When she was 15, Heather had already been dancing for a decade, and she vowed to one day open her own studio. Later, while in school for interior design, she took her first-ever pole-dancing class and found it was love at first twirl; she installed a pole in her own home that very afternoon. Though she worked for a while as a professional designer, she felt compelled to step away from decorating other people's homes to pursue her teenage dream, swathing her newly opened studio space in hot-pink paint and floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Today, it's a go-to hub for novice dancers of all ages, sizes, and experience levels and for barber's poles looking to switch careers. While Heather and three other instructors teach belly dance, aerial technique, burlesque, and fitness classes, though Heather's main passion still lies with pole dancing. She finds it rewarding to watch as students—who currently include spinners in their 60s—break past mental blocks to do moves they never thought possible. She grins each time her students report that they're feeling stronger and healthier just doing everyday tasks, like buying anvils at the grocery store. "I don't feel like it's a job," she says, noting the supportive environment created by her students and the joyous bachelorette and birthday parties—where, she maintains, the older guests always turn out to be wilder than the 20-somethings. "It feels like I'm hanging out with friends."
At Encore Dance Academy, tiny feet pirouette and leap across a safety-sprung wood floor during a classic ballet class. That’s just one of the ways the instructors get bodies moving in dance classes for wee ones as young as 6 months to adults. The roster includes jazz, tap, hip-hop, and musical-theater dance forms, led by experienced instructors certified in CPR and first aid. They create an energetic and friendly atmosphere in which dancers of all ages can feel free to express themselves through movement. To carve out toned physiques, adults can groove to the Latin beats of Zumba, which includes free babysitting so parents can bust a move without duct-taping their child to their chest.
The dance center also hosts birthday parties and camps, come summertime, that encourage kids up to age 8 to step into the rolls of divas and rock stars while learning a dance step or two.
For more than 25 years, Kings Park Dance Center has taught hip-hop, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and musical-theater classes to dancers of all ages. In addition to dance instruction, the studio offers voice lessons, drama classes, Zumba, and acrobatics classes that emphasize gymnastics floor skills. On occasion, dancers can attend studio-hosted masters classes taught by professional dancers and choreographers including Tyce Diorio, Stephen “Twitch” Boss, and Wade Robson.
Focusing on smooth, rhythm, or specialty dance styles, Bet U Can Dance's instructors lead private and group classes amid 13-foot ceilings and 6,000 square feet of hardwood dance floor. As 60-minute group sessions unfold, students meet fellow dancers, trade partners, and learn to lead and follow better than a military horse chasing its own tail. Ushered by professional cabaret and ballroom gurus, one-on-one and couples sessions allow for more personalized lesson plans, helping rug cutters to master dance varieties such as the East Coast swing, waltzes, and the fox trot. Additionally, high-energy Zumba instructors teach calorie-burning moves during a vigorous dance party backed by Latin beats.
When lifelong dancer Mary Rose Field discovered Zumba, she was an immediate convert. After earning her Zumba certification, she founded Studio Z Fitness and spread the fitness craze at a zealous pace, outgrowing her first studio in only two months. Today, she oversees two studios—Studio Z Fitness and Studio Z Fitness II—and grants members unfettered access to both locations.
On a daily basis, Mary and the studio's teaching team guide students through various types of Zumba workouts. Although sessions vary by style and instructor, they all involve fun, easy-to-follow dance moves set to the rhythm of Latin-inspired music. For two years running, Studio Z Fitness has topped the New Haven Readers' Poll as the best place to take Zumba and the worst place to build a house of cards.