Rachel Paish is not a doctor. In fact, she’s not even a real nurse. Yet, in or out of costume, she’s aiding women in the Victoria community on body image, sexuality, feminism and fun with Passion and Performance — a new dance studio owned and operated by Paish herself.
Paish, 22, originally a Duncan native, started dancing at age four and, by 15, was teaching partners’ dance. In 2007, she started her degree at UVic in theatre, but realized it was a talent she’d already grown. She switched to psychology and then a year later, after taking an elective women’s studies course, realized her passion was grounded in women’s issues. Now, she views her studio as the perfect combination of her two biggest passions in life: dance and human sexuality.
“This project is an accumulation of my life. Dance has been a part of me since I can remember, and I was always that girl in high school who people would come to and talk about their sex lives,” she says. “Taking the women’s studies major has changed how I viewed the focus of everything — it put everything into a new perspective.”
When Paish first thought up Passion and Performance, she was aiming to provide dancers, like herself, a venue to perform — even compete — once the youth circuit had dried up. But the further she got into her project, the more she realized how well dance and sexuality fit together. Soon, Paish’s passion of dancing melted into self-confident sexuality.
“So often, after you graduate high school, there’s nowhere left to compete or perform. That doesn’t mean you don’t still want to dance, though,” she says. “Dance and body movement is also intrinsically beautiful and sexual — especially when you consider the feminine confidence people can exude through its craft.”
But before you get the idea that Paish is just teaching exotic dancers how to perfect their moves, she makes one thing clear: “sexiness” is all about confidence and belief in one’s self. That, she feels, can be achieved through dance. And if her sold-out classes and diverse clientele list speaks to anything, it’s that people tend to agree.
“When I work with a class, this is not a place to come and learn how to be sexy and ‘shake it’ for someone. This is a place to find out what you think is sexy and ‘shake it’ for you,” she says. “It makes no difference what you look like — dance is a tool that can help build that confidence to realize that feminine movement is attractive no matter the form.”
Since opening Passion and Performance last September, Paish has seen remarkable success. So much so, in fact, she had to hire additional instructors; though she still teaches most of the classes herself. She’s currently teaching five different passion-based classes, ranging from bondage and chair dance to “sweat and strut” and erotic meditation. The studio also offers four performance-based classes, from tap and hip hop to jazz and couples’ dance. But the fun doesn’t stop there; Paish also offers competitive dance workshops and hosts a dance team (she’s always looking for new members) that competes on the local and national levels.
“My family is extremely supportive. My grandmother always teases me that she’s going to sign up for a bondage course or something with my grandpa,” Paish says, laughing. “I know she’s kidding, but I tell her she should — we have senior rates!”
While Paish does offer some classes for couples as well as men, her main focus has been on classes for women and anyone who identifies as such. While voyeurism is not permitted, Paish says she’d be willing to teach any man who was seriously interested in learning the dances — but they are tailored to feminine movement.
“Part of the trick to learning that confidence and feeling comfortable about your body is feeling like you can start with a safe space to achieve that,” she says. “Anyone who thinks they’re going to walk in here and see a bunch of busty, slender professional dancers is mistaken. We have women ranging from students to moms and even seniors, and the whole spectrum of body types — it’s very diverse.”
Paish’s success so far has been largely based on word-of-mouth and some minimal advertising. She offers eight-week sessions for a little over $100, and various drop-in classes for flat rates. Women over 18, who have had more than five years experience in dance can also audition to join the competitive team for $250 a year — which includes various performances, festival competitions, events, conventions and photo shoots. Last year, the team did a Halloween “Thriller” performance event at Club 9One9, and in February the group will be planning another surprise.
“It really is a lot of fun. You don’t have to be a stripper or a model to dance, to compete, and certainly not to be sexy,” she says. “I’d encourage everyone to come down for just one class and try it out. You’ll probably surprise yourself.”
While Paish’s performances do focus on the fun, she’s laced it with subtle forms of feminist theory too. The upcoming February performance will focus on “hagiocracy,” or the rule of holy men. Paish has designed a dance involving circles and spinning, which metaphorically relates to the unweaving of deep-rooted stigmas and traditions.
“When it comes to equality for everyone, we have to realize that, while we’re doing pretty well, we’re not there yet. So there’s always relevancy in incorporating these themes into the dances,” Paish says.
Speaking of equality, what it is like to be a 22-year-old woman starting her own business — while balancing classes — in 2011? Paish makes it look easy.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s really not as hard as you’d think. There are a lot of resources out there to help you, and there are people who can advise you along the way,” she says, adding that she does have some business classes and managerial skills under her belt. “All you really need is a good idea and a drive, and if you want anything bad enough it can happen — it’s really just about taking that first step.” M
To learn more about Passion and Performance, visit passionandperformance.com.
But she just may be the tonic to unwrapping
a passion for self-confident sexuality