Dance Teacher Empowers Students and Builds Community in Chapel Hill

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Studio A DanceArts Artistic Director Melody Eggen’s passion for dance led her to open her own studio more than 30 years ago. Today, she still inspires a joy of movement in her pupils.

Melody Eggen and students at the barre for a ballet dance

By Katie MacKinnon | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Growing up in Missouri, Melody Eggen learned to dance at the age of 12 at the insistence of her grandmother. She continued to attend ballet and jazz lessons as she got older because many sports at the time only welcomed boys. Quickly, Melody discovered that she wanted to stick to dance. “It sings to me,” she says of her lifelong love.

Interested in working with children with behavioral disorders, Melody combined this with her passion for dance and focused her undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri in Columbia on using the arts to help children with disabilities. After college, Melody attended UNC Greensboro for her graduate degree in dance because of North Carolina’s reputation for funding the arts. Then she was drawn to the unique charm of Chapel Hill.

“When I moved here, [it] was just this cool, funky old college town and had this great artsy vibe,” she says. “It just felt like home.” (These days, Melody and her husband, Steve Jenisch, and their three German shepherds, Nikita, Ripley and Reacher, call Chatham County home.)

After working at a few local studios while getting her master’s, Melody decided to open her own. She wanted a place that taught dance in a way that was good for children’s bodies and minds, that encouraged them to be creative and leave their worries at the door. Melody found this in the middle of the woods in a building with wood beam ceilings and an uneven floor, opening Dancecentre at 1714 Legion Rd. with partner Mary Norkus in 1991.

After many years of teaching ballet, hip-hop, flamenco and other genres together, Mary moved on to teaching full time at Durham Academy, but Melody knew she wanted to stay. Attached to her magical studio in the woods, she renamed it Studio A DanceArts. Focusing on creative movement, the classes for 3-year-olds to adults, are taught by Melody along with instructors Stephanie Markunas, Jessi Knight and Emlyn Soher.

Melody sums up her dance philosophy as follows: “I want all of my students to go, ‘Oh, you know, my body’s OK, the way I move is OK,” Melody says. “It’s my voice. This is my voice.’ And yes, as a dance teacher, I can teach you technique, but what I really am trying to do is to help you find your voice so that you can sing your song for the world.”

Doubling as a costume designer, Melody allows students to help design their own attire for the yearly recitals. “If your costume makes you feel good and look good, you’re gonna dance better,’” she says.

After being a part of the dance community in Chapel Hill for so long, Melody has even gotten the chance to teach some of the children of her former students. “It means the parents felt like they got something out of it,” she says. “That it was more than just dance lessons, that it’s a good community place, and that’s what I really want.”

While Melody enjoys gardening and baking in her free time, she can’t help but continue to dance. “When you’re growing up, they always tell you if you love what you do, you’re not working,” she says. “Well, that’s not exactly true, but it is true. I dance. That’s part of my recreation, I dance for myself. And I sew, not just because it’s work, but because it’s something I love to do.”

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Chapel Hill Mag Intern

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