Why dancing is great for you: interview with dancer and dance therapist Elisa Pittella

You all know I’ve been banging on about the physical and mental benefits of dancing, but I’ve been talking about my own experience – and that could just be me being crazy. So I spoke to Elisa Pittella, dancer, instructor and dance movement therapy facilitator (and also a documentary style family photographer) to give you a bit more of an expert point of view.

Picture by: Lyudon

Elisa and I met in Melbourne, when I decided to go for a 1:1 twerk class with AussieTwerk, the company that teaches twerk at Sydney Pole (you can see our video here, wink wink). Due to my weekend city break I was missing out on my weekly twerk fix, so what better way to cure that than a 1:1? I will always remember my dance class with her, not only because it was tiring and thorough but also because Elisa, whose family is Italian, is extremely relatable and had a lot of very interesting insights on how dancing helps people. So I thought I’d share them with you in this little interview.

Pic by: Natalie V Photographer

How did you get into twerk?

I was walking past a dance studio at a well-known dance centre here in Melbourne when I suddenly witnessed a whole bunch of people frantically shaking their butts to Anaconda by Nicki Minaj blasting on the stereo. I was like, what the??? I was intrigued so I decided I would try out a class. Soon, I learnt that twerking has its roots in the Mapouka, a West African dance. It made its way into the mainstream and now everyone wants to try it! Let’s be honest, I wasn’t used to squatting while rotating my hips up and down in a rhythmic fashion. But I really liked the challenge and once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it. And my goodness was it a workout! I loved the freedom of it and how my whole body felt so electric. It gives your body such a rush of energy.

What happened since then?

I soon became a twerk addict and I wanted more. It was so energising. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist and so I put everything into getting that technique down. The director of AussieTwerk was looking for someone to join the AussieTwerk Team to perform on Das Supertalent (Germany’s Got Talent). So I auditioned and got through. We trained hard almost daily for months to perfect the technique and choreography for the show. It was such an invaluable experience and I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity. Soon after returning from Germany, I became an AussieTwerk instructor, which has been a great addition to my repertoire, both as a teacher and performer. I’ve loved every minute of it.

I decided to invite my parents to my twerk showcase in Sydney, as you do, and it was a bit of a shock for them. My dad was like: “SOOOO, what are the FITNESS benefits of this thing?” But there are benefits. Right?

Twerking has so many benefits. It can help increase fitness due to its cardio-vascular effects. Through twerk, you can tone up your legs and butt – I have personally found that since twerking, my butt has become more perky and shapely. It can also be quite therapeutic: building confidence, increasing body awareness, opening the pelvis and releasing any tension in that area. So many of us sit all day that we find our hips and pelvis tend to stiffen. Plus, studies have actually shown that there is a link between pelvic pain and emotional stress. We’ve become so disconnected from our bodies that we don’t even realise how locked up we are. I feel like due to the fact that twerking utilises so much hip isolation, it can really help you become so much more aware of your body. It can help to build a connection with it in a very mindful way. Twerking can also have a grounding effect on you because so much of it involves being in a low squat position, pushing through the floor with your feet.

What do your parents and family think about you being a twerk instructor?

My family were a little unsure about me twerking at first, mainly because it can be viewed as controversial due to its seemingly provocative nature. But they’re cool with me shaking my bits now, largely because they’ve seen how successful it has become and how it has helped so many of my students feel so empowered and connected to their bodies again.

I’ve been stalking your Insta and I’ve seen that you do more than just twerk. What else have you got going on right now?

My other huge love is Vogue. I have been competing in the Melbourne Vogue Ballroom Scene for a few years now and love the freedom it gives me in expressing myself. Honestly, Vogue has done wonders for my confidence. I’m not the same dancer I was before I started training in it. Vogue is about self-expression and building a positive sense of self in the face of adversity or judgment. It’s about acceptance and giving yourself the opportunity to be YOU, whatever or whomever that may be. I recently returned from a trip to L.A. where I travelled to in order to train amongst the best dance teachers and choreographers in the world. This inspired me to start teaching commercial heels classes, which is what I’ve recently been doing. It helps my students feel so sassy, sensual and fierce, helping them freely express themselves and build confidence – in heels!

Picture by: Natalie V Photographer

Can you tell me more about your dance therapy background?

Dance movement therapy, in a nutshell, is the relational and therapeutic use of dance and movement to further a person’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. It looks at the relationship between movement and emotion. I feel that dance in general can be largely therapeutic. My colleague and I spent time working in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Melbourne with young women who had substance addiction issues. We developed and facilitated a dance movement therapy program with great success. I suppose much of the motivation within my work stems from my passion to create avenues of expression for women to help them feel more connected to their bodies and more comfortable within them.

What are your plans for the future?

Definitely more international travel! I have a few projects up my sleeve, including some collaborations with other artists. I’m looking forward to seeing where that will take me! For all info about my classes follow me on Insta,I_am_elisa.p and make sure you’re following AussieTwerk too!

Pic by: Natalie V Photographer
Pic by: Natalie V Photographer

Here’s a picture for you to pin:

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2 thoughts on “Why dancing is great for you: interview with dancer and dance therapist Elisa Pittella

  1. This is awesome. I would love to be good at twerking! I have the world’s most inflexible legs, which I’m trying to change as I’m running a marathon soon. Is there a way to build up strength/flexibility for it?

    1. Personally I’d just say commit to it. I was the world’s wortst twerker and dancer before I started but I was like: you know what? I’m gonna get it. And I did. So I think trying is the answer 🙂

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