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Studio fit 

Several Rochester-area classes offer movement-based alternatives to hitting the gym

(Pictured) Christopher Morrison, who leads the "Move It" program, stretches before a routine.

photo by JOHN SCHLIA

(Pictured) Christopher Morrison, who leads the "Move It" program, stretches before a routine.

Did you take ballet lessons as a child? Maybe some contemporary or jazz classes during your teenage years or early 20's? Perhaps you're looking to dive back into dance now, and try something new. Or maybe you're simply searching for a fun alternative to the gym. Whatever your situation, Rochester offers an eclectic variety of dance and movement classes with some highly qualified teachers.

City Newspaper checked out a few of these and found some rich choices: Dance Yoga, Aerial Silks, Art of The Pole, and Move It (a combination of Jamaican-folk, Jamaican-African, modern, and reggae). Do you have a favorite movement class? Tell us about it below this article online at

Dance Yoga

On an icy-cold Thursday afternoon in Rochester, the small group of students in Elizabeth Bickel Clark's Dance Yoga class are seated on yoga mats in an open studio in Penfield's 200-year-old First Baptist Church practicing mudras or hand gestures while sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows. Clark's gentle approach and positive energy seem to warm students as much as the exercises she was leading them through — simple stretches, poses, and visualizations to awaken bodies and minds alike. Hers is a welcoming presence; this is a class that is well-suited for anyone seeking greater awareness of their body.

"Dancers in Northern India use hand gestures to help tell stories," Clark explains to the class, smiling and moving her hands gracefully to demonstrate the gesture for love. "People like Doris Humphrey wanted dancers to incorporate these gestures as tools into contemporary dance."

Combining dance and yoga has long been part of contemporary dance, Clark's specialty.

"I've always been very interested in the way that cultural diversity is part of dance," she says. "I'm interested in the way that it all weaves together. I'm still cooking it up and stirring it all together."

Clark has an impressive and long history of both performing and teaching. As a graduate student at The Julliard School, she studied directly under dance legends Jose Limon and Martha Graham. She did further graduate work at Columbia University and the Laban Institute for Movement Studies. She has taught in Rochester for more than 40 years, including teaching at Rochester Institute of Technology, University of Rochester, and SUNY Empire State College.

Clark teaches a wide variety of classes for both children and adults. A single class costs $13; one class a week for ten weeks costs $111. Besides her Penfield location, Clark teaches out of St. Thomas Episcopal Church at 2000 Highland Avenue. For more information, call Clark at 442-5988 or go to her website at

Aerial Silks

In the main studio at Aerial Arts of Rochester, an industrial-looking space with high ceilings, students hang and swing suspended on 20-foot-long pieces of fabric. Although this class is called "Aerial Silks," the fabric used is actually a specialized blend made to hold weight. According to co-owner William D'Ovidio, real silk would cut into your skin.

William helps beginner students by positioning their hands correctly as they wrap the fabric around their forearms for support, and by guiding their legs into a knee-tuck or knee-tuck inversion. The energy and excitement in the studio is palpable. This is not your average workout.

William has owned and operated the 5,000-square-foot Blossom Road establishment with his wife, Jennifer, for five years. Outside of Canada, it is the only circus school within 300 miles, with classes in three studies: Aerial Hoop and Aerial Yoga, Pole Dance Fitness, and Cirque Fitness.

Aerial Silks is the business' most popular offering. The average student in those classes range from 18 to 45 years of age; 90 percent are female. William credits the classes with both physical and mental development: Students accrue spatial awareness, and quickly gain fitness — particularly with core and back muscles. Injuries, the William and Jennifer are quick to reassure, are a non-issue. They take great lengths and precautions to ensure everyone's safety.

click to enlarge William D'Ovidio (pictured) leads the Aerial Silks course at Aerial Arts of Rochester, a business he operates with his wife, Jennifer. - PHOTO BY JOHN SCHLIA
  • William D'Ovidio (pictured) leads the Aerial Silks course at Aerial Arts of Rochester, a business he operates with his wife, Jennifer.

Jennifer's areas of expertise are Pole Dancing and Aerial Hoops, and she is certified as a Pole Dancing instructor and a personal trainer. William's specialization lies in Aerial Silks. Both have trained at many different venues including New England Center for Circus Arts. The couple runs a cirque performance troupe — The Up! State — out of their academy. The troupe performs approximately 15 times a year at galas and benefits, and they will be at the Erotic Arts Festival in Rochester this spring.

"I love the freedom of this," Williams says. "I love to wow people. To do something they didn't think you could do. And in here, we bring it right up close. We take it out of the box."

A six-week session of Aerial Silks classes cost $100. More information is available on the web at, or by calling 201-8202. Aerial Arts Rochester is located at 585 Blossom Road.

Move It!

Christopher Morrison grew up in Jamaica and danced with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica for 10 years — then he saw a video of Garth Fagan Dance and knew he wanted to be a part of that.

"When Garth showed up at our studio one day, I forcefully introduced myself," Morrison says. "He told me to look him up when I was in New York City."

Morrison ended up dancing with Fagan's company for 14 years, from 1990 to 2004, until chronic hip issues dictated that he get a hip replacement. Now, he shares his love of Jamaican folk dancing with students at Hochstein School of Music and Dance and Midtown Athletic Club.

His "Move It" class at Hochstein and "Movement" class at Midtown combine Jamaican folk dancing, Afro-Jamaican, modern, and reggae to get the students, well ... moving. And having a lot of fun doing it. He has been teaching both classes for more than 10 years.

"Christopher has so much technique and discipline in his background, but he blends it successfully with fitness and fun," says Sarah Gullo Andreacchi, co-chair of the dance department at Hochstein. "He excels at blending different types of dance."

The original impetus for his classes was posture, Morrison told City Newspaper.

"I noticed so many people walking around with bad posture," he says. "In Jamaica, everyone's all about posture. So I decided to focus on carriage and balance. You have to strengthen your lower back and your core to improve your posture, find your center. As soon as people are aware of it their posture changes dramatically. They walk around much more lifted."

To achieve this, Morrison takes movements students may be familiar with from yoga or Pilates and builds dance phrases around them — which he eventually turns into short dances incorporating diverse dance disciplines.

"I give people a chance to understand choreography," he says. "How phrases of movement can be strung together. I have a core group of students who have followed me for years and are now eager to try out new choreography, to see what they are capable of."

Morrison's classes are open to students of any ability, but be prepared for a tough workout. The first half of class is conditioning, including core work on the floor. The second half is choreographed movement that is often fast and challenging. But watching Morrison himself move is almost reason enough to take his class. The man is over 6 feet tall and bound by muscle, yet he moves with a flowing, rhythmic quality that derides any notion of effort or expenditure of energy. He demonstrates and verbally communicates choreography and interacts with the students in a good-natured, jocular yet serious manner. It is obvious in watching their responses to him that they adore him and want to please. There are no slouchers.

click to enlarge William D'Ovidio (pictured) leads the Aerial Silks course at Aerial Arts of Rochester, a business he operates with his wife, Jennifer. - PHOTO BY JOHN SCHLIA
  • William D'Ovidio (pictured) leads the Aerial Silks course at Aerial Arts of Rochester, a business he operates with his wife, Jennifer.

"Move It" at Hochstein is Thursdays at 6 p.m. and enrollment is ongoing. Or you can take a single class for $15. Call 454-4596 or go to for more information. "Movement" at Midtown is restricted to members only, unless you pay to be a Midtown guest for the day.

Art of the Pole

Rachele Maier, owner and instructor at Tangents, 103 Anderson Avenue (formerly Tangents Aerobics at Village Gate Square), says pole dancing is the difficult workout some people are looking for.

"They want a harder workout without just going to the gym," she says. "We build ab strength without doing crunches. Pole dancing takes tremendous ab strength."

The students in Maier's intermediate to advanced pole dancing class certainly exert a lot of energy. But they also appear to be having a lot of fun. A handful of women who look to be in their 20's are pulling themselves up onto the shiny poles, extending their legs into horizontal splits, hanging upside down, then shimmying back to the ground. They stop between exertions to wipe down their poles with cloths and watch while Maier expertly demonstrates the next move they will be practicing.

The dimly-lit studio has an underground club vibe to it complete with tech lighting and beating dance music. Yet, these women are working hard. Sweat beads on foreheads, legs tremor with muscle strain, skin squeaks against poles.

Most of these students have taken pole dancing — or Art of the Pole — with Maier for three or four years. Yet they are not here to learn to become exotic dancers, Maier tells City. In fact, for those who are pursuing that goal, she recommends private lessons so that the regular students don't feel intimidated.

During Maier's beginner class, chair dancing is used as a way to warm up for these students. Students usually range in age from 20's to 40's, Maier says, and Tangents also offers classes in aerial silks and trapeze. Combination classes are available.

Maier is self-taught. She has competed and placed in the Master's Division of Pole Sports Organization competitions, the world's largest pole competition organization.

"I've honestly had this idea for a while," Maier says about her business. "I wish I'd jumped on it sooner."

On April 19 at 5 p.m. students will put on a recital at the studio followed by a free workshop for all interested. Through March, you can sign up for five classes for $55, and 20 classes is always $150. For more information go to or call 645-5689.

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