Move and Groove
THERAPY OF DANCE was founded in Berlin by Elise Mireille. Elise combined 12-years of choreographing with her personal experience of getting through depression to create her own unique method. Aotearoa’s classes are co-piloted by Grace Ko and Jordan Malthus. They share what drew them to the movement with Womenclan.
Photos: Sara Shellard (RUBYx T.O.D collaboration)
WC: THERAPY OF DANCE was founded in Berlin in 2019, can you tell us about how you got involved in the initiative?
Grace and Jordan: Elise was our dance teacher when we were back in school! At one point or another, the three of us danced and taught at Pump Dance Studios in Wellington, we were juniors and Elise was a senior.
Fast-forward about seven years and we saw that Elise was running a THERAPY OF DANCE pop-up class in New Zealand. Of course, we went to class and had one of the most memorable nights that had us skipping our way to work for the rest of the week. But really, we felt as if we lived in a music video after that class - happy, joyous and light. We remember talking after the class and saying how amazing it would be to run this in Auckland permanently. The universe was clearly listening because Elise hit us up afterwards about running it in Tāmaki Makaurau. Our THERAPY OF DANCE story is really just a romantic coming of age/reconnecting moment.
WC: The initiative has been described as ‘a gateway to wellbeing using conversation and dance’. What is the benefit of combining conversation with movement?
Grace and Jordan: Conversation + Dance = Our Happy Place! There’s something about sitting in a circle and oversharing with people you’ve never met, that is so special and exclusive to the human experience (and it’s something we don’t get to do very often). That coupled with dance and being given the space to translate music with our bodies, is the ultimate combo.
Ultimately, starting with conversation is a grounding way to set the tone and intention of the class. It’s likely that most people in the class won’t have met beforehand so the conversation is both an ice breaker and a way to connect to each other through a topic that we may not be given the opportunity to reflect on otherwise.
Dancing is vulnerable because we use our bodies to guard ourselves a lot of the time and it’s also where we told tension, so breaking into a twerk or 2-step can take a bit of courage. To help with this, the conversation part creates trust and safety between the dancers which is important when we are holding space for each other – and it’s POWERFUL!
WC: One of the values THERAPY OF DANCE holds is all are welcome. Why is this important?
Grace and Jordan: Yes! Every single person is so welcome to class. The “why” behind this comes right back to the purpose of THERAPY OF DANCE –as a gateway to wellbeing. There’s a lot of research on the power of dance on mental health and this should be accessible to every single person, no matter their experience with dance or how they identify.
Dance was a really inclusive activity when we’re younger - most of our teaching years were spent teaching young kids/teens who were often new to dance, but we remember every class as an open and fun experience that is centred around play. As we move into adulthood, if someone hasn’t stuck with dancing for a long time or hasn't developed confidence in it, it can feel very intimidating to get back into it or start for the first time. THERAPY OF DANCE encourages people from all walks of life to come to a space and share movement, not take ourselves too seriously and play, and it’s not very often that we get a chance to do that.
WC: What does dance offer us mental health-wise?
Grace and Jordan: There has been so much research into the benefit of dancing and movement on our mental health and wellbeing. Learning and performing a dance takes a lot of focus, which helps us be completely present; dance is a form of meditation for us and one of the only things that bring us to the now. Dancing releases amazing chemicals into our brains (such as Dopamine, Serotonin and Oxytocin), which make us feel good - good is an understatement though. You can experiment at home too, put on your favourite song and just MOVE. It’s an important way to practise having a non-judgemental view of ourselves and the way we choose to translate music through our bodies.
It’s completely anecdotal, but pretty much every single person tells us how good they feel after class and that in itself is why we love being a part of THERAPY OF DANCE. Don’t underestimate the power and benefit of dance!
WC: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself since teaching THERAPY OF DANCE classes in Tāmaki Makaurau?
Grace: I love creating space for people to find their own joy through dance whether it’s a moment to be silly, sexy or spontaneous. I love it so much. If I see someone connect with themselves through the moves or through the mirror, feel comfortable and at home in their body, laugh with others in the class or with themselves, it makes me feel alive. It makes me realise the importance of leading with compassion and empathy because I see the impact it has on them.
Jordan: I have always loved dancing, but I have realised I wasn’t always dancing for the right reasons. I was often competing and that can take a bit of the love out of it, so THERAPY OF DANCE has taken it right back to the basics for me – I dance for my happiness! It’s super simple but I hadn’t really reflected on my why for a long time, so it’s been such a cool rediscovery for me and I’m so grateful to Elise and our beautiful THERAPY OF DANCE community for helping find that.
WC: How can people find Therapy of Dance’s Tāmaki Makaurau classes, how often do they run?
Grace and Jordan: Head to our Instagram @therapyofdance! We post all of our class details on Instagram, so it’s the best way to stay in the loop. You can book through our website therapyofdance.com, but if you haven’t come to our classes before, your first class is free - just email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “first class free” to snap that up! We’d love to see you there.