American choreographer Martha Graham once said dance was the "hidden language of the soul."
And although she doesn't outright repeat this aphorism, instructor Mariah-Jane Thies of Radiance Dance agrees.
Thies is teaching a workshop in burlesque dancing, something at the more erotic end of this hidden language, on the final day of the every WOMAN conference, which takes place at the Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler from Friday, May 30 to Sunday, June 1.
The Lower Mainland-based instructor teaches ballet "just about" full time, with the burlesque part of her repertoire since 2006. All of her students get to pick a stage name; hers is Ginger Snap.
"The burlesque is a part of me that came out to play. I was in a production of Sweet Charity. Many people know the song Big Spender, and when I got to do that song I thought 'Oh my gosh, there's a part of me that needs to be unleashed and let out!'" she says.
"At that time I was running my own studio and I wanted that new part of me to stay, and I thought it couldn't just be me!"
She teaches burlesque in one-on-one sessions and larger groups. At every WOMAN she expects 50 to 60 women to take part.
"I'm up there on this little podium, prancing about with a headset on! It's quite fun," she says.
"We do a basic warm-up, isolations of the body like the shoulders, the hips... then we do the choreography on a dance that is really great for beginners. And I also have affirmations that I hand out about being in our bodies, being confident and sexy."
Burlesque has had a resurgence in recent years, and Thies believes this is because of the growth in popularity of musicals like Chicago. She says the style she teaches is more like sexy musical theatre than pasty twirling, something she sees as accessible to women.
"It became more mainstream and you started to see women being sexy but not on the stripper pole. I actually feel like I don't teach it to be sexy, I teach it to be sensual," Thies says.
"It seems like many women don't feel as though they have the right to be sexy, or that it's dirty. When you get to be more sensual, playing a character, it's a safe place to go then."
And safety and confidence are a big part of what is taught. Women of all shapes and ages are welcome to get their burlesque on.
"The people who come to my classes generally seem to be women who are searching for permission and an opportunity and guidance to love their bodies," she says. "Sometimes it's a one-on-one session with a woman who is planning a honeymoon surprise but, generally, it's women who want to feel good about themselves and they put their trust in me."
This is Thies's fifth year offering burlesque at every WOMAN. Her class takes place at Nita Lake Lodge on Sunday, June 1, at 11 a.m.
Burlesque is not the only dance on offer to participants at every WOMAN. A session on the athletic Brazilian dance Capoeira is offered, as is Dance from the Heart, Samba, Bollywood and Zumba.
Conference organizer Kerri Carlson explained that along with dance, the every WOMAN conference has dozens of classes on everything from taking care of financial business, to physical activity, to psychological and spiritual development.
She calls every WOMAN "an opportunity for women to connect, support and be active in a comfortable setting." This is the 11th year of the event.
"It's a unique weekend for women to rejuvenate. The idea is that if you go for a walk outside or you try a class, within the first five minutes you feel better about everything in your world," says Carlson, a former resident of Whistler who lived here for seven years.
"The whole idea is to have fun. It's not supposed to be a contrived setting or wishy-washy. The idea is to get out and try new things. It's for women who want to try to be more active and also women who are active but who want to try new things."
She says that one of the aims is to create a place where all these different things can be tried out in one weekend.
"If you're a mountain biker, don't take mountain biking. Take the dancing," Carlson says. "Chances are if you are a mountain biker you are probably not great at dance so why not try the Brazilian salsa class? Try Bollywood, try something out of your comfort zone."
They also have an marketplace that is open to the public, with tarot and astrology readings, as well as personal coaching, counselling, massage and aromatherapy.
"We've chosen Whistler as a perfect environment to be comfortable, adventurous, relaxed, and rejuvenated. When I created this idea in my head there was only one place I wanted it to be," Carlson says.
She adds that local women are welcome and can pay $25 per class (some classes have additional charges). The workshops are 40 to 45 minutes in duration. For more information visit www.everywomanintheworld.com.
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