Growing up in Sao Paulo, a city of nearly 20 million people, Gui and Joy Torres didn't stand much chance of bumping into each other. But fate had a plan, sending them both thousands of miles north to New Haven, Connecticut, and bringing them together at a capoeira event. Filled with playful, passionate movements, capoeira's 400-year-old fusion of dance and martial arts sparked a romance, and Gui and Joy soon married.
After marrying, the couple launched Brazilian Roots Cultural Center to help others cultivate fitness, creativity, and friendships. During classes for kids and adults, Gui draws upon years of experience as a capoeira teacher and performer, which includes gigs at Yale University and the Museum of the City of New York. Students weave cunning kicks, escapes, and acrobatics into a game more fun than hopscotch with a baby kangaroo. The classes also double as music performances as students learn to play traditional instruments and sing in Portuguese. Joy funnels her yoga and dance training into relaxing Vinyasa classes. In addition to hosting classes, the 2,700-square-foot studio showcases art in an airy gallery space.
At the family-owned New England Dive Center, certified instructors pursue a mission of expanding scuba-diving know-how to the whole world, training underwater explorers with a curriculum of beginning to advanced diving classes. Several open-water courses survey safety, equipment, and diving etiquette to put students on the path toward PADI, TDI, or SDI certification, and an underwater photography seminar illustrates how to capture lucid footage of marine life and document mermaids' dance recitals. Group vacations shepherd divers to the lush corals of the Florida Keys, Cozumel, and the Grand Bahamas, and local events explore the quarries and shipwrecks hidden within New England's own waters. The full-service repair shop also stocks rental and retail equipment, supplying divers with high-end fins, masks, and tanks from brands such as Atomic Aquatics and XS Scuba.
Western-style boxing. Thai boxing. Wrestling. These are just a few of the fighting techniques that make up krav maga, an Israeli self-defense system. At Alpha Krav Maga Connecticut, whose owner has been training in the martial arts for more than 30 years, instructors teach these skills and demonstrate how to use them in real-world situations. In addition to self-defense, krav maga can also help students lose weight and build muscle.
The technicians at Cheshire Cycle know bikes inside and out, not only because they repair them on a daily basis, but also because they spend hours and hours riding them. The adventuresome crew even sponsors a road-racing team that took home more than 50 top finishes in 2012 alone. They couple this insider knowledge with advanced technology to perform like-a-glove fittings and offer services that range from basic tune-ups to total overhauls. Their shop stocks reputable brands, including bikes by Scott, Jamis Bicycles, and Stolen BMX and clothing by designers such as Louis Garneau, Fox, and Pearl Izumi. Whatever bikes or equipment the staff don't have on the shelves they can order from a catalog supplier or have the elves in the backroom make from scratch.
The consortium of professional instructors at Fred Astaire Dance Studio, which was cofounded by the legendary dancer himself, shepherds students of all ages and skill levels through lessons that span the style spectrum. Low-pressure private sessions allow enthusiastic teachers to fine-tune individual students' techniques and form using their expert eyes. Patrons can learn how to cavort through classic waltz and fox-trot romps or swivel through the modern steps of salsa, swing, or samba. For dancers hoping to hoof it up in a social setting, the group practice parties provide a one-night extravaganza of instruction, demonstrations, and amateur firewalking.
Atop the blue padded floors of Master Hwang's Martial Arts, adults and kids as young as four years old learn to focus their energies to execute challenging maneuvers. Leading the pack, expert instructors impart the secrets of judo, Hapkido, and tae kwon do disciplines to boost focus and tone fly-swatting muscles. The karate haven also hosts summer camps and birthday parties that strengthen juvenile bonds.
Military personnel, police officers and detectives have something in common besides high-risk jobs: Dennis Hill. The chief instructor at Aiki Academy of Self Defense, armed with a black belt in judo and a brown belt in Brazilian jujitsu, has trained members of all three professions in the art of hand-to-hand combat. He also teaches civilians at his 4,000-square-foot dojo, voted New Haven’s best martial-arts studio in 2012 by CT.com readers.
Hill and his team helm more than 50 classes per week. Sessions traffic in styles that range from kickboxing-focused combat hapkido and muay thai to krav maga, a fighting style that readies people for no-rules brawls, such as street fights or bare-knuckle-boxing matches held on cruise ships once maritime law kicks in. Fitness classes from kettlebell workouts to flexibility-enhancing yoga complement the self-defense courses, as do amenities such as an onsite playroom and free coffee in the spacious waiting room.