Epic Dance Company
For Stephanie Pairitz, dance is about so much more than dance itself – and that’s the philosophy that guides her as executive director of Epic Dance Studios.
Part of their mission statement is to create better humans through dance.
“They’ll dance for a certain portion of their life,” Pairitz said of her students. “But they’ll be human for all of it. We want to make sure they have the tools for the journey.”
Pairitz spent the first part of her career as a professional dancer. She specialized in jazz, working at theme parks and cruise lines, performing for large audiences – but always at a distance. She wanted to work more directly with people, so started teaching.
She taught at Concord High School, where she started a program for at-risk youth and watched how dance empowered students to reach for greater achievements in all areas of their lives. Five years ago, she opened the doors to Epic as a nonprofit studio to offer that experience to even more youth.
Today, the studio, located off Mishawaka Road in Elkhart, serves about 250 dancers from age 3 to 60-plus. A team of experienced instructors – who have all devoted a significant portion of their lives to dance – teach a multitude of genres. Yet they all serve a common purpose.
“We work at creating a safe place for self-expression and a creative outlet,” Pairitz said. “And we provide students an opportunity to give back to the community through outreach work with [local nonprofits]. We do projects each year where we’re trying to provide after-school art education.” They also fund scholarships for students in financial need, so cost doesn’t have to be a barrier for those who love dance.
There’s a family feel to the studio, says Lana Davis, head ballet instructor and long-time friend of Pairitz. Instructors are invested in their students’ lives and seek to build them up.
“We really try to work on their self-esteem and feeling good about themselves and what they’re doing,” Davis said.
That type of relationship-building has a positive mental health effect for youth – as more trusted adults are added to their support system. That’s more important than ever as rates of anxiety and depression among youth have increased during the pandemic.
“We’re really mindful of the fact our students are dealing with a lot, always,” said Pairitz, “and certainly in the past two years. We’re trying to provide community, yes, but also artistic release. The arts are the expression of human spirit, and that’s what we try to do with the performing arts here, is to give students that personal expression, to be able to process some of the things they’re going through.”