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Light as a feather

Light as a feather

May 11th, 2016 by Michelle Brooks in Local News

Abby Arauz has worked with her team of long-time Arkansas Valley Feather Company employees to develop new uses and finished products for their custom-dyed feathers. Children's crafts like this sock puppet are among many do-it-yourself projects the company has developed.

Photo by Michelle Brooks /News Tribune.

After spending her summers counting feathers in her parents' business, Abby Arauz-Chase didn't expect to return to Mid-Missouri in her adult life.

At Helias High School, she was focused on volleyball and she had enjoyed dance lessons at Steps Studio.

She went on to the University of Missouri to pursue a degree in international business. But her freshman year, she attended a modern dance performance at Stephens College and it changed her life.

"Some people know as a little girl, they want to be a dancer," Arauz-Chase said. "I didn't take it seriously in high school; it was more social.

Name: Abby Arauz-Chase

Age: 44

Years in Mid-Missouri: 24

Occupation: co-owner of The Feather Place, Arkansas Valley Feather Company and Zucker Feather Company

Family: parents Donna and Juan Arauz, husband Jack Chase, and two children, Sophia, 6, and Augustus, 8

Education: attended University of Missouri, Columbia College and Stephens College earning a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts in dance and minors in accounting and Spanish

Community involvement: Greenhouse Theatre Project and the Children's House Montessori School in Columbia, and the Broadway Bears Equity Fights AIDS production

"Modern dance was my calling."

When Arauz-Chase told her parents she wanted to pursue dance, they supported her, with the caveat that she study a practical emphasis too.

"My parents encouraged me to follow my dream," she said.

Juggling courses at Columbia College, Stephens College and University of Missouri, she eventually graduated with a major in dance and minors in business and Spanish.

Because she was behind in the dance skills, she spent many extra hours with supportive teachers.

"I wasn't the best trained dancer; I got a late start but I loved it," she said.

When she moved to New York City to pursue auditioning, she again found her dance skills were behind her peers and again found teachers and mentors willing to help her along.

To pay for her studio lessons, she auditioned for the privilege to scrub their toilets — since employees got free classes, Arauz-Chase said.

After many rejections, she landed her first role — a roller-blading penguin in Ft. Atkinson, Wisconsin at the Fireside Dinner Theatre performing "An Old-Fashioned Family Christmas."

In 1996, she landed one of the coveted spots with the Rockettes. During that time, she was part of establishing the first Rockettes troupe in Mexico and had opportunity to work with the collaborative dance company Pilobolus.

"I have tremendous respect for people on Broadway; they do the same piece night after night and have to keep the light in their eyes," she said.

Show business is high pressure, Arauz-Chase said. One time she had a "kick out," meaning she was not exact with the choreography. If that had been nationally televised, she could have been let go.

"You must be completely present; there's no autopilot," Arauz-Chase said.

Her husband, Jack, is an interior designer. They met in New York City, while she was with the Rockettes.

Before they were married, they together owned the restaurant Paul's Boutique, featured on a Beastie Boys' 1989 album cover. For two years, their 600-square-feet corner restaurant was named to Time Out magazine's Top 100 restaurants in New York City.

"He's my sounding board; we respect each other and have our boundaries," she said.

After 10 years kicking up to five shows a day, Arauz decided to focus full time on her fledgling business — The Feather Place, which she created in 1997 brokering deals between her parents and show costume designers.

"It was in my blood," she said. "That business sense kicked in and I loved the design."

Arauz opened a second Feather Place office in Los Angeles in 2007, catering more to the entertainment industry.

Six years ago, she returned to Mid-Missouri to raise her family and join her parents and brother, Anthony, in the family business full-time.

Her grandparents started the business; her parents bought it from them. The siblings are now third generation owners.

For many childhood summers, Arauz-Chase and Anthony would travel with their grandparents for weeks out to places like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park, where they sold feathers to fly fishermen.

"I enjoyed the freedom and really looked forward to it," Arauz said.

Arauz took up fly tying at about age 12. Although fascinating, she said tying requires skill and concentration. Some day she hopes to return to it.

From her grandparents, she learned the value of saving and being responsible with one's money, Arauz said. She said she admired them for their entrepreneurial spirit coming out of the Depression.

As teenagers, Arauz-Chase and her brother would count and bag feathers by the hundred each summer for their parents.

Now, her children do the same thing.

"They love coming here; they love the feathers," she said.

Growing up, Arauz-Chase remembers visiting Panama, her father's native country, at least twice a year.

"I developed a love of the culture, the language, the food," she said. "It's important to know where you come from."

It was having children, which inspired her to return full-time to Mid-Missouri.

Now, she's teaching her daughter, Sophia, tap and Arauz-Chase is taking classes at the Missouri Contemporary Ballet.

"I feel I'm not done with the dance chapter of my life; it's still calling me," Arauz-Chase said.

She hopes to get involved with choreography or perhaps study ballroom dancing.

In life, as in business, Arauz-Chase said: "My goal is to ride the stormy waves and come out on the other end."

Related article:

Another feather in family business' cap