Years before he would teach hand-to-hand combat to Special Forces candidates or have his studio voted the best of 2011 and 2012 by CT.com, Andrew Scala was stuck in traffic. As he inched down a clogged I-95 on his way back from New York and his job as a sales representative, he made a decision that changed his life. The next day, he quit his job, sold his car, and bought a plane ticket to Japan, where a friend was studying martial arts. He arrived three days later, beginning an eight-year stay in Hokkaido, where he eventually trained daily beneath the great-grandson of a samurai. At one point, he and two of his colleagues were invited to demonstrate their skills in front of more than 300 high-ranking Japanese military officials. Andrew not only mastered styles such as aikido, karate, and iaido, but also immersed himself in Japanese culture and learned to speak fluently, opening the door for the lifelong bond he shares with his teacher. Today, Andrew runs Darien Martial Arts Academy based on a philosophy that values integrity, honor, and self-discipline alongside physical skill. He lavishes his rich depth of knowledge upon students, teaching them the basics of Japanese with each lesson. As they grow curious, he relates the modern practice of martial arts to tales about the "truly intelligent and also fierce" nature of the samurai, erasing misconceptions along the way. "All those things are useful tools for helping children get motivated, not just for martial arts, but to become good students, good musicians, good athletes, good people," Andrew said, noting that as they train their minds with martial arts, the benefits spill into other aspects of life. His students bring in their report cards to show him their successes—and they also know that "if a student is good [at the academy] but he's starting to be disrespectful at home, he comes here and he pays for it here." He trains all ages of students, who typically begin with karate and then train in other styles or master weapons—the long and short staff, sword, and chain. He periodically brings his best students on trips to train at his old dojo in Japan, watching them develop a lifelong love of Japanese culture as they see him integrate easily into his old home. But though he takes martial arts seriously, Andrew makes classes fun and encourages each of his students. He's known for telling jokes and keeping the sessions lighthearted. "You don't have to be mean to be strong," he said. "The strongest guys I know are also the funniest guys I know."
In 1976, educator, musician, and kinesiologist Robin Wes longed for a children's gym that prioritized personal growth over competition. Unveiled at a time when physical-education classes pushed students to focus almost exclusively on winning, Robin's program was swiftly adopted and is now used in more than 300 Little Gyms worldwide. Robin still pens original music to accompany lessons, which engage whippersnappers 4 months old?12 years old with gymnastics, dance, karate, and parent and child activities.
Each of The Little Gym's classes introduces simple movements that sharpen motor skills and set brains whirring, allowing kids to progress at their own pace until they can finally build a computer out of macaroni and glitter. Staff members strive to build a base for lifelong social skills and self-assurance with each exercise, including activities rooted purely in fun, such as summer camps or birthday parties, which helped The Little Gym to earn title of #1 Birthday Chain in Parents magazine.
At Steve DeMasco's Shaolin Studios, Grandmaster DeMasco and his staff of instructors illuminate students of all ages in the nuances of Martial Arts. Himself a vastly experienced practitioner of Martial Arts, DeMasco specializes in kung fu and teaches his pupils not only the fundamentals of the sport, but also the importance of self-respect, discipline, and not just learning from old kung fu movies. Each instructor here also brings their own high level of cred to their classes. As practitioners of Shaolin martial arts?the ancient predecessor of all martial arts?they're all internationally certified by the Shaolin Temple in China.
Featured on ABC, Fox, and various channels, Dance With Me doesn't just teach students the mechanics of fun, fit, and healthy dancing?they transform them into dancers. And the process goes beyond learning fancy footwork. Participants are welcomed into a setting that cultivates confidence, nurtures self-expression, and bolsters social interaction skills, since it really does take more than one person to tango.
The joy of ballroom dancing becomes contagious at each of Dance With Me's modernized studios, which host classes specifically tailored toward each visitor's goals. And those classes are taught by a uniquely qualified team of professionals, some of whom may have familiar faces. Co-founder Maksim Chmerkovskiy is a renowned Latin Ballroom dance champion, choreographer, and instructor, but he's perhaps best known for keeping celebrities on their toes in his 14 appearances on Dancing with the Stars. Along with National and World Champions and Dancing with the Stars: All-Stars choreographers Val Chmerkovskiy and Tony Dovolani, he has instilled Dance With Me's staff with their professional chops and ability to stay composed when cha-cha-cha-ing with a boom mic.
At Sportsplex, lines of gleaming strength and conditioning machines stand ready to help exercisers transform their bodies. When clients aren't lifting dumbbells and bars or swimming in a pool that uses the chlorine-free SaltPure system, they can work out with personal trainers or in small-group Group Jamz sessions, or play squash on the on-site courts.
Cycle Center of Stamford's knowledgeable staff has been equipping riders with the appropriate cycling accouterments and fine-tuning bikes to ensure safe travels for 27 years. Its trove of name-brand gear accommodates cyclists of all ages and skill types, from weekend riders to participants in the Tour de Franks––an annual race to visit every Frank in the continental United States.