Vanessa Vargese, Dancer and Choreographer
Vanessa is an amazing women, and we are so happy to have had the chance to ask her all our favourite questions. A dancer and choreographer, Vanessa started Groove Therapy and the rest is history. Keep reading for more on coolness, nature, and what sucks in life.
What do you do?
I’m a dancer and choreographer who started Groove Therapy, which aims to make the mental health benefits of dance accessible to all walks of life. We run legit street dance classes (no culturally appropriated fitness gimmicks) for the person who has always wanted to dance but feels too old/curvy/intimidated to walk into a typical dance studio - and I get it - I’ve taught at the biggest, snobbiest studios across Australia. They’re totally intimidating. When did dance become so elitist that it became a title reserved only for those who pursued it professionally? Groove Therapy is a no mirrors, dim lights class with lesson plans that we’ve created and run past mental health experts to ensure that we are actively fostering safer spaces for peeps to get down in.
Our business model (I like to call it the ‘Robin Hood model) uses profits from our weekly classes to fund or subsidise our community projects. Our main baby is the dementia dance class in which we use music to trigger long term memory and engage participants to do their physio and mobility exercises through dance.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Less talking, more doing. I like being on the ground and getting down with peeps.
What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?
A spectacular string of career failures and disenchantment with the creative/arts scene, a scarring experience with a bully in my adult years and a couple of amazing life changing break ups. It’s the stuff that catapults you from girlish naivety into full-blown womanhood. You wear your red lipstick like war paint. You champion your values over your ego. You get good at calling bullshit. I can’t recommend a shit life chapter enough! It’s the stuff that strong character is built from and it makes for a hilarious story in retrospect.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Groove Therapy Agency
A casting and production company for kinaesthetic art (wanky way of saying dance) that champions talent over gloss. By default this means we champion diversity and rep dancers from varying cultural backgrounds, ages and body shapes. Less tokenism. Less homogeneity. More diversity.
Groove Therapy Community Projects
I can’t say much about this because it’s kind of like being pregnant and we’re in the first trimester but let’s just say that we can’t wait to make dance accessible to more walks of life in 2018 and we are so excited to launch these babies.
What is your dream project?
I’m 100% living it. Just an internet disclaimer though that living the dream doesn’t mean you wake up fist pumping and slide out of your bed down a water slide into your freelance ball-pit desk. If you were to scroll through Instagram and see the real lives of people living the dream, you’d probably just see everyone on their couch scrolling through Instagram with nacho crumbs on their chest.
What places are important to you?
I’m Indian heritage but I was born and schooled in Dubai until I was five before moving to Perth where I grew up. Then I did a stint in Melbourne for a few years before moving to Sydney for another few years and now I’m in Byron Bay.
This hasn’t answered your question. I guess home to me is wherever I’m not living out of a suitcase.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?
Yes. I have my mum, my sister and a network of best friends who are mental health professionals, doctors, lawyers, human rights policy makers and established senior midwives who work in Indigenous communities. It’s great for keeping me humble about what I do. I’m in awe of them. What’s super cool though is that if they find out about any of my achievements via the internet I get in so much trouble for not ‘friend-bragging’ at catch ups. How cool is that? What’s the opposite word for jealousy? They’re that.
I’ve had less positive experiences for sure but they’re in the past.
Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?
I grew up in middle-class Perth suburbia and all I knew was top 40 music (not counting Indian music), which I enjoyed. I remember moments of discovering music by accident like seeing India Arie on Oprah, finding Habib Koite on my Windows PC stock music library and finding Flamenco music on a world music CD that was playing at an airport. Those moments had me thinking ‘THERE IS MUSIC OUT THERE THAT I LIKE MORE THAN THE RADIO MUSIC HOW CAN I FIND MORE OF IT’. I guess this is where my obsession with street dance was born.
What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?
My surfy boyfriend has introduced me to this phenomenon called nature. My little city-rat body can often be found washed up between the flags on the beaches of Byron Bay now. It’s very zen guys. I’m all enlightened.
Who would you most like to answer these questions next?
SHANNON DOOLEY FROM RETROSWEAT BECAUSE SHE IS A BOSS!
How can we find our more about your work?
IRL interactions over cyber friendships any day! So you should firstly come to one of our safe-space Groove Therapy dance classes which run across Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Byron Bay weekly. You can check the deets and book your spot via groovetherapy101.com our Instagram is @groovetherapy_101 (@groovetherapy was taken).
My personal account is @vanessamarian_ but honestly it’s mainly just videos of me dancing in my living room.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Oh I’ve had so much good advice over the years and almost none of it has come in the form of those internet inspo quotes can you believe? I think the best advice I’ve received creatively was to follow a personal value system over an aesthetic trend and follow it with conviction. That ‘look inwards’ and create from there kinda vibe. People will always see authenticity and it resonates deeper. If you see a trend and simply emulate it then the validation needs to come from external sources and that’s a dangerous thing.
What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?
Guys I’ve totally become that old person who grumbles about young kids these days. I’ve had a few encounters now where I’ve given younger people these amazing opportunities that they initially accept with excitement only to have them not turn up or pull out last minute because they decide it’s not their thing. What happened to hustle, work ethic and basic etiquette? I feel a bit scared about the internet age fostering an attitude where we want to have created a legacy by age 25. I want to see more work for the sake of truly yearning for something rather than a generation of us pining for double thumb-tap validation.
What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?
I think people see big hair and hear ‘dancer’ and get all intimidated and project this perceived coolness on me. I was the overweight Indian kid at school who was bullied and I danced back then as a coping mechanism. I’m just normal weight and #melaninskintrending now, but still the same dork who dances when I’m grumpy.
What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?
Hey Vanessa, what sucks about your life?
ME: oh wow, thanks for asking. Look, I know it all looks glorious from the outside but also know that I don’t really get weekends, I need to keep an active profile on Instagram if I want to keep booking jobs in my industry, most of the press you see about me writes fantastical and incorrect accounts on what I do for the clickbait, I get a tight chest and insomnia from time to time (read: anxiety) when my workload gets overwhelming, my friends and fam who don’t work in the creative fields often feel let down by my workaholic ways and lack of quality time and a poor week of sales directly impacts how much caviar I can buy (never bought a jar once) and you should know that it’s ok to experience any of the same stuff as above because it’s still the most soul nourishing thing ever.