Crescent and the Hoh Rain Forest. Job sites are always changing, so I don’t get bored just driving to the same places every day. It’s a nice change of pace to be able to get out of the truck sometimes and do some raking, shoveling or loading the truck myself with a loader or backhoe,” she says.

And it’s rewarding to see the results of her work in the Lakeside-paved roads and driveways around Clallam County.

Both Deede’s mother, Cheryl Richmond, and her father, John Rudder, were mystified when she told them she was going into truck driving.

“But they were supportive and never told me I couldn’t do it,” she says, adding, “I figure my dad’s happy with my career choice because I like my job” and because it pays well and provides retirement benefits.

This spring looks to be one that will give Deede a chance to use her diverse strengths. She hopes for lots of Lakeside jobs, of course, and she’s looking forward to dancing in not one but two major festivals.

Shula Azhar will perform outdoors at the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts ( at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 28, and then travel to Seattle for a Sunday, May 29, show at the famed Northwest Folklife festival.

The latter will be in Seattle Center’s Bagley Wright Theatre; the Folklife schedule will be released Monday at

“It’s really an honor,” Deede said of the Memorial Day weekend performances. Shula Azhar has danced at Folklife before, sharing the stage with other top dance groups from around the region.

And as much as Deede loves to dance, she also revels in a good performance by another troupe.

“The power of it is awesome,” she says. “It is sexy. It is beautiful, to see a woman who loves herself.”

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