The other day, a student asked me, “How did Prairie Diva come about?”. My story starts back to when I was 4 years old, entering my first dance class with a nervous sense of excitement. I remember that I had a mushroom cut, and wore ballet tights with a short-sleeved, black bodysuit. The class was titled “creative dance”, which was a style for first-time dancers, to get children used to certain movements and techniques, such as how to point and flex your toes.
Dance was in my blood from the start. There are pictures and videos of me as a baby, shaking my hips along to the music before I could walk. I even remember the exact moment that I wanted to be a professional dancer. My mom and I were driving to the store and out of nowhere I said: “I want to be a rap dancer and take rap dance class”. Well back then, there was no such thing as rap dance. Now rap dance must be hip-hop? My mom researched this type of dance and found a jazz class at our local dance studio and the rest was history. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I continued to take classes in as many styles of dance as possible, such as jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, modern and ballet.
At the age of 19, I decided to go for it and move to the big city of Toronto to pursue my professional dance career. I started out in a commercial dance program at George Brown College, where we learned various styles of dance, singing, and acting and were trained to work in the field as a professional. It was a great learning experience and a nice introduction to the city and its current working professionals in the dance community.
Nothing can truly prepare you for the emotional, physical and financial strains that a dance career can cause, however. It isn’t all glitz and glamour. It’s a lot of consistent training, strained muscles, and consistently low bank accounts at times. A professional dance career means learning how to deal with rejection more often than not. In my case, I am very short in stature and young looking for my age and faced rejection many times. It could be tough not to take it personally. I had to learn how to get back up over and over again after each blow to the ego.
A few months after dance college graduation, I wasn’t landing any dance jobs and I was barely able to support myself in a city where basement apartments came with friends like raccoons living in the ceiling. (This is not a joke… I actually did have a raccoon fall through a crack in my ceiling but that’s a story for another time). I made the decision to move back to Winnipeg temporarily, to beef up my bank account with a 9-5 job and then head back to the big city and try again. Making this decision was the responsible thing to do but I felt like a failure.
I had one more audition scheduled before moving back home. It was for Carnival Cruise Lines, to be a dancer in their nightly shows aboard one of their ships. I gave this audition my all and ended up making it to the very end! I remember it was the most nerve-racking experience, especially feeling like this was my last hope at a dance career. We were taught a series of movements across the floor, asked to freestyle, and then taught a fast-paced dance routine, all while being watched by a panel of judges. They made cuts throughout the entire audition process, by a judge walking around and tapping you on the shoulder. If you were tapped, it meant you were cut. Luckily I had made it and it was a matter of time before I was off to sea!
The Carnival Cruise Lines job was a 9-month contract and following this role, I landed dance jobs in various, small commercial dance companies in Toronto, where we would perform at weddings, special events, galas and fundraisers for example. I also toured Canada, dancing in children’s shows, such as “Little Bear” and “Calliou”. In between gigs I worked temporary receptionist roles in downtown Toronto offices.
I had been working dance contract to dance contract, not knowing what my next job would be, or if I would even have a “next job”. Living that way was nerve-racking but exhilarating all at the same time. Then the day came when I landed a full-time dance contract as a magician’s assistant. I spent the next 3 years dancing at the “Greg Frewin Theatre”, getting cut in half, turned into tigers and levitating in the air. This was an amazing experience and am grateful for the many great memories I have to look back on.
The beginning of Prairie Diva:
In 2014 I moved back to Winnipeg after spending the past 7 years in Toronto & Niagara Falls, working as a professional dancer. While working as a dancer, I continued to train in many different styles of dance, one of these styles being neo-burlesque. I especially enjoyed training in burlesque and was drawn to the sultry and sexy movements of this style, along with the many struts and shimmies that come with it.
I noticed that there wasn’t much of an outlet for this style of dance in Winnipeg and when I was planning on moving back, I decided this needed to change! In Toronto, there were weekly classes in neo-burlesque and heels dance, however it was quite sparse in Winnipeg.
I loved how expressive this art form was and how it inspired me, as well as many other women, to put themselves out there and not be afraid to feel sexy in your own skin. The feeling of strutting down the dance floor with a room full of women doing the same, shaking their hips and taking charge of the room is exhilarating and can really boost self-confidence. I wanted Winnipeg to experience this same feeling. These classes were inclusive and non-judgmental, open to any dancer of any age, level, and body type.
My passion for this style of dance led me to start burlesque fusion classes here in Winnipeg. Burlesque Fusion can be described as a style that involves sassy jazz/hip-hop based dance moves, taking elements of burlesque such as seduction, minus the striptease. This style can be danced to upbeat or slow and sexy music.
From the beginning, these classes started out small and now Prairie Diva is running burlesque fusion classes out of two locations in levels ranging from beginner to advanced. The feedback has been amazing. These classes make you work up a sweat and are a lot of fun, however, I would say that the most rewarding part of teaching these women is to see them grow over the course of the session and to see their confidence rise.
I am very excited about the future of Prairie Diva. Many new things are on the horizon and I am so grateful for all of the wonderful women I have met through these classes and the women I have yet to meet. Strut your stuff, be proud of who you are, and I’ll see you on the dance floor! ????