Acrodance students step into the spotlight
● By Richard Gaw
Dance instructor Abigail Sites at her studio, Abundance Academy of Dance, with students Tullia Pizzini, Brooke Daddis, Avery O' Haire, Nicole Gill, Jessica Trent, and Kate Ei. Photo courtesy Michael Greenley Photography
When Abigail Sites was looking for a location to open her own dance studio in 2010, she initially looked to Delaware. She was, after all, a graduate of the University of Delaware, and had worked as an elementary school counselor in Newark. She had also served as an instructor at a Youth Exercise Program at the YMCA, taught motor development classes at The Little Gym, and directed the City of Newark’s Dance Program for several years. With so many activities based in the First State, it made sense for Sites to choose a location in Delaware for the dance studio. But then she looked at a location in the Shoppes at London Britain in Landenberg and knew that she had found the perfect spot for her business.
“I fell in love with the whole setting,” Sites explained in an interview at the dance academy. “The beautiful rolling hills, the farms, and all the friendly faces. Landenberg has been such a positive part of this business.”
In six short years, the Abundance Academy of Dance family has grown to include approximately 150 dancers who study every style of dance from tap to hip-hop to jazz, and gain the poise, strength, flexibility, balance, body awareness, and self-confidence that comes with a disciplined dance program.
“In addition to weekly classes, we have Master Workshops, summer camps, and intensives,” Sites explained. “Abundance Academy of Dance is very family-oriented, and we have events such as our annual father-daughter dance, family game night, and a big recital each June. I have had so much support from the parents.”
“Our acrodance program is strong and it’s something that not every studio has,” Sites explained, noting that hers is just one of nine dance academies in the state to have this certification. One of the classes at Abundance that is particularly popular is the acrodance class. In 2015, Sites was certified to teach all levels of acrobatic arts, from primary to pre-professional.
Acrodance blends the artistry of dance with some of the acrobatic skills of gymnastics. Sites said that the growing number of people participating in acrodance can be attributed to the enormous popularity of Cirque du Soleil, the prevalence of dance shows on television, and the increase in the number of youngsters who have some acrobatic skills from participating in other sports. Acrodance incorporates everything from power-tumbling to aerial skills to contortionism, and the skills that the participants develop are useful in all other styles of dance. The athleticism necessary for acrodance is extraordinary, and Sites said that it appeals to dancers who are looking for a little bit of a challenge.
“It is demanding,” Sites said. “It requires a ton of body awareness, flexibility, and strength. Back flexibility is super-important. I really like teaching acrodance because it allows the dancers to be creative, and they can show off their skills.”
There are about 30 students in the acrodance classes. The dancers start each class with a variety of stretches and activities to get their bodies warmed up.
“We always give them a really good warm-up because injury-prevention is very important,” Sites explained.
Before long, the girls are contorting their bodies in ways that seem impossible to the average person—they do back-bend races and hand-stands against the wall where they compete against each other to see who can stay in the position longest. The dancers often work in tandem to help each other improve their skills.
Sites said that the students in the acrodance classes demonstrate their proficiency and move up one level at a time. The highest level that the students can attain is a pre-professional 3 level.
Tullia Pizzini, 11, of Landenberg, previously trained in gymnastics until she transitioned to acrodance two years ago. She has demonstrated tremendous natural ability since then, according to Sites.
“Gymnastics and dance are two of my favorite things,” Pizzini explained. “It's challenging, but fun.”
One of the young dancers who studied under Sites in Delaware before joining the Abundance Academy of Dance is Nicole Gill. The fourteen-year-old is a student at the Odyssey Charter School, and she has been taking dance classes since she was three. Gill currently takes six dance classes a week at Abundance, including acrodance, which helps her face the challenges of living with Cystic Fibrosis.
Sites said that Gill never ceases to amaze her with her determination to overcome Cystic Fibrosis, and she never lets the disease slow her down.
“I always say that I want to be like her when I grow up,” Sites said.
Many of the acrodance participants say that what they like best about the classes is the other people that they train with.
“I like the positive atmosphere here—we're all friends,” said Jessica Trent, a 15-year-old Newark Charter School student who started taking dance classes when she was five years old. She also participated in competitive gymnastics, but prefers the creative freedom that acrodance offers.
The students enjoy the acrodance classes so much that it's rare for any of them to miss a class.
Last year, Avery O' Haire suffered an injury on the ski slopes when she fell and another skier ran into her.
“I broke my tibia and I had to have surgery,” she explained.
Sites said that the injury didn't keep O' Haire from coming to each practice to encourage the others while she recovered.
“Even if I'm not dancing, I still like to watch my friends dance,” the twelve-year-old said.
O' Haire, 12, has been a dancer for the last six years. She said that she likes acrodance because of the acrobatic elements.
“I've always liked to flip around on a trampoline,” O' Haire explained.
Brooke Daddis, 12, a student at Fred S. Engel Middle School, has been dancing since the age of four. She came to Abundance two years ago when her best friend, O'Haire, told her about the class.
“I wanted to try something new and Avery introduced me to acrodance,” Daddis explained. “The dance teachers are great, and it's a good community of people.”
Kate Ei, 14, of Landenberg, echoed Daddis' comments.
“I like it a lot,” she said. “The people are really nice.”
Ei has been training at Abundance for the last five years. She previously trained in gymnastics, and the floor exercise was her best event. She said that her skills as a gymnast are very similar to the skills that are used in acrodance. Ei is very good at front hand-springs, and is working on aerials.
“I say that it's dance with gymnastics,” Ei said. “Each style of dance is challenging in its own unique way.”
She's also a volunteer assistant teacher for young dancers. “It's so much fun watching them. They are so adorable. It's great to see them enjoy dance so much.”
The acrodance pupils work on their skills all year long. When the Abundance Academy of Dance holds its annual recital, the acrodance students are included fully in the show.
“My acrodancers have an actual dance routine to do in the show,” Sites explained. “The routine is set to music.”
The theme of Abundance Academy of Dance's 2016 recital is “Royals.” The recital will take place at 6 p.m. On June 18 at Lincoln University. It is the sixth annual show. Sites said that they also recently launched a high-energy class called acro groove for preschoolers that combines hip and acrodance. They will also be holding an Olympic-themed day camp this summer where participants will dance, learn acrodance, and play games that are centered around the Olympics.
For more information about Abundance Academy of Dance, visit abundanceacademyofdance.com or the school's Facebook page.
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.