Shake that Thing

As a dancer, I often hear people say, “Oh, I wish I were a dancer,” or “I wish I had studied dance as a kid,” or “I don’t know anything about dance.”

I encourage people to dance, to attend dance performances, to dance in the living room, to sign up for a dance class and to dance in any old place at any old time. It’s never too late.

And a golden opportunity to dance has recently arrived in Marsh Lake in the form of guided improvised dance classes offered by Yukon dancer Zoe Verhees.

Verhees, a recent graduate from the dance program at York University, grew up studying dance in Whitehorse at Northern Lights School of Dance and Leaping Feats/Danceworks Inc.

In 2006, Verhees enrolled in the Main Dance Bridging Program in Vancouver where she trained for one year before returning to Whitehorse to dance and work as a teacher and administrator at Leaping Feats.

“What I love most about dance is that it is the most complete form of expression for me,” Verhees says. “Dance is so physical and mental at the same time.”

Verhees began her university level studies at York in 2008, where an instructor’s strike prolonged her period of study but also gave her unexpected opportunities.

These included a performance for Nelly Furtado’s new record label, Nelstar, with Yukon dancers Melissa Kwok and Nick Robinson and with former Yukoner Rodney Morgan as choreographer.

But it hasn’t all been easy.

“In the past year, I was diagnosed with a spinal injury that is common from overuse and found with dancers, gymnasts and martial artists, but I’m slowly working through this to find new ways of moving to suit my recovering body,” she says. “Since moving back to the Yukon, I am developing ways to keep dance in my life and create new opportunities for myself and other trained dancers.”

Part of this creative process is to teach.

“Through my guided dance workshop, I hope to open people to the wonderful feeling of dancing not in a typical class structure, but with exercises and play, tapping into our own natural way of moving that most people ignore in our day to day life,” says Verhees. “Improvising is so wonderful because it is the base of all dance movement. That’s the way we all start dancing and is also a valuable tool for building new and interesting choreography.”

Newcomers to dance are welcome in Verhees’s classes.

“I know people who aren’t ‘dancers’ can get intimidated by taking formal dance classes, but they shouldn’t be by these classes as you work to your own limit and I am there to facilitate the individual discoveries,” Verhees says. “Teaching un-trained dancers is very important to me because I believe our society has conditioned us to be so disconnected from a strong mind-body relationship that we can get injured from sitting at a desk. As a chronic injured dancer, I had to negotiate a way to keep dance in my life and I think that by sharing my love and experience in dance with others, I still maintain a strong connection.”

Verhees plans to continue to develop these classes and hopes to offer more in Whitehorse as well. For now, catch the improvised dance wave while you can; classes run Saturdays from Feb. 23 until March 16, from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Marsh Lake Community Centre. Classes are $10 each.

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