The Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts offers classes in gymnastics, circus arts, and dance. Photo provided
When Nittany Gymnastics closed last year after 30 years of activity, Dmitry Myers and Finda Reichert found themselves at a crossroads.
Myers – a circus arts, dance and gymnastics professional – had trained at the College Township facility since he was a young child growing up at State College and was a teacher and coach at Nittany. Reichert was a gymnastics instructor in Nittany for a decade and coaches a USA Independent Gymnastics Club champion team based there.
Together, the good friends decided to strike out on their own, taking what they had learned at Nittany Gymnastics and adding their own twist. After a year of planning, as well as a few stops at temporary locations, Myers and Reichert recently opened their Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts of Pennsylvania in his new permanent residence at 118 Hawbaker Industrial Drive in Patton Township.
Phoenix Academy offers classes for children, teenagers and adults in gymnastics, dance and, for the first time in the region, circus arts.
“Moving on to make it our own, but taking what we learned from Nittany and moving on made sense, but it was also a huge leap of faith,” Reichert said. “When we all came together on the idea, it all made perfect sense. For me, loving the sport of gymnastics and wanting to make it my own and for Dmitri having a background in circus, dance and gymnastics, it was the perfect opportunity. It was just a crazy time in this process because it was one thing that was closing and one thing that was opening up and… taking this leap of faith.
After Nittany closed, Reichert rented space at his Commercial Boulevard facility before it was sold to continue working with his USAIGC team, then rented space at Fearless Athletics in Bellefonte. After she, Dmitry Myers and her father, Evan Myers, formed the Phoenix Academy, they moved into the Benner Pike Shops space while they renovated the formerly owned by Wesco Lighting become their permanent residence.
The former Wesco property provided an ideal location for Phoenix Academy offerings, Dmitry Myers said. It had the high ceilings necessary for circus arts, as well as the necessary spaces for a main sports hall, a ballet studio with lots of natural light, a birthday party room, halls and offices. The upstairs area overlooking the main gymnasium was perfect for the preschool program.
“We all went there and got really good energy from the building,” Myers said. “He had what we needed…There wasn’t a lot of real demo work we needed to do.”
“It really fitted in perfectly with all the different disciplines that we were trying to offer,” added Reichert. “…For us, our location [close to North Atherton Street and Interstate 99] It’s great because it’s very central so families can come from all over central Pennsylvania.”
In opening the new business, Myers saw a great opportunity to bring a new kind of education to Center County. He was a competitive gymnast and trained professionally in ballet, with performance experience in all forms of dance in productions across the country. He is also a professional circus performer who studied at the National Circus School of Canada and Circus Warehouse, taught at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, and has extensive flying trapeze experience.
Circus arts, he explained, are a mixture of dance, theater, gymnastics and aerial acrobatics.
“The cool thing about circus arts is that there really are no rules,” Myers said. “It’s not like you’re in gymnastics and you have to be judged and you have to follow certain rules. You have to stay safe in the air, but it’s really about the creative spirit of the artist and what he wants to do and what he thinks about his work, what he can give to an audience…. You learn the skills and then you put your own spin on it.Every artist is different and artists may have very similar skills, but the way they perform their skills puts a trademark on the artist because we are all so individual and creative.
Myers has been practicing circus arts for 10 years and said people often ask him if there is anywhere to go to learn locally. Until now, he had to tell them no.
Phoenix offers circus arts classes for children and adults, including aerial apparatus, tumbling acrobatics, headstands, flexibility and alignment.
“The number of adults wanting to learn circus is incredible,” Myers said. “The thing about the circus is that it comes to town and disappears. You settle in for five, six days, maybe a week, then everything packs up and goes. How do you learn to do that? How do you get this knowledge? … The circus has never been done here, apart from Ringling who comes, Cirque du Soleil who come to put on a show. There have never been circus lessons here.
“It’s really cool to build it here is that I start with the aerial stuff. Eventually I’d like it to be bigger and bigger, the lineup expand, and eventually I’d like have a circus festival here. So first small steps. Big dreams, small steps.
For dance education, Phoenix wants to offer something for everyone, including children and adults, with ballet, jazz and dance for fitness among current offerings.
“We’re really trying to branch out when it comes to dance classes,” Myers said. “I come from ballet, professionally trained Russian ballet. It’s a great base for all dances, but not all kids want to do ballet, especially when they’re brought into the circus, because there are so many different dance styles in the circus.
For Reichert’s USAIGC Team Gymnastics, members must attend at least one hour per week of dance class for ballet instruction and technique.
“That way our team has another tool to use,” Reichert said. “Our foundation is going to be stronger because gymnastics and dance go hand in hand, art and technique. We incorporate that, but not until they’re on the team.
Phoenix also offers preschool and recreational gymnastics classes, as well as a pre-team program for youngsters to learn about competitive gymnastics.
Reichert explained that the USAIGC team is different from the USA Gymnastics Development Program (formerly called its Junior Olympics Program) that you might sometimes see on TV, but is a international competition program.
“We run a different program that trains fewer hours per week and with a much more holistic approach,” Reichert said. “The girls are able to train at high levels without the initial wear and tear on their bodies and the mindset is different.”
Not all gymnasts on the team are expected to do the same skills and can choose those that best suit their body type and flexibility, she said.
“Also this program, because it requires less training hours, kids are allowed to have more than one social life,” Reichert said. “They are allowed to participate in more school activities, more religious activities, that kind of stuff outside of the gymnasium. It was something that was really important to me to bring this program more to the fore.
“We kind of got a reputation for not being a competitive program, but that’s really not the case. It is an international program. We face seven different countries in our last world championships of the year. It’s a great option for doing competitive gymnastics, but also other things in their lives.
As with team gymnastics, Reichert and Myers want all of their programs to be a “positive and empowering” experience, she said.
“The program I run lends itself to the whole person,” Reichert said. “There’s a culture in gymnastics that’s like do or die, negative, ‘no it’s wrong; do it again.’ I think there’s a better way to teach it and that’s what I’m trying to do.
Myers added that they want students to leave the programs feeling like they’ve had beneficial experiences, no matter how long or what level they’re pursuing.
“We want to have a really good toolkit for our students to use what they learn from us,” he said. “Whether or not they continue professionally, that’s fine. If they don’t, they’ve had the experience and we hope they enjoyed it. If you stop for any reason, whatever the reason, we want you to leave the sport thinking it was worth it. We want you to leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something. We also want you to leave the art form/sport just glad you could. Great memories, great people, positive instructions. It is a question of the possibility of building people.
“We really try to emphasize that this is a judgment-free zone. We want you to feel included, to feel important, and to be worth your time here.
For more information on courses and programs at the Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts of Pennsylvania, visit phoenixacademystatecollege.com.