Yellowknifer: The Dancer

Seven years ago, one of Johanna Tiemessen’s regular students in her Nia class – a mix of dance, yoga and martial arts that focuses on grounding, breathing and a lot of free-moving limbs – asked her to attend the birth of her second child. She wanted to introduce the concept of mindful-movement into her labour.

Tiemessen agreed, and joined by two other women, the quartet danced throughout the whole thing.

““It was something, from an energy standpoint, that the four of us shared,” Tiemessen explains from the Collective Soul Space studio.

“There was laughter, celebration, just like going out and dancing with your girlfriends.”

Since then, Tiemessen estimates she’s attended about 45 births – becoming a certified Doula along the way.

A new path

Though her degree is in genetics, Tiemessen says when she and her husband moved to Yellowknife in 2000, she took a different turn.

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“There wasn’t a whole lot of forensic anthropology going on here except in mining, so I redefined myself,” she says.

“At that time I also discovered Nia. I discovered it in Edmonton before coming here and I said to the teacher, ‘I really like your class but I can’t keep coming because I’m moving to some place called Yellowknife.’ She said, ‘Well, you should go get yourself certified, you move really well.’ I’ve been dancing since I was a little girl, so I have a dancer inside of me.”

Certified in September 2000, Tiemessen taught her first class in January 2001 and says she’s taught every week since.

“It touched something inside of me that moved me to tears,” she says of her first practice, adding that she has seen a similar emotive response from her students.

“It’s a safe environment, there are no mirrors, nobody watching anybody else, they’re just allowing the joy of movement to guide them in space, and that is what taps into people. All of a sudden you have these beautiful creatures floating around the room stretching and moving their bodies in ways they maybe didn’t think was possible.”

Many hats

Tiemessen instructs Nia at the Collective Soul Space, where she says she was designated Head Goddess – the titles chair or president didn’t feel right. Seven members use the space – six are instructors – and she says the collective model fits the health and wellness focus that has become an increasingly large part of her life.

“I think people really like the idea of shared responsibility. There are seven of us: we share everything from mopping the floor to straightening the bolsters to cleaning the glasses,” says Tiemessen.

“We’re all equally invested in this space and bringing this space to our community, and giving our community a place to practice health and wellness classes and workshops.”

The broad glass doors of the studio space, on the lower level of the Scotia Centre, are wide open. Other members of the co-op also have full-time jobs and can’t be there all day, but Tiemessen says since starting Birch Spark Creative, her event planning and communications business, she can work from home or the studio, allowing them to keep the doors open.

“I set out on my own so that I could explore different avenues of who I am,” Tiemessen says.

“I have a lot of different hobbies, passions and things that I want to do.”

What was your first impression of Yellowknife?

We moved here on Jan. 2, 2000. My husband had a job and I didn’t. Our truck didn’t make it across the ice road and it closed for two weeks, so I sat in our new condo and threw the ball against the wall for two weeks because it was too cold to go outside. And now I live off-grid and go outside at -50C all the time. But my first impression of Yellowknife, I’m not sure it was positive, but it grew on me fast. Within three months I had a girlfriend and it was all good.

What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?

I think its proximity to nature. I didn’t grow up with that and I didn’t realize how important it was to me and how connected I am with nature.

What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?

The roads. The Ingraham Trail leaves something to be desired, but when you’re driving it all the time you start to know the potholes.

What do you do in the summer?

Play outside. Because of where we live (off the Ingraham Trail) we try as often as possible to not come into town. Even when someone wants to do dinner, we try to get them to come out here and it’s like a vacation for them. I really like to not have a routine and let nature guide us.

How do you survive the winters?

Cook, visit with friends, chop wood and play outside. It’s great to be inside in the winter but it’s so important to get out to play… and then come inside and cook.

What sort of opportunities have you found in Yellowknife that you wouldn’t anywhere else?

The ability to do whatever you want. If you have an idea, you can find a way to make it happen here.

Are you a Yellowknife lifer?

Oh yah. We renovated our house about three year ago, the kitchen and the living room, because I said, ‘I’m never moving,’ but the kitchen was about the size of three chairs. It was a corner. Now we have a really nice new kitchen. We didn’t change our system, didn’t go to electricity because it was bigger and had the opportunity to, we still wanted to stay on propane.

But it was because I knew I didn’t want to live anywhere else. Until we find some place better than here, we won’t move. And I don’t know that we’ll find some place better.

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