The free weights and benches are missing from the “training room” at 314 Gill St., trainers opting instead for full body workouts that concentrate on stretching and strength training.
The athletes-in-training are dancing, with the goal of increasing their athleticism. The “training room” is in the Artistic Dance Unlimited studio, where co-founders Alette Chase and Ursula Margolis have a class full of boys who are combining dance with their goals of being better athletes.
The ADU boys dance class gives boys the opportunity to learn hip-hop routines as well as proper stretching, strength training and conditioning for other sports. The pre-teen and teenage boys are put through a series of rigorous movements and stretching motions by teacher Courtney Vastine and assistant Collin Lawrence. Then the students practice their hip-hop routine.
Vastine, instructor with a BA in Dance from the Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio, and has worked at ADU for six years since moving to Blount County with her husband, David Vastine.
Vastine said the class breaks the stereotype that dance is simply a girl’s thing. “Half of the class is conditioning and the other hour is hip-hop,” she said of the hour-long classes each week.
The instructor said the students are always working toward perfecting a routine for a show, as when they performed during the April Foolies at the Clayton Center for the Arts on April 1. “They get to do a show, but they are also working toward their individual sports goals,” she said. “It gets them lighter on their feet and more comfortable with their movement through space.”
Vastine said teaching boys took some getting used to, but she has enjoyed it. “I’m used to teaching little girls. The boys have so much energy. It’s about focusing their energy where it needs to go,” she said. “Once you get them focused, they don’t hold back. It has been interesting watching how the boys work together. They’re not so concerned about what everyone thinks. It’s totally fun.”
Collin Lawrence, 17, is a junior at Maryville High School and helps as a teaching assistant in the class. Lawrence has been dancing eight years with ADU, and he’s been a teaching assistant for three years.
“Mostly I pull them aside and show them individually what we’re doing. It’s fun,” he said.
Vastine praised Lawrence. “He works so hard,” she said. “It’s great to have him, because he really knows a lot. Collin is a good influence that models the message if you work hard, you can do well.”
ADU co-founders Alette Chase and Ursula Margolis started the special boys hip-hop class three years ago in large part because they saw how boys participating in sports weren’t being trained properly on stretching and conditioning.
Chase said sports conditioning is essentially dance training. “So many organized sports do great things, but don’t stretch properly or condition them in such a way that the boys can perform better and prevent injury,” she said. “That’s when the two of us decided we needed to do something about this. You’ve got to get down before you get up. If boys don’t know how to bend their knees properly and have balance, they won’t be able to execute properly on the sports field.”
Margolis said the idea to add hip-hop dance was natural for boys. “hip-hop is really a cool dance form. It is also great for developing coordination,” she said.
Chase said the boys participating in the class develop coordination and speed, conditioning, discipline and endurance. Once the class starts, so does the movement. “They never stop the whole time,” Chase said.
Margolis said often the coordination they teach girls doesn’t come as naturally to boys, and the hip-hop class helps boys develop that coordination.
“It’s a good compliment to any sports the boys are playing,” she said. “They work on stretching hamstrings and getting more flexible and, in turn, improving agility.”
Both Margolis and Chase reiterated that coaches in other sports do an excellent job as far as training the boys in the particulars of their sports. “But they don’t do enough to teach the boys how to properly stretch,” Chase said.
Margolis said this class is good for boys as a training and conditioning component of their sports package. “The majority of the boys in our class do football, basketball or karate,” she said.
Chase said dance in general is more difficult than many understand. “In order to do it, you have to be an athlete. Dancers at the top of their game are great athletes. Lynn Swann said ballet worked him harder than football ever did. Now Gatorade is recognizing dancers as athletes. All this is helping our work and techniques gain acceptance as athletic,” she said.
Chase said the first 30 minutes of class, Vastine and Lawrence lead the boys as they do different routines that help them stretch their muscles while also improving agility and building strength. The last 30 minutes of the class the boys are learning a fast-paced dance routine.
Aware of the stereotypes the boys may fear from taking “dance class,” Margolis said they make sure even what the boys are wearing fits the focus of the class. “We make sure what they are wearing is boy-oriented so they feel comfortable,” Margolis said.
Theme for dance competitions and shows are also geared to their tastes. Margolis said the theme for the first year’s show was “hip-hop,” and the 2010 show’s theme was video games. These year they went for the natural tie-in with a sports theme.
Chase said the stigma that boys shouldn’t dance is going away as the popularity of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance?” continue to grow and feature well-known male athletes like Emmitt Smith, Chad Ocho Cinco and Hines Ward. “Those shows really help,” she said.
Margolis’ sons Adam, 10, and Spencer, 7, participate in the class with Chase’s sons Baylor, 8, and Dalton, 12.
Chase’s husband, Derrick, said he has noticed Dalton’s athletic ability has improved. “He plays football and basketball. His running speed has increased and his balance is better,” Derrick Chase said.
Samantha Andersen’s son Peyton, 7, participates in the class and performed with the class at the April Foolies show on April 1 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. “He’s just come out of his shell, and he absolutely loves it,” Samantha said. “Seeing the boys dance is cool.”
Ann Brucker’s said it wasn’t hard to convince her son, Jake, 7, to take the class. “He has always loved dancing since he was little bitty. He has always had rhythm and a beat,” she said.
Brucker said her son started learning hip-hop when he joined the class in August. “He practices all the time. We watch those dance shows like ‘You Think You Can Dance?’ and absolutely love them,” she said.
Curtis Ernsberger said his son Davis is in the class to concentrate on his sports agility training. “It is helping with agility, but also his confidence, “ said Ernsberger.
Melissa Kirby’s son Jax, 7, saw the boys class do their recital a year ago and started participating in January. “He likes to dance the steps he has learned, and he seems to have a lot of fun,” said Melissa.
Steve Collins sons Cade, 6, and Luke, 9, enjoy the class. “Their sisters danced here, and they thought it was cool. It’s good exercise, and I’m willing to put them in anything that will get them active,” he said.