A God-given mission, Arca Dance is a school that will teach anyone—from the dancer who wants to go professional to the one who’s getting married.
Contributed By Theodora Ho
Enough films have been made about dance schools—Flashdance, Shall We Dance?, Billy Elliot—to inspire some people to open one. But that thought never crossed the mind of Lily Cashin, a former lawyer who had her own firm—not until 2006, a year after she became a Christian, and God began to give her a vision for a dance school. He also ordered her steps.
“I started dancing in September 2006. My friend had invited a Chinese dance coach to Singapore to teach her to dance. As she didn’t have time to dance in the day, she asked me to take the afternoon slots. I said no, as I could not possibly think of anything more ridiculous to do.
“Then, Pastor Kong [Hee, of City Harvest Church] had asked us to bring some mainland Chinese to a dinner party the church was throwing for them. I said to my friend, I would take the dance lessons if she let me take her coach to church. She, though not a Christian, agreed, so I was left with no choice. That’s how I got started.”
Cashin, 56, grew weary of dancing, and was about to give it up when she received a word from God. On the day she had decided to quit, she visited a church to listen to a guest pastor, who gave an altar call. “When it was my turn to be prayed for, the pastor said to me, ‘Dance for the Lord’. I was terribly surprised as no one at this place knew me, let alone that I did some dancing.
“As we were taught by church to check all prophecies, the next day during my quiet time I asked God whether it was from Him. He said ‘If I don’t send you, who can I send?’ So I went back to dancing, but it was tough going.”
In November 2008, God set in her heart the vision to start a dance ministry in the form of a school. A little daunted by the idea of starting a business, which required a location and an amount of funds, Cashin asked God to provide her with a place for the studio. In April 2009, in the midst of a recession in Singapore, she found a place with reasonable rental. It was then that Cashin knew it had to be God’s calling for her to take this leap of faith. By July 2009, the dance studio was ready to run.
Cashin decided to name the studio “Arca” (the Italian word for “ark”) after reading the Old and New Testaments and realizing that floods were commonly mentioned in both. God reminded her that an ark was a very big boat, which stood for the last and only boat of salvation: Jesus Christ. Her confirmation for the name was revealed when shortly after, she received a present with the word “Arca” printed on the sticker and ribbon. It was perfect in describing the “fishing boat” vision God had given to her. To Cashin, the dance studio is a living testimony of how God had provided even in the worst of times, and people are drawn to this because they yearn to see miracles in their lives.
DANCING TO A DIFFERENT BEAT
Arca Dance is a unique school—it offers a wide range of dance genres. While its strength is in ballroom dancing, it also offers freestyle fitness classes and social dancing. Arca does not employ full-time instructors. Rather, experienced and highly qualified freelancers choose to teach in the studio, and they are paid according to their experience, qualifications and time spent with a class. For example, instructors from the accredited and world-acclaimed Beijing Dance Academy conduct the Chinese dance classes.
This school will accept anyone who is willing to learn dancing. Arca also has a range of social dances catered to people who seek to expand their social circle. Many of the students are ladies who bring their dancing partners for an hour of fun-filled dance time.
For those who want to practice the tradition of dancing at their wedding, Arca extends its services by choreographing and coaching the couple to dance during their wedding dinner. Wedding guests are also invited to join the couple in learning how to dance during the dinner itself. This is in line with Arca’s aim to promote fun, community and friendships and confidence through dancing.
While Arca Dance has a social side, it also caters for competitive dancing. Arca’s regular and advanced dancers competed in May at the Blackpool Dance Festival, the world’s most famous ballroom dancing competition, held in Blackpool, Lancashire in England.
“Each year all dancers come together in the Wintergardens of Blackpool to compete in the British Open Championship. This is the equivalent to the Wimbledom Championship in the tennis world. It’s the most coveted title of all dance competitions,” explained Cashin.
“This year many Singaporean couples competed, but unfortunately for us, the competition was terribly stiff and most didn’t make it past the second round. More importantly, everyone had fun and a chance to compete with the world’s best. No doubt we will return to enjoy the Blackpool Dance Festival again and again.”
BLESSINGS ONE BY ONE
Every business has its challenges, and Arca is not immune. Cashflow in the starting months of business was one. Coincidentally, when Arca had been set up, O School was in between premises, and looking for a temporary space to hold classes for eight months. Happily, the principal of O School, Kenny Low, rented Arca’s studio for those months, injecting cash into the fledgling school.
“What’s more, after they had vacated the place, the mirrors and laminates previously used by O School were left for us, which solved the problem of looking for new ones or spending a large sum on renovations,” said Cashin.
Today, Arca not only has a school in Singapore but one in Italy too, thanks to five-time world champion ballroom dancer Mirko Gozzoli, whom Cashin first met in Osaka, Japan in mid 2007. He agreed to give her private lessons in late September 2008, and a friendship grew between them. Cashin invited Gozzoli to emcee for Arca’s first dance event and official opening on July 22, 2009.
“It was during this event that Mirko caught the fire and wanted to have Arca Dance in Italy,” Cashin recalls. It came as a surprise to her as she felt he was more famous than Arca Dance and is a veteran dancer of 20 years. In November 2009, the company in Italy was formed. Cashin is currently busy with the set up of that new company and has been flying in and out of Singapore to do so.
Even as God has taken Arca from a seed of an idea to the growing company it is today, Cashin is grateful that the dance school gives her an opportunity to share the message of Christ with the people she encounters, through something as fun as dance.
What about people with “two left feet”? “Ninety percent of people can walk, so they can also run. Therefore, dance is not something so impossible to achieve. Sometimes, it is not about the dance, but about the bonding and interaction between one’s friends and family that makes it so enjoyable,” she says.
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