When Darren Levine received his first Krav Maga black belt in 1984, he wasn't the first man to have worn that particular piece of fabric. The belt originally belonged to the man presenting it to him: Imi Lichtenfeld, the creator of Krav Maga. Darren had had the good fortune of learning the self-defense technique from Imi himself, and eventually became one of Imi's most trusted practitioners, developing training programs for more than 5,000 law enforcement and military personnel throughout the U.S.
In 1998, just one year after his beloved mentor passed away, Darren founded Krav Maga Worldwide to meet growing demand from curious civilians. The hand-to-hand technique is focused on reacting to realistic attacks, and teachers use scenarios inspired by everything from military combat, to late-night walks alone, to heated matches of Whac-A-Mole. Darren and his team lead various programs tailored for law enforcement and military members, women, fitness buffs, and even children, and they also offer certification programs for those looking to become instructors.
Flashback to the 1990s, and there’s a good chance of finding one of two items in nearly any household: a Furby and a Billy Blanks Tae Bo tape. While the talking pet’s popularity may have diminished before the new millennium, Tae Bo still holds a predominant market in the fitness world. Inside group-fitness mecca Its All U Fitness, Kanika Brock—once an apprentice of Billy Blanks—pumps up heart rates with the fast-paced martial-arts-inspired cardio workout. And she’s not the only Tae Bo expert calling the kicks and punches; the founding father himself stops in on the occasional Sunday to lead classes and demonstrate how he can open a pickle jar with his fist.
Of course, uppercuts and jabs aren’t for everyone, so Its All U offers a few other group classes, including Zumba—led by native Cuban Danny—and Barre Control—which evokes raw athleticism with challenging ballet-inspired moves—taught by Michelle. Perhaps the most unique instructor is Maxi B. When she isn’t cooking healthful meals as a professional chef, the Workout Naughty Style enthusiast is showing pupils how to combine classic jazz with sultry burlesque and tactics for sneaking in past curfew.
Since she started tapping her toes at the age of 8, Nadia Eftedal has gone on to grace the global stage with ballroom moves that earned her prizes all over the world. Today, she organizes one of the nation's top dance seminars and has served as the American judge in the Open British Championships, which challenges dancers to maneuver their feet around extra U's. In her airy, blond-wood studio, Nadia leads an international cast of championship dancers that teaches ballroom dancing to children and adults, supplying them with skills in styles such as salsa, swing, and mambo. Group lessons, private classes, and workshops are each available in a variety of levels, whether pupils want to casually cut rugs, enter serious competitions, or settle legal disputes with courtroom dance-offs. Clients with a wedding or special event on their calendar can also consult with the instructors to develop a custom curriculum.
Tranquility unravels itself around practitioners as they enter Two Hearts Yoga, where students come from all around the city to practice alongside founder and 12-year teaching veteran Georgina O’Farrill within her family-inclusive practice. Georgina leads parents and their children through an accommodating schedule of Anusara-based classes designed to strengthen both body and mind, such as pre- and postnatal classes, which provide modified sessions that diminish stress and prepare the body for battling storks when the big day comes. Children can tag along during Baby and Me classes, and older sets of little ones can learn to breathe easier during kids' sessions. The studio's large walls and open hardwood floors further give moms the space to stretch freely and babies the room to practice their favorite dance moves.
Lani Pelino discovered Pilates as a means to help her condition her body for dancing as she studied at Ohio University. Later, during an apprenticeship with The Atlanta Ballet, she completed her Pilates' teacher certification and opened Mind 2 Body as a venue for students to build healthy, powerful muscles without risking injury. As she continued to teach, she incorporated yoga, gyrotonics, and ballet-barre-based exercise into her studio's repertoire.
Now, joined by a dozen other instructors, Lani inducts beginners into the gratifying world of exercise, helps long-term athletes improve their skills, and even certifies teachers looking to bring the workouts to their own students. Lit by sunbeams splashing through a large front window, her green studio honors the earth with organic cleaning equipment, reusable bamboo towels, and studio mats manufactured without the use of PVCs, chloride, or the labor of indentured squirrels.
At the end of a fruitful career that led her from the Cincinnati Ballet to the Sacramento Ballet, Jennifer Williams funneled her dance savvy into creating the barre-inspired exercise system taught at Pop Physique, a 2013 CityVoter finalist for Best Gym. Her fleet of handpicked and personally trained instructors pairs graceful ballet moves with other low-impact exercises in order to chisel cores without injuring muscles. Deep stretches further preserve tendons and leave each student more relaxed than a tortoise moseying past a state patrolman with a radar gun. Sessions run multiple times a day, seven days a week at an expanding network of SoCal locations. The roomy studios are lined with sprung dance floors and design accents that lend each location a distinct personality and a chance to forget its past as a storage room for defective food processors.