When Vanessa Marian first launched her a weekly dance class back in 2016 she explained that Groove Therapy was far more about “getting out of your head and into your body”. Marian is passionate about mental wellness and her dance classes are about finding your groove rather than following step-by-step choreography, which is something she’s passed on to her teachers who now run dance classes in Waterloo on Wednesday nights, and across Australia.
Trying not to take ourselves too seriously, as instructed, we went along to the Wednesday night class taught by 22-year-old ‘Groove Therapist’ Amy Zhang, who has a cheeky habit of hitting play on Usher’s 2004 chart-topper ‘Yeah!’
“I play that in my car all day, every day,” says Zhang, blushing. “My go-to style is ’90s and 2000s R’n’B and hip hop.”
Zhang greets us at the door of Commune’s Bourke Street building and the first thing she asks is if we’ve got a favourite jam, something we’d dance to in a club. “I feel like when you pick a song you know, everyone gets more comfortable; it’s the same as when you hear a song in the club and you run out with your friends shouting ‘This is my song, it’s my jam’. I want to create that in here.”
We sheepishly pick Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’ and next minute we’ve got a playlist almost exclusively Y2K to the J-Lo dating Batman days. Though Zhang has been dancing hip hop since she was 17, trained in LA with Beyoncé’s choreographer Dana Foglia and spent a year studying ballet, jazz and contemporary styles at Brent Street, she’s approachable, kind and refreshingly goofy. She puts us at ease.
“I love the fearlessness that beginners have. We all go through it – going to a class and feeling like you can’t dance. What I like about Groove Therapy is that you don’t see mirrors, there’s loud music, you laugh at yourself, I laugh at myself, we all laugh at me!”
It’s true. There are no mirrors, we’re dancing to J-Lo blaring from a laptop in the corner of a warehouse, and half of the ten-or-so women in the room are dressed in the clothes they wore to work. We start with ‘body rocks’ and rolls, shimmying shoulders and a walking out a little grapevine. When everyone’s warm, and visibly more relaxed, we patchwork these moves together into a sequence – throwing in freestyle poses and facial expressions.
As it’s a drop-in class, everything is foundation-level, but Amy keeps regulars on their toes by mixing in different moves and styles. At the end, we’re sweatier, smiling a lot more and we’ve made at least one new friend. We might not remember any of the moves in the morning, but Amy’s ebullience will make us smile every time we hear ‘Jenny from the Block’.
Amy Zhang’s Groove Therapy classes are every Wednesday at Commune, 901 Bourke St, Waterloo 2017. 7pm. $20 single class. Vanessa Marian teaches at 107 Projects on Tuesdays.
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