Michigan Studio Visits

On the last Sunday of June Ahavani Mullen and I took a road trip to Michigan to launch our first FUSEDChicago Studio tours. Carol Myers drove us over to Kalamazoo for Cat Crotchett’s studio tour.


Former president and FUSEDChicago founder Shelley Gilchrist met us there and we were awed by the spaciousness of her studio in the historic building.


Cat Crotchett heard about our organization through a screen printing workshop with Jeff Hirst.


Cat studied art history and painting at the University of Illinois and obtained a master of fine arts in painting with a specialization in printmaking from Bowling Green State University.


She is preparing for a solo show— “Surfacing” — from October 15 to November 13 in the Richmond Center for the Visual Arts, Netzorg and Kerr Gallery at Western Michigan University; Kalamazoo, MI
The opening reception is Wednesday, October 9, 5-7:30pm.


As a professor of art at Western Michigan University, Cat has access to a woodworking shop. She designed her substrates in done Illustrator and had them custom laser-cut for her progressive wall installation.


Each substrate has slight modifications to it to represent the appropriation and manipulation of cultural designs over time.


Cat’s works incorporate batik techniques and she has a vast collection of batik tjaps.


Cat traveled to Indonesia to learn batik dying, and hosted an Indonesian batik workshop from which she still has wax.


We discussed the variety of inks used as dispersion pigments.


Cat dyes her paper and then works with encaustic, but it is also possible to experiment with pigments in medium, which creates more of a wash.


Inks mentioned throughout our trip include Kama Pigments, Pro Chemical & Dye, and Createx Pure Pigment.


Examining the tools was such fun.


So many colors!


Both Cat and Carol also work with Pan Pastels to add dimension to their art work.


Cat emphasized the importance of functional storage and found an industrial shelving company in Grand Rapids that allowed her to design her space.


Her studio building has a First Friday art hop at which the public can peruse the art spaces.


We could have stayed longer but there was another space to explore, so on to Carol Myers’ art cottage we drove.


Carol Myers remodeled her Watervliet-based studio cottage in 2012 and started living there full time in 2013. Originally from Baltimore, she worked as a registered nurse in Indianapolis and lived there for 37 years.


She eventually earned a BFA in printmaking. After suffering a loss, having the studio saved her.


Encausticamp became a breakthrough in realizing that every person has a story of pain and healing. “You can be cured and not healed, and you can be healed and not cured,” Carol said.


Considering herself a mixed media artist, Carol works with fiber, charcoal, paint, encaustic, collage materials and a host of other mediums that intrigue her.


Her collection of tools and gadgets and mementos reflect a variety of interests and influences.


She layers her charcoal drawings under encaustic monotypes for a lovely effect.


It was fun to see the contrast of her go-to colors vs. Cat’s arrangement.


Carol’s work is featured as best in show in the Summer issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly.


We were in awe of her hot-box setup.


Sometimes she draws directly onto her encaustic monotypes, which requires appropriate hand gear to avoid burns. She uses a stabilo all-surface pencil to draw in the hot wax.


Carol’s vision is to host art work shops in her cottage, with the option of an overnight stay.


There is a labyrinth on the grounds, and a water feature to relax by.


I wished I had brought my pajamas!

Admiring Tools

We left inspired by all the lovely tools, techniques and creativity exhibited in these studios. I’m eager to clean up mine and start experimenting!


FUSEDChicago’s next studio tour will be in the Fall.


A body positivity photo shoot

It seems that body advocacy has become more prevalent over the past few years, or maybe I just follow like-minded people who agree that photoshopped imagery in magazines is an impossible standard to uphold. But instead of sharing and liking these links on social media, I was called to do something more substantial about it in June.


Inspired by this blog post about normal-size women posing as Victoria’s Secret swimsuit models, Malik of Hip Circle Studio posted the following invitation:


Within the week, she had scheduled a formal event invite that called us to wear our favorite bathing suit and show up at the beach.


I tried on a few the night before and realized that it had been a while that I’d been bathing suit shopping. Comfortable me gravitated toward the tankinis, but I decided to do the scary thing and put on the two-piece that fit. At the beach, I saw photographer Kerry Ben-Joseph checking the light.


Soon my friends from Bellydance and Moxie Boxing classes appeared. A few new-to-me ladies also  came to the shoot. We were asked to line up and strike poses.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The power pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The jumping pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

The chatting pose:

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

We were also asked to pose individually. Initially I wasn’t going to, but then it seemed everyone was game, so I played along. The hardest part was not contracting my belly the whole time. I feel like I could have posed better, but the photo is posted on Malik’s insightful recap blog post so you can see it there.

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

I didn’t see ‘models’ like me in the media growing up, so if this shoot is enabling one teenage girl to accept herself as she is, rather than looking at air-brushed and ‘skinnified’ images of women she will never look like, then the mission of this shoot is accomplished.


Malik hopes to make this at least an annual event, and I am all for it. We need more initiatives like this to showcase that everyone is beautiful just as nature created you. It was fun in spite of the initial awkwardness!

Kerramel Studios

photo by Kerramel Studios

Pop-up Fun at Geneva’s Swedish Days

Summer is in full swing and life has been picking up with outdoor activities for leisure and for selling. My last Saturday in June was spent in Geneva for a Swedish Days pop-up.


It was the first nice day after almost a week of Thunderstorms, so foot traffic was heavy even as I started setting up at 9 am. Peaceful Parlour generously hosted a sidewalk spot for me, and I got to test out my new jewelry bag for the first time.


Third street was blocked so games could be played and bands could be viewed. Wafts of various food booths gave the day the obligatory outdoor fair scent. One vendor brought by popcorn and a lovely helper made an ice cream run for me.


I was neighbor to Totes with a Twist, the creators of purses, bags and carrying cases made from recycled sails, which caught many a fair-goers’ attention.


Angel card reader Betsy had a captive audience, including a white butterfly fluttering around most of the day.


Business was brisk in Peaceful Parlour itself, and a few of the statues walked away while I was there.


It was fun watching the toys move around as various children stopped to play.


Shari did a spirit card reading during the afternoon.

Shari Reading

I sold a few pendants (one of which I never photographed, whoops) and my birthstone bangle might garner some custom orders over time.


Geneva knows how to throw a party. I passed a carnival on my way to Peaceful Parlour, and when I took a peek on the way back to my car it was in full swing.


Since I had to be in Michigan the next day, I opted out of lingering for a ride and fair food, but I think I’ll make Swedish Days a weekend outing next year. I am intrigued by the Viking Ship and the Swedish Vaest.


My planned July and August pop-ups ran into a hiccup, so browse Etsy until my next in-person event.


Practitioners’ Perspectives on Wellness and Self-care

“We strive to give people permission to treat themselves,
women in particular.”

~ Margaret Olson

There’s a lovely healing place in Evanston that offers a variety of relaxation and meditation options. Continuing the spirit of self-care, the Network of Entrepreneurial Women was given a lovely overview of the Heartwood Center in mid-June.


We gathered in one of the large meeting rooms to get to know nine of the health practitioners in the space, and I am eager to book a ‘spa day’ at the Heartwood as a summer break. The major theme of the discussion that taking time for healing and therapy is not a luxury, but a necessity. Everyone should take time for massage, acupuncture, life coaching and other wellness needs in order to be more balanced and healthy in life.


The Heartwood Center, located on 1818 Dempster Street in Evanston, is a holistic wellness community currently counting 40 practitioners in its circle. The center rents out treatment rooms for Acupuncture, Chiropracty, Hypnotherapy, Life & Health Coaching, Massage Therapy, Naturopathy, Personal Training, Physical Therapy, Psychotherapy, and Spiritual Direction. Practitioners can sublet rooms, offering a fabulous start-up opportunity for those seeking to expand their practice without having to provide in-home services.

“I wish that everyone knew that they deserve wellness therapy.”
~ Rebecca Sturgeon

Oncology massage therapist Rebecca Sturgeon provided a Manual Lymphatic Drainage demonstration by which each of us can clear our seasonal allergies simply by gently massaging the skin around our neck. This gentle technique also offers assistance with migraines, fatigue and a general sense of heaviness. Rebecca incorporates this healing method into her massage practice. While her focus is on clients going through or recovering from cancer, she also tends to reach a clientele of “Stressed out women over 40.”


Melissa Sanchez is a dance therapist offering individual and group classes. Her emerging specialty is addiction treatment as well as working with the formerly incarcerated. An active proponent of mental health services, Melissa’s dance therapy assists those with codependence, trauma or PTSD to express themselves through creative movement. Her sessions can look like dance parties, or be more introspective meditative movements. In the near future Melissa hopes to offer a self-care for healers workshop, focusing on those whose profession involves assisting others.


Kathy Kessenich views herself as a facilitator of creating an awareness of what is going on in the body. “Many people feel uncomfortable in their own skin” she said, and her massage practice strives to reduce blood pressure, increase endorphins, relax muscles and increase the blood flow.  Her focus is on Swedish massage that provides relaxation and stress relief, but she also practices deep tissue massage for chronic muscular issues. She also works as a wellness facilitator, assisting clients in in making simple changes in health choices and product uses.

“It is not a luxury to have a massage,
it is actually taking care of yourself.”
~ Kathy Kessenich

Ixchel Mulberger is a licensed massage therapist and acupuncturist certified in oriental medicine. She spent a decade learning and perfecting her skills until she felt comfortable making a shift to establishing her own practice last year. Her acupuncture focuses on pain management, but she also seeks to educate clients about preventive care so they come to her before chronic problems arise.

“A lot of what we do sounds airy-fairy,
but it is something that is meaningful and deep and helpful.”
~ Ixchel Mulberger

Margaret Olson practices Manual Lymphatic Drainage and offers abdominal work in her massage therapy sessions (with permission). She is trained in oriental medicine and combines her work with muscles and joints with energetic meridians. She works with athletes, clients recovering from surgery and those with autoimmune diseases. Since joining the Heartwood Center, Margaret has expanded her own practice of mindfulness, which she blogged about in a 2-part series.


Marsha Smith is a psychotherapist who started with the Heartwood Center 8 years ago when it was located in downtown Evanston. She seeks to help people trying to become unblocked and trying to find their own sense of direction. Her focus is on helping adults of all ages with a variety of issues, and also ensure they stay healthy when dealing with life changing health issues.


Marsha said that one man who came to her felt queasy thinking about getting therapy, but later stated that he discovered “learning to be able to take his own side of things” through the sessions. Marsha partnered with Margaret on witing about integrating mindfulness and massage, and she seeks to partner with the other therapists at the Heartwood to create a holistic plan for her clients.

“People want to be understood and develop their natural abilities
to work through problems and find solutions.”
~ Marsha Smith

Yvonne Mitchell incorporates a modular approach to offer spiritual and life coaching. Through vision boarding, hypnotherapy, personality assessments and passion testing, she helps clients develop their passion in life whether mid-career or through retirement. She also helps people who are terminally ill to develop a joy strategy and develop completion activities to work around the pain and also engage in activities they deferred. Her practice comes from the loss of her husband and her own grief process and the activities she completed with him.

“I am grateful to be in this community
of practitioners and quality providers

and look forward to accessing these services for myself.”
~ Marsha Smith

We sipped on delicious tea and coffee sponsored by Alphay and sampled My Health Beet’s delicious chocolate truffles.


The Heartwood also offers event space, including the lovely Skylight room fit for banquets and dancing, as well as a conference room in which we met where one could host speakers, panel discussions, or other events. Upstairs there is a lovely classroom associated with the Tsogyaling Meditation Center, that also hosts wellness classes such as Yoga and Tai Chi. Gong Therapy is also offered.


NEW – The Network of Entrepreneurial Women is a group of Chicagoland business women who are upgrading business networking with fun and creative events that inspire attendees to work together, refer each other and most of all cheer each other on as the membership succeeds. Events rotate around various suburbs on a semimonthly basis, usually the 2nd Wednesday and 4th Thursday of the month. RSVP for our upcoming events at Meetup, or like us on Facebook and check up on the calendar there.

People photos courtesy NetworkHoncho.com


Summer Daze

I have a few blog posts in my head, but sitting down to write them is a challenge these days. I am drawn outside on the warmer days and thrilled to spot the butterflies fluttering about.


I’ve explored a variety of events and enjoyed taking in all the inspiration and creativity. Business projects keep me engaged and occupied, making days fly by.


Nutrition is top of mind as I explore more vitamin-rich meals.


Summer novels keep my brain from churning too much in the evenings.


I love how warmer weather draws out color and scent and music.


I don’t know how June flew by so quickly, but I am grateful for all the activity, the comradery, and the challenges June brought with it.


It is good to be alive and well and see the magic of fireflies.


Sunshine and warmth call for little pleasures.


Monarchs are threatened, but I see them fluttering about, which gives me hope.


I wish you the most fabulous of summers, filled with much joy and contentment. Happy Independence Day!


My brand new bag

My journey into art fairs started with greeting cards that were easy to pack. When I discovered wire jewelry my initial inventory fit nicely into vintage cookie tins I owned, and all my pendants fit nicely on one tray.


A few years later my inventory is up to more than 200 in stock (and 445 creations), and the tissues and boxes approach doesn’t work as well anymore.


I had started packing up at Creative Coworking’s Art & Wine night when someone picked up earrings that had a matching pendant, which of course was at the bottom of one of my boxes. After digging through I found it, but it wasn’t convenient.


So I started looking into a different way to transport and store my inventory. As I searched for ‘jewelry transport bags’ I found an online shop, Gems on Display, that has just the right supplies!


I found a bag that allows you to stack jewelry trays inside of it, and then online customer service directed me to one that had a shoulder strap. Then I checked out the trays and the liners, and took notes on the variety of options.


I measured out my pendants one by one to see what would fit in what compartment. At the Custer Fair I also scoped out how the jewelry trays were set up in the booths there.


On Monday I made the calculations for the depth of the trays, and opted for a few 2 inch trays and mostly 1 inch trays. 1.5 inches was an option but I was afraid I would get the measurements wrong so I went with even numbers.


The shipment arrived on Wednesday and all of it fits perfectly together.


Unfortunately two trays broke in transit, but replacement parts were shipped immediately, so I could try out my brand new bag for Swedish Days. Look at all these lovely compartments.


Big sigh of relief that online measurements met offline estimates.


How well it all fits!


It was fun lining everything up.


The earring liner is so helpful.

earring tray

Boxes that fit into two bags before are now contained into one.


I still set up my booth the way I usually do, but when I packed up I purposely didn’t stack the trays so people could still browse, which garnered a last-minute sale.


Not only is it easy to carry my new bag, but it is also an instant at-a-glance storage solution.


I’ll never have to dig for a particular jewelry piece again!


They’re all easily accessible and viewable.


It’s so exciting when an online purchase works out the right way!


A Swedish Days pop-up in Geneva

Summer has arrived which for me means one pop-up a month. This coming Saturday I will be in Geneva, Illinois with my wares. I love visiting this wonderful town that is abundant with inspiring and delicious small businesses.


You will find me at Peaceful Parlour, the eco-chic boutique where you can find all sorts of earth friendly wares.


I’ll restock my teas and make frequent use of the incense sticks available here. Shari also has a number of household items that are designed to save the planet.


Swedish Days is Geneva’s Midsommar Festival held from June 23 through June 28. The city hosts family-friendly fun including food, carnival rides, live music and entertainment, plus Sweden Vast, a tent that’s everything Swedish. You can find a schedule of events here.


On Saturday, June 27, events are planned from 8 am until 8 pm, including the Annual Granquist Music Competition , a used book sale, a basketball tournament, a Swedish Cottage Walk & Viking Ship Tour, a Sweden Väst, a Rosemaling Show, a Quad Power Jump, a Carnival by Windy City Amusements, Concerts on the Lawn, Geneva’s Got Talent Finals and a concert by The Moods.


I don’t have a conscious Swedish connection aside from devouring Astrid Lindgren’s books as a child (translated to Dutch). It looks like their music does permeate my life, with ABBA, Europe, Roxette and Ace of Base making it on my pre-iTunes playlists.


Check out Peaceful Parlour’s special and events on their Facebook page. They host angel card readings, herb-blending workshops, crystal bowl healing sessions, live music evenings and other events that align mind, body and spirit.


I look forward to seeing you on the sidewalk of 212 S 3rd Street in Geneva between 10 am and 8 pm. Rumor has it that the store received a make-over this week, so it will be exciting to see the new layout.

Friends in mid-June Openings

Mid-June seems to be the time for many gallery openings. I attended 4 between Thursday and Sunday.


I was Ahavani Mullen’s “plus one” for Art in Motion, which turned into a “presidential” FUSEDChicago gathering. (Ahavani is a vice president and I am co-President).


There was an auction for paintings done by patients of the rehabilitation institute, and a few offered demonstrations of their painting skills throughout the evening.


Since I had not been accepted to this show a few years back, I was curious to see what the aesthetic was, and can see that my art might not be the best fit. I was inspired by various pieces, even though I don’t generally veer toward the abstract.


Whether it’s the mark-making, gestures, colors, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what separates true artistry and talent from low quality abstract work.


FUSEDChicago co-President Michele Thrane had three encaustic monotypes in the show. (A monotype is described at this link.) Her work is featured in Embracing Encaustic: Mixing Media by Linda Robertson.


Ahavani also had three encaustic pieces in the show. She successfully funded her upcoming Here and Now exhibit.


Her diptych won third place.


Someone channelled the Jurassic World movie premiere.


We had a lovely dinner at Indian Garden and chatted about a multitude of things.

10_AiM IndianGarden

Friday night I headed to Motor Row Gallery to see UnchARTed. This gallery was converted from an old dealership. Apparently this area is where one went to buy cars in historic Chicago.


FUSEDChicago member Amy Van Winkle is part of this show.


I love how she stitches into her encaustic work.


My mentor and wax and wire teacher Crystal Neubauer has a multitude of collage works in the show.


My favorite pieces (with butterflies of course) were already snapped up.


There is so much texture in her work that you cannot see from photographs. Crystal’s book The Art of Expressive Collage: Techniques for Creating with Paper and Glue is available for preorder.


I had a lovely conversation in Dutch with collage and acrylic artist Turkan Ilkdemirci, who spent several years in the Netherlands before moving to the U.S.

18_unchArtedTurkan Ilkdemirci

Pam Peterson’s cold wax color palette spoke to me. UnchARTed runs through June 27 and its artists also include: Bill Sosin, James Edward Scherbarth, Nancy Pirri, Eve Ozer, Dianne Martia,and Cynthia Lee.


Janet Lewandowski’s triptych reminded me of a discussion during Sarah Krepp’s art critique that is still simmering in my brain.

23_Janet Lewandowski

I meandered over to Morpho Gallery for their STRATA opening with Carol Hamilton and Jeff Sevener.   STRATA is an exploration of colors and light through several diverse media.


I was drawn into Jeff Sevener’s Tempest right away. His layering of papers and combining them with thread is exquisite.


Then I entered the world of Carol’s multi-layered Madscapes. She combines mylar, rice paper, string and encaustic to create beautiful collage vignettes that can keep you mesmerized for hours.


Her Earth Science wall of encaustic paintings is also a feast of texture and depth of her pieces.


The texture and layers are bold on these pieces.

23_Morph CarolHamiltonEncaustictextures

So many favorites to choose from! This show closed on June 20, but another encaustic show is coming up.


On Sunday I caught the last hour of the new Evanston Art Center’s inaugural exhibit “Hybrid’s Paradise” curated by Sergio Gomez.


I got stuck chatting with people, so didn’t really have a chance to peruse the new art center, but admired the installation by the entrance.

25_EAC Silversculpture

I love these metal mobiles and have a soldering class on my wish list.


The lights were turned off just after I snapped pictures of this inspirational installation.


I’ll have to return to the art center for the upstairs art. Hybrid’s Paradise remains up through August 9. Pick up a class catalog while you are there. An encaustic workshop is available on August 26.

NEW at Good Dog, Better Art

June’s Wine Women and Wellness will involve some canine therapy, of the visual kind. We will gather at Sidetracked Studio, a brand-new Evanston-based gallery co-owned by artists Lauren Levato Coyne and Rory Coyne in partnership with collector Michele Mahon Jahelka.
Good Dog, Better Art is a Group Exhibition to Benefit Trio Animal Foundation, featuring the work of 16 canine loving artists.


If we were to bring along our furry friends, they might be more inclined to look at portraits of their counterparts than their humans, according to a study by Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki) and referenced in Science Daily.

Conversely, numerous studies attempt to validate the attribution of human behavior to dogs, and continuous to keep scientists engaged: “This search for common psychological processes in humans and dogs has been motivated by the fact that humans and domestic dogs have shared a common environment and similar selective pressures for tens of thousands of years.


Anthropomorphism-the attribution of human characteristics to animals, deities and objects has been around since ancient Greece: “humans are predisposed to perceive shapes, sounds, and other things and events in terms of human form or action, both in unconscious thought and in the conscious thought to which it gives rise.”

“Over the last 100,000 years, the social environments
of domestic dog pups and human children
have become more and more similar to each other,
and less like those of either species’ closer genetic kin.
It is as a consequence of this intense cohabitation
that dogs have come to emulate some behaviors
that are commonly viewed as uniquely human,
such as the recognition of another’s attentional state.”
~ A Review of Domestic Dogs’ (Canis Familiaris) Human-Like Behaviors

A study of domestic dogs identified several traits that are quite indicative of a small business owner as well. These include: ‘Playfulness’, ‘Curiosity/Fearlessness’, ‘Chase-proneness’, ‘Sociability’ and ‘Aggressiveness’. Like small business owners, all traits were found in all dogs, though to differing degrees and with differences between different groups of dog breeds.

On Thursday, June 25 we will gather from 6 to 8 pm at 707 Chicago Ave. in Evanston to discuss the merit of these traits as business owners and for our canine companions.

NEW Co-Founder Karen McCormack owns a Belgian Malinois, a German Shepherd breed. “I’ve always had rescue dogs, usually the breed is a guess,” Karen said. “I’ve also had a couple of golden retrievers when my kids were small because they are well known to be gentle and tolerant.”

Our hosts own a Husky and a Great Dane, both rescue dogs, who inspire and support our resident artists at the studio on a regular basis. NEW Co-Founder Maike spent her teenage years with Labradors, and is the aunt of 2 mixed breed rescues (a shepherd chow and a pitbull-bordercollie mix).


Good Dog, Better Art is a benefit exhibit for Trio Animal Foundation with up to 25% of all sales going directly to the Foundation. Matching funds will be provided by Apple, thereby doubling all donations.

Trio Animal Foundation is a woman-managed 501(c)(3) charitable organization that assists shelters, rescues and individuals by paying the medical bills of homeless pets. Trio specializes in taking in severely abused animals, and is responsible for numerous happy endings of animals that had essentially been fated to suffer agonizing deaths.  TAF also promotes adoption and responsible pet ownership, including spay and neuter.

Good Dog, Better Art is on display through July 4 and includes art work by: Brian Busch, Stephen Cefalo, Cesar “Nono” Conde, Rory Coyne, Teresa Elliott, Candice Groot, Jason John, Robin SoloKill King, Lauren Levato Coyne, Daniel Maidman, Keelan McMorrow, Jason McPhillips, Gail Potocki, Ellen Jo Dahlberg Roberts, John Walker, and Aaron Westerberg.


In addition to the works for sale, Sidetracked Studio will also accept donations on behalf of Trio Animal Foundation for the duration of Good Dog, Better Art. Sidetracked Studio is located on 707 Chicago Ave. Evanston and open Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. All other hours by chance or appointment.


NEW – The Network of Entrepreneurial Women is a group of Chicagoland business women who are upgrading business networking with fun and creative events that inspire attendees to work together, refer each other and most of all cheer each other on as the membership succeeds. Events rotate around various suburbs on a semimonthly basis, usually the 2nd Wednesday and 4th Thursday of the month. RSVP for our upcoming events at Meetup, or like us on Facebook and check up on the calendar there.

Photos courtesy Sidetracked Studio.

Shimmying body issues away

Last May, I decided to get back into a fitness routine and walked into a studio that enriched my life. I had seen Hip Circle Studio’s demonstrations during various Custer Street Fairs since 2010, but didn’t take a class until the end of May. Located a few blocks away, there was no excuse of a long drive to get there, and with summer in full swing I had the energy to walk a few blocks to groove to world music.


I started with a CardioBelly class, which is a fast-moving session where Malik has us mimic quick combinations of bellydance moves. Even though I had taken Egyptian bellydance classes in 2007 and 2008, this class felt like rub your belly and pat your head for the first few tries, but the fun music and the can-do spirit of all the ladies kept me coming back.

I decided to brush up on my basics with BaseFusion, where Malik breaks down bellydance moves at a slower pace and helps us to coordinate muscles and practice more thoroughly. Both bellydance classes include an ‘improv’ session during which we dance like nobody’s watching. Malik’s intent is that we allow our body to remember its own natural rhythm rather than be indoctrinated with a certain way to move.


What I love about Hip Circle Studio is that it truly welcomes all women of all ages and all sizes and shapes. There is no pressure to dress in the latest fitness gear, no weigh-ins or tape measures apply, and we are praised for showing up. While personal sessions with Malik can certainly incorporate weight loss or muscle toning goals, group sessions are about celebrating our bodies as they are, and keeping them moving.

I received a complimentary personal training session when I joined,which I used to see if my muscles were up for Moxie Boxing. Malik’s one-on-one session gave me the courage to try it, and though the first few classes were challenging, I was never made to feel like I wasn’t keeping up.


When our muscles aren’t willing to do the full-on cardio moves, Malik shows us modifications, such as jumping jacks that don’t require jumping, or having us drop the dumbbell weights when one’s shoulders start tensing up during weight-lifting exercises. Even though I come on a regular basis and my muscles are familiar with the moves, there are still sessions where I opt for the lower-key workout.

The flash mob choreography for the June Custer Street Fair was in full swing when I joined, and even though I felt like I didn’t have the choreography down pat, I was encouraged to participate. So two weeks after joining I was dancing out in public.


I also became part of another choreography that was intended for last Fall’s Show & Tell’s performance art session. However, that October event was cancelled, so December became the next target date for that choreography. Suddenly I became a member of Zahara Fusion, Malik’s tribal fusion bellydance troupe.

Ranging from 3 to 7 performers based on the choreography and the event, Zahara Fusion was founded in 2006 to provide students a way to experience performance. The troupe commits to rehearsals at least once a week for the year and twice a week closer to the performance.


My duet with another dancer to an unconventional classic went off swimmingly during our appearance at the Martini Lounge in Elgin. We then re-enacted the flash mob with the troupe, which was quite a crowd-pleaser. I had a blast getting dressed up and being inspired by the other bellydancers present that evening.

Zahara Fusion performs at bellydance and performance art events throughout Chicagoland, but also is available for private parties (as long as they aren’t bachelor parties). The next Zahara Fusion performance is at Evanston’s Custer Street Fair, and several members will be traveling to various other bellydancing events this year.


A great benefit to Malik’s classes is the community among other women. We converse about life, body image, schedule challenges and other life issues in a safe and supportive environment. I leave sessions feeling empowered in more ways than just the endorphins running through my body and the fun music we listen to.

Malik is a community-builder and a woman-empowerer. She is also very engaged in the community. Her parties featuring local entrepreneurs and the other events I have been involved with through Hip Circle Studio have given me a greater awareness of the amazing women and small business owners in my neighborhood.


My muscles are becoming more toned throughout my body, and prompted by the Women Out Walking initiative I am more aware of my calorie intake too. I haven’t dropped dress sizes since I started last year, but I don’t feel the need to either. I can celebrate me for who I am, and I admire the other ladies in the studio for who they are. We each radiate our own unique brilliance with our own talents and carry our beauty in different proportions.


So come watch us flash mob at 5:45 Saturday and Sunday (Arena Stage), and swing by Hip Circle Studio at 709 Washington during the day to see if there is a class or workshop for you!

Next Page »