Tucked into the side of a laneway in Melbourne’s CBD is "1000 Pound Bend" the cafe and bar is one of the coolest places to grab a coffee, listen to some notoriously good playlists (Once I heard them go from Tyler The Creator to Fleetwood Mac in succession) not to mention the free wifi, so it was no surprise to me when I heard they would be hosting a dance class in their event space.
A Hip Hop class. In a laneway. In a warehouse...
It was the most Melbourne thing I could have imagined and I was totally up for it. So I grabbed my best friend, bought my ticket online and decided to suss out the new dance class exported from Sydney.
Walking into the cafe it was buzzing with the after work beers that it's known for, however beyond the sliding door I was shown an empty warehouse space, all white walls and concrete floors and three large disco balls hanging from the ceiling.
We were greeted by Hena Memishi, the Melbourne-based 'Groove Therapist' and then class began... As a girl who hasn’t attended a dance class in approximately a decade, I was a little worried but was reassured very quickly that this was a judgement free space, “This isn’t a scene, it’s a community,” Hena said, “We’re gonna give you grooves for the club, the bedroom, on the way to the office…” the light hearted-atmosphere made everyone feel at ease quickly and we were soon ‘criss-crossing’ and ‘step- ball-changing’ our way through the hour that seemed to speed by really quickly.
By the end of the class the people who had been sitting apart on their phones in the beginning stood at the tap filling up water bottles together, high-fiving and asking about each others days. It was a class of diversity in race, size and dance abilities and everyone was just there to have a good time. Intrigued by this new 'feel-good' community, I contacted founder Vanessa Marian to get to know Groove Therapy and their philosophy a bit more.
How did you get into dancing?
My first and most classical trained style of dance is called Bharathnatayam, a classical Indian dance form that I learnt since I was five years old from guru Jayalakshmi Raman. It all stemmed from an obsession with the cultural dances that played on TV in the middle east, where I was born, and wanting to badly wear the insane layers of jewellery. It’s no surprise then that I naturally fell in love with global music and dance styles as I participated on cultural performance events every single weekend.
What are the goals and focus of Groove Therapy?
If I’m to take from personal experience, I was never ‘cool’ in school. It was quite a harrowing experience if anything, and being Indian was not something to be celebrated in middle class Australian suburbia. So it surprised me when people would react with admiration when I told them I was a dancer. The more I spoke to people the more I realised that most people wished they could dance but held a genuine belief that they weren’t coordinated and had ‘missed the boat’ on ever being smooth on a d-floor because they never took dance lessons during their childhood. The more I taught, the more I realised the deeper socio-political and economic effects that a dance class could have on varying demographics. From there the ethos of ‘make dance accessible to all walks of life’ sprung. So classes need to be safe, judgement-free and all about those feel good community vibes. We have a no mirrors policy and class is about learning how to not take yourself so seriously.
Why did you bring it to Melbourne?
I spent two years living in Melbourne and I always thought it had so much soul. Once Sydney started to gain traction my inbox started to get a flood of requests to launch a series in Melbourne, so here we are! The response so far has been incredible and we hope the trial turns into a permanent weekly program.
Is there anything specific you want people to know about 'Groove Therapy'?
Yes! It’s really important that people know that this is not a gimmick fitness class. We do not appropriate hip hop culture. We are trained professional dancers who have learnt from the OGS of street dance across NYC, London, Berlin, Tokyo, France. Hena is the Melbourne Groove Therapist. She also teaches refugees through the L2R program and has traveled to the US to train as a dancer, model, take photographs and scour the globe for good music.
With Vanessa also running dance programs for dementia sufferers and refugee girls this inspiring woman and her community are spreading good vibes from city to city... The 'Groove Therapy' classes run weekly on Tuesday's at 6pm in Sydney and Melbourne, remember to book your tickets online here!