At Brass Butterflies, Waterloo Region’s premiere recreational pole dancing and aerial arts studio, they try to help every student find their kaleidoscope, their group of butterflies.

There is more of a push towards inclusive movement spaces in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region. Spaces where dancers and instructors alike can feel safe to move as they are. With other dance studios like the Underdog Dance Corp. de-emphasizing the need to be a certain type of dancer, community members are expecting more from their fitness providers.

Brass Butterflies strives to be a safe and supportive place where students can get to know each other and their teachers.

Both owners and operators of Brass Butterflies run their classes with the intention of body celebration. The mainstream representation of burlesque excludes many bodies, abilities, skin tones and genders.

“Sex workers built what we do,” Heather Poulin, owner of Brass Butterflies, said.

“We don’t need to separate ourselves from our roots. In the industry of learning aerial, burlesque, pole and aerial arts, we all have the same source,” she said.

Brass Butterflies was originally a part of a franchise before Poulin took over ownership in 2012. When they were moved into their current location, Poulin and her team made sure the studio was inclusive of all genders, gender expressions and body types. Each instructor conducts their classes in trauma-informed ways.

They actively try not to use language in classes that may be triggering to those who have had body-image related issues.

“When I teach, I always focus on exploring and being comfortable with your sensual side,” said Sassy Ray, owner and operator of Sassy Ray Burlesque, burlesque is a way of body celebration. It was a space where she felt like she could be herself. The brass in “Brass Butterflies” harkens back to the studio’s roots with the brass poles.

Poulin hopes that all students and instructors who are a part of the community undergo a transformation of body and mind when they attend classes.

The studio is meant to be an inclusive place where dancers do not need to face traditional barriers in performing.

“[We] strive to be gender inclusive and open to exploring the stereotypically or traditionally male and female side of all of the things that we do, because that’s essence of our art,” Ray said.

Ray believes in exploring the spectrum of body sensuality. The gender binary has traditionally been upheld in the world of dance. She encourages her students to explore both the graceful and sensual side of things and be curious about the whole spectrum of movement in her burlesque classes.

“[Burlesque] is an art form or a place to express yourself. You’re not hindered by what makes you stand out. That’s what makes you interesting.,” Poulin said.

The studio’s pre-registered small group classes offer accountability in a supportive environment. Pole, burlesque and aerial arts are embraced as both athletic and artistic endeavors. These art forms are differentiated by the use of different apparatus to aid the performers. A vertical bar is used in pole dancing, suspended fabric is used for aerial skills, or suspended steel hoops for aerial hoops.

“It [pole fitness] is still very commercialized, it’s still very sanitized and sold to a cisgender audience who has fat phobia, who has internalized misogyny and racism. But to have local tangible examples of [body celebration] is very important,” Ray said.

The studio provides a professional space for dancers while staying true to the art form’s roots. Since the studio’s opening in 2012, the instructors have taught over a thousand students. Each instructor is trained and certified through the Canadian Pole Fitness Association, Ecole Nationale du Cirque, Nimble Arts among other reputable industry organizations and associations.

“It’s in how we train our instructors, and how we run our classes. It’s in our code of conduct on our website and the policies that people must sign when they sign up for classes,” Poulin said.

Although weight-loss may be a goal for some, instructors at Brass Butterflies encourage students to set goals that are best for both their mental and physical health. Students gain confidence while they build physical strength, flexibility and endurance.

“[We aim for] a transformation of your whole attitude, your confidence you’re learning to love the skin you’re in and you learn to love movement and everything your amazing body can do for you,” Ray said.

The specialty adult dance classes progress in an eight-week series, with materials that range from beginner to the elite competitor and every level between. Students can work in a supportive and non[1]judgmental environment. There is non-curriculum selection of classes that supplement core curriculum programs.