Melissa Olson and Brian Duckwitz are far from your average couple. 

Olson is a burlesque fitness class instructor and Duckwitz teaches a lightsaber class. When the Blue Mounds couple met on the dating app Tinder nearly three years ago during the pandemic, both of them were freshly divorced and not looking for a serious relationship.

Melissa Olson and Brian Duckwitz

Brian Duckwitz and Melissa Olson play with lightsabers at Dance Life in Madison. Duckwitz started offering lightsaber classes in January. Olson has been teaching burlesque fitness classes since last May.

They got serious fast. Now the pair is engaged, and within the past year, both of them have started one-of-a-kind movement classes throughout the Madison area. 

“It’s so interesting to me that Brian and I, through completely different paths and histories, have both come to end up teaching this alternative exercise class,” Olson said. “It’s welcoming to different brains and bodies, and we both love what we do so much.”

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When Olson and Duckwitz first met, burlesque fitness and lightsaber classes weren’t on either of their radars. But with each other’s support, they’ve summoned the courage to try something new. 

“She’s inspired me to take some risks that I’m not inherently prone to,” Duckwitz said. “I didn’t think of myself as someone who could go out and do different things and take some chances.” 

Meet Brian 

Before transitioning into developing role-playing tabletop games and leading fencing classes, Duckwitz was an English professor at UW-Whitewater at Rock County. During his time as a professor, he joined a fencing class on campus, which introduced him to the sport for the first time. Eventually, after years of training, Duckwitz became a certified fencing instructor and taught the very class where he used to be a student.

“I was kind of just a student and then I started becoming an informal assistant coach,” he recalled. “Most fencers come into fencing by competing and doing stuff like that to win, but I came in as a coach.”

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Today, Duckwitz, a lifelong “Star Wars” fan, has over 15 years of experience in practicing and teaching fencing. So the idea of leading a lightsaber class that used the basic principles of fencing made sense. 

In January, Duckwitz began offering his first round of lightsaber classes for students from the ages of 8 to 12. In this class, hosted by Madison Fencing Academy in Fitchburg, the goal is for students to learn how to safely improvise a fight, all while getting to tap into their creativity and pick up the basics of fencing. 

Melissa Olson and Brian Duckwitz

Brian Duckwitz prepares to dip Melissa Olson while holding a lightsaber.

“I call it not choreographed but telegraphed fighting,” he said. “I teach them certain cuts and certain defenses, and then they kind of mix and match. So it creates a menu that you can then build from, with the goal of making it look cool.”

When Greta Munns heard about Duckwitz’s class through Facebook, she knew it was something that her 10-year-old son, Phoenix Munns, would be interested in. 

“I came across it when I was on Facebook one night and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, nothing screams Phoenix more than this class,’” she recalled. “Most of the time he’s in our front yard doing imaginary epic lightsaber battles with sticks or plastic sabers.”

For students, Duckwitz’s weekly class can serve as a place to connect with fellow “Star Wars” fans. 

“He loved it,” Munns said. “To have other people who spoke his language and he could play out the scenes with and they knew what he was talking about, when I usually don’t, I think it was really fun for him.”

Meet Melissa 

Before her venture into burlesque fitness, Olson made a name for herself as the author of more than 12 books in the Old World universe, an urban fantasy book series with a combined total of more than 71,000 ratings on Goodreads. In January, Olson published her first comic book story, titled “Tall Tale Tour,” which was part of a larger comic book issue, released by Ahoy Comics.

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Since Olson has been so focused on her writing career, entering into the world of group fitness as an instructor wasn’t something she had envisioned for herself until recently. 

Before leading her dance classes, Olson had regularly taken burlesque fitness classes at Dance Life studio, on Madison’s West Side. Olson, who has a chronic joint condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, recalled the immediate impact that the inclusive nature of the class had on her. 

“I had been told all my life that I was chubby and clumsy and lazy, which is very common for people with chronic pain disorders that are undiagnosed,” Olson said. “So taking this class and seeing bigger bodies and bodies of all shapes, I just remember being blown away that it could exist.”

Melissa Olson and Brian Duckwitz

Melissa Olson, center, leads an inclusive burlesque dance cardio class at Dance Life. Growing up, Olson said she never really envisioned herself as a dancer.

When the burlesque dance classes stopped being offered by the instructor at Dance Life, Olson said she “mourned” not having that outlet. So, last May, Olson started teaching burlesque fitness at Dance Life, but she changed the title of the class to Burlesque Fitness for Any Body to reflect the class’s emphasis on inclusivity.

Since she started teaching last May, Olson has quickly built up a group of regular dancers, and more recently, she also began offering classes at The Crucible, on Madison’s East Side. Some of her students, such as Alisha Gard, have gone on to perform in local burlesque shows. Gard, who has a background in theater, said that before taking the class she didn’t think that dancers could look like her. 

“Dancing was something that I never was necessarily encouraged to do because of the size of my body,” Gard said. “I feel like I can celebrate my body and how it looks, and her class has really given me the confidence to do that.”

What’s next?

Starting March 3, Duckwitz will begin teaching another round of lightsaber classes through Madison Fencing Academy and Olson plans to start offering private, one-time classes for local organizations and bachelorette parties. In 2025, Olson plans to release a five-issue comic book, and Duckwitz is working on a novel. 

While the couple hasn’t set a date yet, they hope to get married around the end of this year or the beginning of 2025. In the meantime, the pair look forward to continuing to support one another. Olson and Duckwitz credit each other with providing the final push to pursue their respective passions.

“Brian understood what it was like to fall in love with a thing, and then start being the teacher of it,” Olson said.” “He knows what it’s like to have other interests that you fit in and to just love them. Maybe they’ll make money, maybe they won’t, but you just love them.”

“She’s inspired me to take some risks that I’m not inherently prone to.”

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