Born to move

Dance connects adults to body, mind and community

Prairie Diva teaches adult burlesque classes to beginner dancers. (Supplied photo)

When Ian Mozdzen entered the School of Contemporary Dancers at the age of 34 with no prior formal training, it was a transition, to say the least.

“I was in ballet with 11-year-olds,” Mozdzen, now 46, says. “I was doing all my sautés and pliés with little children. It was like a kind of begin-again type of scenario.”

Mozdzen grew up in a rural community without access to dance training. After experimenting with dance as a theatre student at the University of Winnipeg in Mozdzen’s early 20s, Mozdzen decided to make the leap.

“There was a sense that I was a natural performer already,” Mozdzen says.

Today, as a locally renowned professional dancer, Mozdzen runs the School of Natural Dancers, which was founded in 2023.

While many dancers trace their first steps back to childhood classes, Mozdzen isn’t the only one who began their practice in adulthood. Across Winnipeg, a handful of studios offer dance classes for adult learners who feel, in various ways, called to the barre.

“Trying anything new as an adult can be a scary thing,” Robyn Thomson Kacki, a professional dancer and general program coordinator at the School of Contemporary Dancers (SCD), says in an email.

“It can be a very vulnerable thing to try something where you’ll be a complete beginner.”

As a faculty member at SCD, Thomson Kacki says adults take her classes for fitness, creative expression and to maintain their mental health.

This range of motives makes the “typical” adult student difficult to profile.

Katrin Benedictson, vice-principal of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s recreational division, says the program sees adult dancers from “diverse” backgrounds who are between 18 and 80.

“Approximately 85 per cent of (beginners have) never taken a dance class before,” she says in an email.

Prairie Diva teaches adult burlesque classes that see beginner dancers – from ages 18 to 50, with a range of body types and personalities – take the stage after just a few months of Burlesque Fusion Performance classes.

Meagan Funk, who owns Prairie Diva, says women are drawn to burlesque for many reasons, especially “self-love.”

“Women want to feel beautiful in their bodies,” she says in an email, “and accept and celebrate who they are.”

While some adults just starting out may dream of hitting centre stage, it is, according to Benedictson, “extremely rare” they would join a professional dance company, especially in the competitive world of ballet.

At SCD, however, Thomson Kacki has seen adult students move into their professional program and onto careers in dance.

Mozdzen developed as a dancer through personal exploration, workshops and professional gigs. After several years of dabbling in a variety of performance genres, Mozdzen decided to audition for SCD’s professional program.

Today, as a locally renowned professional dancer, Mozdzen’s School of Natural Dancers focuses on “non-choreography” as opposed to traditional dance composition.

“I see myself as a ‘modeler’ of dance,” Mozdzen says of the Natural Dancers philosophy.

Rather than teach techniques and choreography, natural dance encourages pupils to “compose in the moment,” embrace spontaneity and trust the “fourth dimension” of their art: dance’s “magical quality.”

“‘Natural dance’ challenges formal understandings and expectations, pushing the boundaries of what dance can be,” Mozdzen says.

To learn more about the School of Natural Dancers and upcoming performances, visit

Published in Volume 78, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 25, 2024)

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