It’s me, Vanessa Marian, the founder of Groove Therapy here. Usually Amy Zhang writes the Not Your Average Dancer series but it’s understandably awkward to write about yourself. Have a read and learn more about your Monday night Sydney Groove Therapist.
So It’s a usual phone call with Amy – we say our wassups before launching into a mess of tangents that move fluidly between Groove Therapy spreadsheet logistics and where the best Vietnamese eateries are before launching into our usual socio-political musings for the week. Halfway through this particular conversation though, I decided to hit record and turn our rambling into an interview because, despite all of the online banter, I still don’t think most of you get to see Amy the way I do.
I asked her to start at the beginning. Amy had a late start by dancer standards, taking her first class as a way of combating stress during her year 12 exams “it wasn’t anything profound or life-changing at the time, just getting out of the house and having a dance.” Amy, like most beginners, had her one teacher Lizzie Wicks and refused to try anyone else until Lizzie went to L.A for a 6 month stint of training, Amy had no choice but to diversify and this was the point at which she realised that perhaps she liked the broader spectrum of dance.
So what next? Fast forward just a few years later and Amy is already working professionally as a dancer in Brisbane. On that whim she decides to pack her bags and move to L.A herself for 6 months. “I didn’t do the dancer tourist thing, I was actually living there and training under people like Dana Foglia, who is one of Beyonce’s choreographers. I mean, as a 19 year old, that shit’s just crazy.” Having said that, Amy realised very early on that the dancer life wasn’t as glittery as it seemed “You realise just how small you are, how competitive it is to be a dancer and how many of the most prolific dancers actually live low key lives.” Amy elaborates further “I had a friend who was touring with Ariana Grande and would low key tell me how boring and repetitive it was and how little they actually got to see any of the cities they toured.”
However, being naive and young means you’re still keen for that spotlight so, following Dana’s advice to get more technique under her belt, Amy auditioned for Australia’s biggest commercial dance school, Brent Street, got accepted and packed her bags to Sydney in the space of a few weeks. “Brent Street gives you training like no other and I am extremely grateful for that, and they have their own way of ensuring you do well.” What Amy means by that of course, is the culture of competition. “I mean you’re subconsciously competing all the time. Competing for front row, competing for recognition from an agent, competing for that solo. It’s good because I wouldn’t have improved so much, but at the same time I wasn’t happy within myself because that commercial Sydney dancer mould wasn’t really me, yet I was there trying to convince myself to fight for it.”
This is the part where you’d usually expect a downward spiral but luckily Amy has strong character and happened to live in a share house with a legend -me – fun fact! Amy speaks of this shared chapter between us through her lens “You spoke about wanting to start Groove Therapy when I first moved in and you kept talking about how the industry missed the point about dance being about…dancing.” Amy pauses, then elaborates on the effect these conversations had in relation to her experience “I mean, I had it lucky at Brent Street because I had years of experience as a working dancer who had also lived in L.A and I was hanging out with people like you who had no interest in that commercial dance world, so I had this wider perspective on it all.”
As the years moved on Amy literally got a backstage insight into Groove Therapy as I would lie in the living room (we didn’t have a couch) and lay it all out to her whilst downing copious amounts of chocolate. “I mean I was this Brent Street graduate with heaps of free time and no idea what to do next so I figure I might as well help you out.” Though you may see her teaching our regular Monday class and posting the odd insta story, Amy has gone on to become our General Manager and Producer which means she does everything from marketing, event producing and problem solving when shit hits the fan before I even catch wind of it. On the creative front, Amy has also gone on to perform and movement direct a string of campaigns and creative pieces this year under Groove Therapy Agency.
It’s a big shift from the L.A dancer life and I ask what this means for her “I mean I still like performing but I don’t get validation from just being a performer, or winning battles anymore.” She doesn’t quite say it but between the lines it seems as though she simply doesn’t see her identity being limited within such a one-dimensional label “I almost feel like my life and my career is bigger [than just being a dancer] because there’s also this world of working on epic projects from behind the scenes and also just a world outside of dance – friends, family and just having a good time living your life.”
And though the interview went for over an hour and I could write you a small novel I will end with one last note from Amy. I asked her what she would say to someone who is nervous but toying with the idea of trying a dance class “Just book a spot and lock yourself in before you overthink it” she says “You’ll get there and you’ll feel nervous and you might consider bailing, but then class will start and there’s nowhere for you to run.” She does her signature Amy cackle before finishing “and we’ll do the first warm up and realise it’s really not such a big deal. In fact, you’ll realise it’s actually really fun.”
So what are you waiting for?
Amy teaches a beginner Groove Therapy class every Monday in Redfern, Sydney.