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Kindness At The Milwaukee School Of Massage

Wanda

by Mary Vuk, photos by Kurt Johnson

Wanda Beals believes that massage is a form of kindness. Beals is the owner and director of the Milwaukee School of Massage, located at 830 E. Chambers.

“Kindness is highly underrated. I think we need to be much more kind with one another. It’s a challenge in this day and age.” Surrounded by classroom tables and chairs, models of skeletons, brains and skulls, neatly folded pink and blue towels, blankets, pillows, plants, candles, vases and flowers, Beals talked quietly in the gray and pink painted classroom about her goals and mission as an educator and businesswoman.

“I think touch is critical to maintenance of a good healthy life,” Beals said. She thinks our culture is one of the more distant ones that does not encourage a lot of touching. “We’re lucky if we get a handshake. So many of us are not thriving as well as we could because we aren’t getting touched.” Massage, she believes, can help people in the community become more capable of making wise and loving decisions.

Beals earned an M.A. in social work from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. After working for seven years as a social worker, Beals became interested in psychotherapy, which then led her to massage. She worked as a massage therapist in a beauty salon in Brookfield for 18 years before founding the Milwaukee School of Massage in 1996. She chose education because she wanted to influence the massage community and thought the best way to do so was through education and teaching so that she would be able to instill certain values she thought were much needed.

Beals has run the school from the Riverwest location since 1999 and has been exceedingly happy with Riverwest. Kindness At The Milwaukee School Of Massage With help in the form of low interest loans from the City of Milwaukee, Beals was able to buy the property. It took a bit of work to clean up the yard and outside of the building, and the first floor was extensively renovated before becoming the airy and inviting space that is now the main classroom.

Beals runs two massage classes simultaneously – one in the morning and one in the evening. The cost of tuition is $6,900, which includes the cost of a laundry service for the linens, and the student getting a professional massage table and books. Beals also manages a business incubator program on the second floor of the building. At the Graduate Massage Clinic, her graduates are able to get their first paying jobs and get the experience they require to one day open their own business.

Beals sought to have a school that would educate students who would ultimately go to work in the community, but she also wanted to be able to provide massages for those people living in the community who were middle and lower-middle and working class. Her location in Riverwest allowed her to achieve both goals.

The massages at the Graduate Massage Clinic cost $39.00. Beals believes the “average citizen ought to be able to afford to get a massage.”

“The way we are able to keep costs down is because we are in a neighborhood where we can afford the taxes, and we can afford the upkeep. What’s interesting is that our staff upstairs makes about the same amount of money they would working at a high-end spa. The difference is the overhead,” Beals said. “In this neighborhood, the taxes have stayed fairly reasonable. They’ve gone up, but they’re still reasonable.” Owning her own property has allowed Beals to make the Milwaukee School of Massage a successful business. Riverwest “has exceeded my expectations.”

Beals recalls a story about when she first started out. One day realizing she needed a few new chairs for an incoming class, she went to a store on Martin Luther King Drive, which didn’t have enough of what she liked. As she walked back to her car on a snowy winter’s day, she looked down and saw a penny on the ground. She heard a little voice inside say “Oh, too big for pennies. I didn’t realize you were too big for pennies.” As she stooped down to pick the penny up, feeling frustrated because she had a limited budget to buy the chairs and still hadn’t found what she needed, she stood up and saw Fein Bros., the restaurant supply store. “I went in there, and they had the chairs.”

Beals believes that if you allow yourself, you will find what you need, but sometimes “you’ve just got to bend over.” Beals bought 30 chairs that day because they were so reasonably priced. Now she has more than enough chairs for special events like graduations. Since 1996, more than 120 students have graduated from the Milwaukee School of Massage. Beals believes that graduations should be somewhat ritualized with candles and flowers, and wassail or punch. “We have water from the River Jordan that we use to bless their hands.” The graduates’ families come and everyone gathers around to bless hands. Beals wants her graduates to know that: “We’re here, we’re supporting you. You’ve completed the task, you’ve done what’s been asked of you, and now we’re supporting you, and you shall go forth and be fruitful. You just [can’t] say, you’re done, goodbye. There needs to be a community.”

For further information about the Milwaukee School of Massage, call 263- 1179 (school) or 263-1180 (clinic).

Riverwest Currents online edition – February, 2006