Amid the mythical landscapes and thrilling martial-arts battles in the film Mortal Kombat, you might see Richard Branden performing swift punches and mighty kicks as an outland warrior. Richard’s role in Mortal Kombat is just one of his many motion-picture credits, which include a stunt-double role in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the Yin-Yang Man in WMAC Masters. The internationally renowned warrior has been practicing in martial arts since 1976, earning more than 35 international titles and six gold medals in chinese kung fu. A firm believer in the practice’s ability to enhance discipline and focus, as well as strength and agility, Branden opened Studio Kicks Palo Alto to help students of all ages reap martial arts’ many benefits.
Bright red and blue mats sweep across the floor of the expansive studio, where Branden's staff conduct a variety of combat-centric classes. The trainers lead energetic circuit-training routines and kickboxing combinations in adult fitness classes, helping students improve form and technique as they work toward sliming their physiques and toning their muscles. Youngsters and adults alike can enroll in the martial-arts program, where instructors guide students through movements, techniques, and training exercises that aim to boost power, flexibility, and strength. In addition to improving physical fitness, the program’s curriculum seeks to bolster self-confidence, much like an Armani blazer with the padded shoulders and biceps already sown in.
At Stepz, professional Bollywood dance instructors imbue students of all ages with dance moves inspired by Eastern India. They foster an environment of support and encouragement as dancers soak up fundamental foot positions and learn to express themselves through fluid movements and flowing hand gestures. Students looking to shed excess pounds can speed up routines in one-hour aerobics classes, which lead groups though rigorous dance routines specifically designed to tone muscle.
Boasting more than 40 years of tango experience, Nora Olivera and her husband Edward Neale teach tangoers of all experience levels to synch feet and bodies to buoyant South American rhythms. Born and raised in Argentina, Olivera performs professionally around the world and teaches tango the way Argentines dance it, without swords or samurai garb. During two lessons, students learn to strut the tango's nuanced walks and hold partners in the dance's signature sultry embraces. In one session, dancers will study milonga, a spicy relative of the tango, tapping toes to 2/4 time and while mastering the rhythmic steps.
Recognized in 2008 as one of Bicycle Retailer’s Top 100 Bike Shops in the U.S., The Bike Connection serves all bipedal peddlers looking to buy, rent, or maintain a velocipede. The full tune-up unleashes professionally trained and certified mechanics upon the two-pronged mobile devices, serving up liberal brake and derailleur adjustments, truing crooked wheels, and tightening any loose bolts looking to jump ship. The technicians then free up the crankset’s angular potential with a bottom bracket adjustment, un-break brakes, and shower cranky chains with liberating lubricants. With more than 25 years of bike-tinkering experience, this fully equipped, family-owned bicycle asylum returns aging bicycles to a vigor reminiscent of their training-wheel years.
At KGS Academy, founder and former MLS player Kelly Gray propels kids toward professional soccer careers. Supported by a staff of professional athletes of an equally high caliber, Kelly primes youngsters for competition during private lessons and small-group or team training sessions. Soccer programs range from the Striker Academy, which helps aspiring strikers hone their shots, to seasonal camps, where kids pick up new skills or victory-dance routines from a lineup of coaches.
As strobe lights slice across the stage, masked dancers descend from scaffolding and undulate to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance.” Minutes later, a troupe of 6-year-olds takes to the same stage in traditional Indian shalwar, or loose trousers, and launch into a frenetic dance set to fast-paced bhangra music. These divergent routines—performed at Mona Khan Company’s student showcase—hint at the scope of dance styles that instructors bring to their classes. Though traditional folk and classical South Asian dance make an appearance, instructors also incorporate styles such as salsa, modern, and hip-hop.
This Bollywood dance philosophy has propelled Mona Khan Company into the national spotlight. The company’s professional dance troupe has performed with Bollywood demigod Shah Rukh Khan and dancer Shaan, and dazzled a live audience on America’s Got Talent.
Though classes at Mona Khan Company occasionally lead to professional dance careers, the studio strives to make Bollywood dance accessible to every aspiring dancer. For example, Jollywood dance classes train performers age 65 and older, and the Jeena program trains special-needs students. “It’s more than just dance,” says Ms. Shankar, the company’s dance captain. “We try to build a whole community around it."