Under the terrible headlines, yesterday's News-Gazette said that Pia enjoyed dancing. In happier times that was very, very true.
In the summer of 1993, Pia and I joined the newly formed Salsa Club and together we discovered Salsa (the dance and the whole subculture that goes with it). Though we had taken many private lessons in Rumba and Cha-cha, I remember us (well, mostly me) tripping over each other for hours one night until the intricacies of Salsa finally clicked and we felt confident enough to dance with other people. After that, on her Saturday "night out", Pia and I and all our friends could often be found dancing at the Bermuda Onion until 1am, at which time we sped off to private Salsa parties and kept going until 3 or 4. Many times afterward I walked her safely to her car. I only wish I could have done so Tuesday.
That fall, Pia and I taught Merengue lessons for the Salsa Club. After half an hour of Merengue, Pia often helped demo an hour's worth of the latest Salsa figures that our friend (and Salsa Club founder) Art brought back from his instructors in Chicago. That club was run for over a year with no class fees and no dues; it was organized by people who just loved to dance, and Pia never missed an opportunity to help out and share her love of dancing with others. Pia seemed to have endless energy as she juggled being a dancer, a wife, a mother, a grad student, and a full time research programmer (yes, a real job!) in the chemistry department. Those were great times, and we can even boast of a marriage that resulted from a couple who first met in those Salsa Club classes.
When Pia left town in 1994 for a year long sabbatical, we shared a goodbye hug on the steps in the Chemistry Building near her office as she was running upstairs to fix a computer. This worked out surprisingly well; she was on the bottom step while I was standing on the hallway floor. It immediately felt so different from our usual dance hold, and we laughed when we realized that it was the only way for us to exchange a hug at eye-level.
I had hoped to finish up at the U of I before she returned. Uncooperative test equipment foiled my plans, and I was still here when she returned at the end of this summer. Though catching up with a year's worth of work left her no time to dance, I did get to spend a couple of happy hours with her and her family - making balloon animals at Valentina's recent birthday party. I never dreamed that it would be the last time I'd see Pia alive. A Salsa dancing friend called me at school Wednesday afternoon to deliver the tragic news. She was so choked up with emotion that I hardly recognized her voice. No one should ever have to tell a friend something like that, and no friend should ever have to hear it.
Pia had more life in her than anyone I ever met, and everyone who knew her misses her already. To Pia's family and friends, I wish you the strength to deal with this tragedy and I pray for its speedy resolution.