Megan Riley, Owner of M R et cetera, shares her experience writing for dance instructor Lisa Zahiya.
Dancers can never really see themselves dance. Sure, they can look in the mirror or watch themselves on videotape. Some dancers can even feel energy exchanged between themselves and the audience so they are clued in to what the audience is feeling. But ultimately, dancers will never know what it's like to be in their own presence. A good dance performance involves a kinesthetic and emotional involvement that a videotape or a mirror cannot fully capture.
The same can be said for well-run mission-driven businesses. The owners are often standing too close to the mirror to be able to assess and articulate the multifold impacts they are making on the community. Furthermore, small business owners who are their own marketing directors can feel awkward bragging about themselves. Busy with the work of their businesses, they have limited time to fully articulate their contributions to people's lives.
I approached dance instructor and studio owner Lisa Zahiya to help her with her marketing, but not because she needed advertising assistance. She's a natural social networker with a circle of 2,000+ online followers and a talented graphic designer with beautiful promotional materials.
However, after a couple of years of taking Lisa's dance classes, I realized that so much more was happening in her classes than dance instruction. I recognized what a special person she is and what an impact she is making on many lives. As people become increasingly fed up with unscrupulous business practices, the base of customers who are attracted to such community-minded businesses is growing rapidly. I told her she might benefit by articulating the impacts of her business in her marketing materials.
|Photo courtesy of A Portrait of You.|
So she agreed to let me interview her dance students and write profiles about their experiences. The dancer's stories confirmed that Studio Zahiya is a mission-driven business with numerous positive impacts. Lisa's commitment to a non-competitive class environment, her excellent teaching abilities and her sense of humor and thoughtfulness supported many women through powerful transformations.
- Therapeutic Benefits of Dance
- Improvements in Body Image & Self Confidence
- A Fun Education – in Dance and Culture
- Community and Family Connections
Therapeutic Benefits of Dance
Dance helped Lisa's students through rough patches in their relationships, new motherhood, health scares, divorces and other upheavals and transitions. At some moments, Lisa was a life coach as much as she was a dance coach.
“I went through a divorce at the same time I was working with her. Dance helped me identify areas of my life that didn’t nurture me. I figured out how to honor myself and create sacred space for myself through that transition. I found my voice as a woman and my persona as a dancer.”—Kim O'Malley
“Dance helps me get unburied from the roles that I play. It’s me expressing myself for me, and that translates to everyone else because I get joyful. I can be a good mom, a good therapist, a good partner, and still take that time for myself."—Meghan Doubraski
“When dancing, you are very aware. The concentration is liberating. Because you are freeing up the mind of activity, other ideas are available to you. If I fit dancing in, the rest of my life works much better.”—Holly O'Brien
Improvements in Body Image & Self Confidence
The safe environment of Studio Zahiya helps dancers appreciate their bodies in a society that demands thinness for women above all else. Lisa's sense of humor allows her students to not take themselves too seriously as they watch themselves bouncing to Indian music in the mirror. While some dance instructors expect dancers to fit a certain mold, Lisa appreciates all body types.
“I kind of switched from ‘Oh, I want to work out because I hate this about myself,’ to ‘I want to because I love my body, it’s the only one I have and I want to take care of it.’”—Amelia D'Angelo
“I’ve always struggled with body image because I was chubby when I was little. [In Lisa's class] the thought actually went through my head: ‘I want a little more junk in my trunk to shake it like she does.' That’s the first time that’s ever happened. It was a major shift.”—Meghan Doubraski
“When I started Lisa’s classes about two years ago, I was overweight, approaching 40, and my self-esteem was diminishing. Dance not only helped me lose weight, but it was also the spark that ignited a whole array of life changes. Since I started dancing again, I am happier, healthier and heartier than I have ever been in my life.”—Jen Ferre
A Fun Education – in Dance and Culture
According to her students, Lisa is not only an expert dancer, but also an expert teacher. They learn how to hold their bodies just so to mimic her movements. Meanwhile, they appreciate her respect for and knowledge of cultures around the world.
|Lisa explains hip hop move to Amelia D'Angelo|
“Lisa has a way of making it fun and telling you specifically what to do with your body. She’s really good at exactly explaining movements.”—Amelia D'Angelo
“You get the sense that she just wants to share something vital and fun. She teaches not only technique in class but also the cultural history of the dance. Her classes are fun, welcoming and non-competitive.”—Meredith Gottschalk
“She’s a really good teacher. She breaks things down very nicely, and there’s a nice flow to her classes. She makes the environment really friendly and easy-going, and incorporates humor into her teaching.”—Ashley Jacobs
“One of Lisa’s strengths is that she caters to anyone—those dancing professionally as well as those who just walked in. Someone in my hip hop class dances in the Ohm Girls [Lisa's professional-level troupe]. I don’t feel less than them. I don’t feel uncomfortable.”—Christina Romeo
Community and Family Connections
Students meet close friends and even colleagues in class. They strengthen their relationships with their families as they share what they learned in class at home. Lisa's students admire the work she does outside her dance studio, as she instructs children in lower income communities and women in correctional institutes so that all populations can experience the transformational art form.
"I loved learning choreographies and performing with the troupe. The energy of bhangra is so infectious there is an instant connection with the audience, and it was a great feeling to be part of a very close-knit group."—Michele Dohse
"I like working with other people on a long-term project that has a very tangible result…. It's like having a dance family. They know who you are, they know who you were, and they know who you're trying to be."—Lara Lustig
Lisa loves setting goals, and she encourages her students to do so, not only for dance, but also for their lives outside the studio. The confidence her students gain in class sparks them to try other new activities or take on projects that have been on the back burner.
|Megan Riley in a solo performance|
These emerging business owners are not just making a living. They are not just benefiting their communities. They are financially supporting themselves with their special skills that both make them happy and positively impact others. Because Lisa remains committed to her business' profitability, her community's needs and her own happiness, she has achieved this vision. In this sense, Lisa is not only a role model for dancers, but also for other business owners in Asheville.
Contact Megan at info(at)wncmretc(dot)com or 828.333.4151 to discuss how she can help you articulate your business' positive impact in the community. She especially enjoys projects that make use of her interest and knowledge in sustainable agriculture, green living, holistic medicine, alternative education, world cultures or therapeutic and artistic movement.