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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

A Logan Square Dance Teacher Emptied Her Savings And Gave Up Her Home. Now, She’s Making One Last Push To Save Her Studio

Deborah Byczkowski, owner of VOLTA Performing Arts, needs to raise $15,000 by Dec. 20 to save her neighborhood dance studio: "I’m not ready to give up on my dreams."

Deborah Byczkowski teaching kids at her Logan Square dance studio, VOLTA Performing Arts.
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LOGAN SQUARE — Deborah Byczkowski has tried everything she can think of to keep her youth dance studio open over the past two years.

With enrollment down at VOLTA Performing Arts, Byczkowski — “Miss Dee” to her students — poured all of her money into the business to keep providing affordable and accessible dance classes to neighborhood kids, even giving up her apartment to keep the studio afloat.

But despite her sacrifice, VOLTA, 2142 N. Milwaukee Ave., is in danger of being evicted from its home of four years. Hoping for a lifeline, Byczkowski launched an online fundraiser Sunday to try to raise $15,000 by Dec. 20 to pay down her debt. The fundraiser has collected $5,195 as of Monday.

“I’m not ready to close my doors. I’m not ready to say goodbye,” Byczkowski wrote on the fundraiser page. “VOLTA has cultivated an amazing community and I love seeing it grow. But, I have reached a point where my last resort is to ask for help from you.”

A native of the Northwest Side, Byczkowski is a lifelong dancer who earned a bachelor’s degree in dance pedagogy from Columbia College Chicago. She taught at several local dance companies, including The Chicago Ballet Center and River North Dance Chicago, before launching her own studio in Logan Square in 2017.

Byczkowski opened VOLTA to break down barriers in the dance industry. For too long, dancers have been under the wrong impression they must be a certain body type to achieve success, she said. Dancers also lack the support other athletes receive when they get injured or face hardships, she said.

Through teaching young children how to be comfortable in their bodies, Byczkowski aims to reshape the industry at large, she said.

“I want kids to understand their bodies, to dance injury-free, to not be 20 years old and have to retire from dancing because their bodies are overworked,” she said.

Before the pandemic, VOLTA was on the upswing. Byczkowski was teaching 20 ballet and modern dance classes a week and breaking even after a couple of years of losing money from the business.

At the time, VOLTA had about 75 students. The largest class had 16 kids, Byczkowski said.

VOLTA attracted loyal members like Logan Square resident Kara Fromme, who has sent her now-5-year-old daughter, Sybil, to the dance studio since she was a toddler.

“Miss Dee has been a wonderful role model, and Volta has served as a safe space for Sybil’s confidence and creativity to blossom,” Fromme said in an email. “Throughout the pandemic, Miss Dee has worked hard to adapt and create a safe environment for the kids to learn, have fun and let their creativity shine.”

After pandemic shutdowns and months of dwindling enrollment, VOLTA is hanging on by a thread.

Some parents are hesitant to send their kids back to in-person classes with COVID-19 continuing to spread, especially in the face of the Omicron variant. Today, VOLTA enrolls fewer than 50 students. The dance studio’s largest class is six students, Byczkowski said.

In the midst of the struggle, Byczkowski gave up her apartment to pay VOLTA’s rent, which has risen from $3,500 to $3,800 in recent years. At first, she crashed in a friend’s Airbnb. She briefly lived in VOLTA’s basement, but a flood destroyed most of her belongings.

For the past several months, she’s couch surfed at the homes of friends and family members.

“I just got to the point where I was drowning. I’m drowning. That’s where I am now,” she said.

Byczkowski said she’s considered closing the dance studio a few times since the start of the pandemic, but each time her students and parents brought VOLTA back from the brink. None of the parents dropped out or stopped paying tuition when Byczkowski switched from in-person to virtual classes early on in the pandemic. VOLTA’s virtual recital was a success, with 55 kids in participation.

“I felt that hope,” she said. “All that time I put into building community and into making us different and accessible and inclusive and welcoming” was noticed.

Credit: Provided
Deborah Byczkowski, owner of VOLTA Performing Arts In Logan Square.

In classes with students, Byczkowski often talks about spreading “Miss Dee magic,” which is how she describes her teaching style: empowering young dancers to express themselves through dance and building body positivity, while having fun.

In the face of major hardships, the dance instructor hopes that magic comes back her way in the form of donations and goodwill. Those who can’t afford to donate money can help save VOLTA in other ways, like telling their family and friends about the dance studio and writing a positive review of the business online, Byczkowski said.

“I’m not ready to give up on my dreams, and I hope you are invested in me, my journey, my vision. Let’s come together and continue building community in the arts,” she wrote in the fundraiser.

To donate to VOLTA Performing Arts, go here.

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