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'Ballerina Bum' Creators Use Seed Chicago Kickstarter to Launch New Studio

By Alisa Hauser | April 15, 2013 4:47pm

WICKER PARK — A Wicker Park dance studio and fitness center has its sights on expanding to a third location, but first it needs a financial boost.

And the city wants to help.

MaZi Dance Fitness' Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to fund the start-up costs associated with opening a third location "in an up-and-coming neighborhood" is currently 17 percent funded with a deadline of May 18. 

An initiative launched by World Business Chicago in partnership with the City of Chicago, Seed Chicago is using crowd sourcing platform Kickstarter in hopes of drawing attention to local small businesses and community projects.

"Mazi has a proven model they would like to expand in the near future, which adds to the certainty of the investment. Finally, they plan on hiring a good amount of people which leads to job growth in the neighborhoods, which is one of our objectives," said Karley Sweet, a spokeswoman for World Business Chicago.

In addition to MaZi's growth campaign, Seed Chicago has selected 10 other neighborhood projects, ranging from a fresh produce market in Garfield Park to streetscape beautification in Logan Square and a summer project where teens from Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood will learn how to build their own websites, which is currently 141 percent funded.

Mazi Dance Fitness is owned by sisters Marisol Sarabia, 31, and Ziba Sarabia-Lennox, 33, who've both worked as professional ballerinas and dance instructors before opening their studio in Wicker Park in 2009 in a second-floor space at 2001 W. North Ave. overlooking the Milwaukee-Damen-North intersection.

Marisol Sarabia said that the studio, which derives its name from a combination of her and sister Ziba's first names, has grown conservatively in its first four years.

After MaZi's first year, the studio added a second dance studio on the floor above it, however, that space turned out to be too small and they now rent a space on the fourth floor of the building.

Just after the start of this year, Mazi Dance Fitness expanded to the South Loop at 719 S. State St,  where they're gaining steady lunch-time fitness crowds, Sarabia said.

MaZi offers cardio and strength dance classes along with yoga to hundreds of students and employs eight instructors in addition to the sisters.

"Our classes are open to all, whether zero or a ton of dance experience," Sarabia said.

A Ballerina Bum class series pioneered by the sisters incorporates ballerina technique into a 45- or 60-minute strength and body sculpting program set to music. 

The ballerina bum classes are taught by "actual ballerinas," Sarabia said.

"We're able to provide an extra source of income to these instructors who work at dance companies. ... Our second location made us realize we can get to the point where we're franchising so that amazing women can have something to fall back," Sarabia said.

Sarabia said that the money used from the Kickstarter will be to help fund costs associated with starting a third location, including equipment.

Prior to working full-time at the studio, Sarabia was working as a civil engineer for four years in Texas, designing substations and windmill power generators, among other projects.

Though she was planning to take her professional engineering board exam, Sarabia said that she keeps getting delayed because — at least for now — she's decided to make running her small business with her sister her passion.

"It's really fun, I feel guilty for coming to work," Sarabia said.