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Jun 24, 2013
10:34 AM
Local Flavor

Food for the Soul

Food for the Soul

Photo by Maggie Koszewski

I find it hard to explain the passion and happiness I derive from dancing. From the outside, it might even seem ridiculous: A woman, who received a degree in botany and conservation biology, has spent the last seventeen years studying, teaching and performing West African dance. And despite my own belief that dance could definitely be my hobby, or side job, but certainly not my “real” job, it has become a “real” job for the past ten years.

Dance feeds my soul. It is a moving meditation. When I dance, I totally let go. I think of nothing but the rhythm that the drums provide, the freedom I feel when I move and the joy I have at sharing that experience with others—my fellow performers, the audience and my students.

Sharing that experience with students has been one of the greatest joys of my life. For the past five years, I have been fortunate to teach at Dance Fabulous, a studio owned by Lyn Pilch. Lyn, also co-owner of marketing firm Pilch & Barnet, is one of those amazing people that cares more about others than herself. Which probably accounts for the company being named one of the top ten best places to work in Madison in 2012.

One thing Lyn cares most about is giving everyone a chance to dance. Lyn and her sister Alyson knew what a positive impact dance could have; as adults with no dance background they began taking dance classes, looking to fill an unexplainable void in their lives. When that studio closed, they decided to open a studio of their own, giving others a chance to experience what they had—the sense of fulfillment that only dance can provide. Lyn even taught hip-hop and striptease at Dance Fabulous. Students such as Lydia Zepeda, who hadn’t dance in “decades” felt Lyn’s love. “She has such trust, confidence, pride in and audacity on behalf of her students.”

Alyson, Lyn and Holly PilchLydia is only one of many students impacted by Dance Fabulous. Lyn and Alyson remember “...one woman who came every Sunday to a dance party that we offered.” Lyn explains. “The day we stopped offering that class, she broke down in tears. Her boyfriend had cancer and that was the one hour a week she could take her mind off it. You never know what that one hour can mean to people.”

Dance Fabulous was a studio where many barriers were broken. Alyson, who managed the studio, says, “We were a studio for people who didn’t fit in at other dance studios.” The classes were all drop-in, ranging from hip-hop to striptease, to Brazilian, contemporary, ballet and African. Students ranged from long-time dance students to people who had never danced a day in their lives. There were classes for everyone, from college students and men in drag, to new moms and fifty-something year olds. What connected those students was the impact the dance classes had on their lives. Lydia concurs, “Dance Fabulous changed my life; it made dance a part of my life.” Lyn and Alyson add, “Dance builds confidence and a connection with your community. Dance is an emotional, physical and spiritual outlet. Nothing else provides all of those things.”

So why am I writing about Dance Fabulous in the past tense? Because last week the studio closed. Lyn talks, with tears welling in her eyes, about the loss of the studio. “We understand what people are going through. We know how hard it is to lose the dance community that has built over years of attending classes together. We provided a space for people to grow, to gain confidence, to become themselves.” When you take that away, it is like losing a part of yourself. Lydia echos their sentiment: “I’m heartbroken. Where else can someone go who just wants to dance for fun and have so many options of styles? Yes we can keep on dancing, but it won't be so convenient, easy or awesome because we won't have all the different styles under one roof.”

Why would a studio that has supported and built such an amazing dance community close? You see, the room adjacent to Dance Fabulous sat empty for most of the time Dance Fabulous existed in the basement of a building on North Lake Street. Seeing the financial loss in having half of the building empty, the landlord insisted that when Lyn renew her lease, she pay for both rooms. A reasonable request as a business owner, but an impossible request for a studio that was just breaking even. The Pilches ran the studio foremost as a service to our community and themselves. The closing of Dance Fabulous is a devastating loss to many members of our community, students and teachers alike. Thankfully, many of the instructors, including myself, are continuing instruction at various venues around Madison.

It won’t be the same, but at least I know I won't go hungry.

For more information on classes, look here

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About This Blog

Writing has always provided an anchor for my passions, which focus deeply on food, dance, environmental conservation and culture. I grew up “helping” my dad cultivate a prolific garden that produced too many radishes and watching my mom make almost all of our food from scratch, including horehound candy. Meanwhile I took my first African dance class in high school, which ignited my continuing quest to travel to West Africa, via Europe and South America, to study dance.

Through my travels, I learned that we are all connected by food, and our basic need to eat. Since moving to Madison in 1998 to pursue degrees in conservation biology and dance, I have developed an appreciation for the richness of our local food community, and a great desire to share it with others. What started as a personal food blog, A World of Flavors, has since grown into a business teaching cooking classes and leading local and international food tours.

I look forward to sharing culinary adventures with you through my Madison Magazine blog Local Flavor and monthly Dining In recipe column.

  – Otehlia Cassidy
Follow Otehlia on Twitter @madisoneats

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