Dance Like No One's Watching

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"I feel more grounded, more alive, more aware of my body," says 40-year-old Krista Patterson. "I show up to ballet class feeling tired, depressed or in pain and leave feeling joyful, more peaceful and rid of all the pain in my body I came with."

Having never taken dance classes before, Patterson knew she needed to exercise and looked to ballet class as a creative, yet physical outlet. "I always wanted to take ballet as a child but wasn’t given the opportunity," she explains.

Dealing with a difficult personal issues that included a separation and divorce, Patterson wanted a way to feel more joy in her life. After three years of contemporary dance and ballet classes, she feels that she’s found the physical, mental and emotional outlet that she was looking for.

Carly Archer, 28, is also a non-dancer. With a background in weightlifting and CrossFit training, the new mother wanted to get back into exercise after giving birth doing an activity that would be fun but not as challenging as some of her usual forms of exercise. She’s been taking hip hop lessons for three months and loves the mental challenge that learning a new routine each week provides, in addition to the physical demands of the class.

According to Statistics Canada, only 17 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women meet the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for exercise: adults between ages 18 to 64 should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week.

Sometimes the usual gym routine can seem stale, running can be monotonous, swimming laps can be repetitive and stationary biking or using the treadmill can be downright boring. Why not shake things up by joining a tap, ballet, jazz or hip hop class to help reach your 150-minutes per week goal, up your enjoyment of exercise and generally feel more joy from movement?

Dorit Osher, 53, grew up in South Africa but now resides in London after several years as a professional ballet and contemporary dancer in England, Israel and Canada (Toronto and Vancouver). Now a clinical psychotherapist, as well as a ballet teacher and passionate performer, her personal joy is helping others to realize their own strength and flexibility through ballet and contemporary dance classes.

Osher believes in an integrated approach to teaching dance, combining strength, breath and mindfulness. "The joy of movement and musical expression," are key components to what keeps her passionate about dance. "Personal expression through dance infuses our emotional world; it instills a sense of our body as well as listening and being present."

With five other dancers, Osher has formed a performance group, called Public Displays of Art, that has done pop-up performances at venues like Forest City Gallery and Covent Garden Market, as well as in public parks and green spaces. The group is planning another contemporary dance performance on December 1. Watch their website – – for location.

"We need to drop the judgment and move because anyone can dance. Each of us has a body and can move it," says Osher.

Shawna Kwan, 38, agrees and finds that many of the adults who take classes at her Lambeth studio, Elan Dance Arts (EDA), are initially hesitant because "they think they have to be dancers before they begin classes and walk in expecting to see others with model-perfect bodies, with perfect hair and makeup and clothes. But they always say, ‘I wish I’d done this sooner.’ after they start taking classes."

Kwan started dancing at age 12 in her home town of Ottawa. Initially she was a competitive athlete and "got into dance, appreciating its expression as an art form." She took jazz, tap, ballet. As a kinesiology student at Western University, she continued to dance and became the director of the school’s dance program.

Kwan loves hip hop dance because it works well with popular music. "It’s hard to do tap, jazz or ballet to songs on the radio. Hip hop teaches us to just move to any type of music. I love it." Many of the adult students at EDA take hip hop for the same reasons.

"We attract a lot of non-dancers and people who danced as children and want that joy in their lives again. At the gym, there’s not a ton of mental stimulation when lifting weights or doing cardio. But with dance you’re learning new routines so it’s mentally stimulating. Dance is a happy release of physical and emotional energy," Kwan says.

Stirling, 52, danced as a child and now loves the ballet classes she has taken for the past year and half. A public health nurse, her job is sedentary so she was looking for a unique form of group fitness and remembered how much she loved dancing as a child and teen. "I enjoy tennis and my running group but wanted a more spiritual aspect and dance helps you go inside and connect with yourself in a holistic way. You use your breath and mindfulness. You integrate mind, body and spirit when you dance," she explains and that gives her real joy.