Wavy Women highlights various industry professionals currently leading the game with their brazen creativity and forward-thinking style.
Like a wave, Sydney-based dancer and choreographer Vanessa Marian is in a state of perpetual motion; always moving, and always using the medium of dance in new, exciting and inspiring ways. In addition to her work as a Dancer and Choreographer, Vanessa is frequently using dance to help others. Her organisation, Groove Therapy, aims to make dance accessible to everyone, focusing on beginner-level hip hop dance classes for people who have always wanted to try a class but have felt too intimidated to try it.
Groove Therapy also takes the shared love of dance and opens it up to those in need. It uses the theory that ‘we’re all dancers’ to offer everyone from refugees and migrants, to those with dementia and to programs for kids the chance to dance, to have fun, and be a part of the community. The feel-good message of Vanessa’s work is designed to break up what dance represents to many as through her work it loses the regularly found elitist vibe and instead replaces it with an inclusive and non-judgemental vibe that more and more people are moving towards.
As the latest name in the Wavy Women series we caught up with Vanessa to talk all things dance, her inspiration and more with this interview and images from regular Highsnobiety contributor Lester Jones.
Why and how did dance become such an important part of your life?
I’ve danced since I was five and in varying degrees – whether this was a daily jam in my bedroom, training in classical Indian dance or training under hip hop OGs around the world. I don’t realise how much nourishment my soul takes from dance until I stop doing it. That’s when I start feeling noticeably irritable, sluggish and uninspired.
What inspired you to not only dance, but also to use dance to help others?
It wasn’t really created like that and it still doesn’t work in that way. I don’t walk into a room that happens to hold people of a marginalised background and think ‘I’m here to help you’. This is just another excuse for me to have a boogie. When you teach anyone who is trying a dance class for the first time, whether that be privileged suburbia mums or Indigenous kids out in the desert, you just see the joy that dance brings. As a professional dancer it reminds you of why you fell in love with dance in the first place. It keeps you grounded, it gives purpose to your art form. If anything I’m doing it for more selfish reasons than anything else.
Can you tell us a bit about Groove Therapy and how it came about?
Groove Therapy is mainly a series of weekly dance classes for the every day person who has always wanted to try a dance class but found dance studios too intimidating. I think that’s rubbish. Dance should never be exclusive and elitist. So I started classes in pop-up community spaces with no mirrors and dim lights. The classes became about teaching you not to take yourself so seriously and just focusing on grooves and foundational street dance. From here we started running small programs out in different communities and sub-groups.
When did you first realise the power of dance to help others?
I didn’t have any particular moment. I’ve been dancing for 25 years and teaching for nine. In almost a decade of teaching classes I’ve had so many people approach me afterwards and tell me their story, and how dance has helped them overcome difficulties. Dance fosters community, it pumps endorphins through your body by promoting exercise and health, it’s the ultimate feel-good exercise!
What do you plan to do with your work with dance locally, and Internationally?
I feel excited about what Groove Therapy already is, in that there isn’t anything more that I want it to be except for bigger and more international. More classes, more accessibility to all walks of life and more cross-cultural exchange through street dance.
What is an average day for you?
I try and wake up around 6:30 and meditate for 20 minutes before getting my morning coffee. My days will always include yoga, dance classes, jams with homies, photo shoots, press interviews and then by evening I’m either teaching a Groove Therapy class, overseeing another teacher, taking a professional class myself or doing yoga. It is absolutely as exhausting as it sounds. I’m just getting through this whilst I’m young and have the energy and one day I’ll be a yogi in a forest somewhere listening to mellow hip hop beats.
If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would you do?
Crying to my shrink. Also learning how to surf I think.
Describe your current style.
I’m a street dancer. Street dance is a style of dance that is born outside of the dance studio context, as the name suggests, on the streets. So my style is heavily influenced by many hip hop genres, dancehall, afrobeats, bail funk to just scratch the surface. I love world music so I live for anything born out of an ethnically obscure culture.
Who or what are you currently inspired by?
My babe, Stefan. He is the most creative person I know yet always full of joy and deeply rooted in nature and family. He is also the most humble person I know and will hate everything I’ve just written about him.
Check out another Wavy Woman, British-born DJ Mercedes Edison who currently calls the 6 her home.