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Vanessa Marian, Byron Bay NSW

Words by Emma Do

Images by Lauren Phillips

Vanessa Marian is the founder of Groove Therapy, an ‘anti-dance class’ that focuses on making participants feel good about themselves. Vanessa is also a dance teacher, choreographer and commercial dancer who has worked with a number of marginalised groups to build community through dance. From her home in Byron Bay, Vanessa talked to IN BED about dancing as therapy and the benefits of having no internet.

What led you on your journey to become a dancer?

I’ve been dancing since I was 5. I’ve just always known to self-medicate with dance. I was bullied a lot in school and found it super hard to fit in so I would come home every day from school and just dance in my room. I also did training and did classical Indian dance growing up my whole life. Dance was my happy place.

But even though I taught dance, performed and did all of those things for 10 years. I never thought dance was a real career and refused to call it a real job until two years ago when I started Groove Therapy.

I did everything else before – interior design, studied law, was a brand manager for a fashion company. The whole time dance was my side thing until my real career would take off. But I hit this point where I was like ‘what am I doing with my life?’ I felt pretty crap so I did the one thing I knew always lifted me out of a stressful and anxious mood: take a dance class. That was the point where I realised I wanted to make a career out of it.

How did you come up with the concept for Groove Therapy?

Instead of trying to be a backup dancer which is the general definition of what a career looks like for a commercial dancer, I decided to start this company to make the mental wellness side of dance accessible to everyone – people who always wished they could dance but feel like they’re too old or uncoordinated or feel they missed the boat on taking a dance class.

I’ve always known it subconsciously but it’s only recently that I’ve realised how therapeutic dance really is. It takes you out of your head and into your body. Secondly if you go every week, you see familiar faces and become part of the community and it’s really important for a sense of belonging. Thirdly, it’s exercise so you get a lot of endorphins pumping. It’s also an expressive form of exercise so it’s a really therapeutic way to let people express themselves without necessarily having to talk to someone and tell them how shit your day or month or chapter of your life is.
Sometimes all you need is to have a dance.

I decided to start this company to make the mental wellness side of dance accessible to everyone – people who always wished they could dance but feel like they’re too old or uncoordinated or feel they missed the boat on taking a dance class.

Dance classes can be intimidating. How do you get people into the groove?

Whenever people walk into class, you can feel the nervous energy straight away. But our classes have no mirror, we dim the lights. It’s an anti-dance class dance class for people to get out of their heads and into their bodies.

The conventional dance class vibe is more often than not quite competitive, full of comparison and a lot about body image. We thought to take that out of the equation at every possible point that we can. So we don’t do choreography, we teach famous party moves like the running man the sprinkler or the two step –stuff you can actually do on a dance floor so you’re not stressing out trying to learn the choreography.

What’s next for you this year?

We (Groove Therapy) are launching an agency of dancers. We’ve decided we’re going to champion diversity at all age groups and multicultural backgrounds, all body shapes, all genders. We’re just going to champion the best dancers – not just the best looking people. We already do it informally but we just decided to make a proper business – we’re so proud of the kind of faces, bodies and people we’ve been able to put onto the mainstream screen.

We’ve decided we’re going to champion diversity at all age groups and multicultural backgrounds, all body shapes, all genders. We’re just going to champion the best dancers – not just the best looking people.

What do you love about where you live?

I’ve only been here for four or five months. Before that I was in Sydney, Melbourne and lived most of my life in Perth. Byron is such a grounded place and so peaceful. It totally forces you to slow down and breathe. Also I have no wifi or reception.

Melbourne has a lot of soul but it’s hard really get paid for your creativity. Sydney is the place you get paid for it. But the hustle is way too real. Byron is that place where you can say no to projects coming from Sydney, and if they’re big enough they’ll fly you over.

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How do you deal with burning out?

I burn out all the time, that’s the reality. My way of de-stressing from too much dance is dancing, which is so ridiculous. But you’ve got dance for work then dance for yourself. Also Harry Potter audio books have been great.

 
Do you have a morning routine?

Wake up and have a shower before anything else. Then have breakfast, sit down with pen and paper and just write. It might be a journal entry or just a list to get the inside of my head onto paper. It helps construct how the rest of my day is going to go.

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Do you have a routine before bed?

We (my partner and I) don’t have a TV or internet here so we tend to listen to audiobooks or podcasts, peppermint tea and do a jigsaw puzzle or Sudoku. Or we’ll visit a friend earlier in the day and download something on Netflix and then come back and watch that. It’s great and awful at the same time not having any internet!

 

See more from Vanessa here.


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