State College’s new Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts has a ‘feel of a family’ State College News
Following the closure of Nittany Gymnastics Academy in November 2020 – a longtime fixture of the state college’s gymnastics community – Finda Reichert and Dmitry Myers wanted to create a space where alumni could train together using the equipment they grew up with.
After purchasing most of Nittany Gymnastics Academy’s equipment and finding a room with high ceilings and open floors, the Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts of Pennsylvania held its first day of classes on November 8, 2021.
“We decided to take the big leap together and try to simply create something with our philosophies that works for both of us,” said Reichert. “I always tell the girls that you can’t be afraid of failure – you have to try and if you don’t try you don’t know what can happen.”
Reichert, Phoenix Academy co-owner, gymnastics program director and gymnastics coach, described the opening process as “a lot of stop and go” — particularly because it’s a “crazy and chaotic time” to start a business during the coronavirus pandemic.
The two families who own and operate the center — the Myerses and Reicherts — conduct a variety of programs at the academy, including gymnastics, circus arts, dance and yoga.
Dance classes consist of ballet, technique and introductory classes in a variety of styles, Reichert says, and gymnastics classes range from recreational to competitive — with the United States Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs team in Phoenix currently competing with 11 girls.
Emma Regel, a gymnast with Phoenix who has been competing since she was 8, explained she “followed Finda,” who was a coach at Nittany Gymnastics, after Nittany Gymnastics closed. Regel said her goal this year is to be injury-free and “just compete”.
“This is my last year, so I’m just trying to get through it, relax and have fun,” Regel said.
The Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts reception greets visitors as they arrive at the Hawbaker Industrial Dr. 118 in State College, Pa., through the door come the exterior of the building.
Rule wasn’t the only one to follow Miss Finda. Eleven-year-old gymnasts Sophia Andrzhievsky, Kirra Grove, and Pippi Doliana described Reichert and Myers as “amazing,” “friendly,” and “hospitable,” respectively.
“I love her,” Grove said. “I enjoy that I have a team that supports me and when you’re nervous, they believe in you.”
The academy’s circus arts program also offers a diverse range of classes, such as aerial lyre—where performers hang in the air by a hoop—as well as aerial straps and tumbling.
Myers, co-owner and artistic director of circus arts and dance at Phoenix Academy, said he looks forward to “the culture of circus arts being recognized [in State College] as an actual art form.”
Twelve-year-old Emily Kirsten, an air lyre artist, said her family had been looking for a place to learn circus skills “for a while” and Phoenix Academy was “the only place around.” [them] that’s what circus arts did.”
Myers, who flew for Cirque du Soleil, is currently writing a show for May this year, which Kirsten said they will be performing on.
“I hope it’s fun and looks cool,” Kirsten said.
Reichert said Phoenix Academy strives to create an “inclusive environment” where all classes are open to all ages, essentially from ages two to over 100, Myers added.
The gymnasium at the Phoenix Academy of Performing Arts features bars and multiple pads on the floor on which performers perform on Monday, January 17, 2022 at 118 Hawbaker Industrial Dr. at State College, Pennsylvania.
“We’re not excluding anyone … come in and improve,” Myers said. “We don’t turn anyone away, and we want when people leave the sport to be like, ‘Wow, you know what? I really enjoyed that… I was with people who were really supportive.'”
Reichert said positive reinforcement is used in the academy and corrections are always made so that athletes know corrections are being made to ability and “not against them”.
“The philosophy behind it is that I want people to be accepted for who they are … for them to grow in strength and confidence,” Reichert said. “I think our responsibility as coaches, teachers and parents is to help your kids feel confident and proud of their accomplishments when they work for them.”
Emma Belcher, a member of the Phoenix Academy competition team, said she chose Phoenix Academy because she likes having “the feeling of family” around her when she practices the sport she loves.
“Everyone here is like family,” Belcher said. “I didn’t want to leave that.”
Myers, who also previously worked at Nittany Gymnastics, said Nittany Gymnastics has that same spirit and that when Mike Rizzuto, the owner of Nittany Gymnastics, died, it was “really hard” for everyone.
“He was like a father to me,” Myers said. “It hit us all”
Myers said that everyone in the Phoenix Academy family is “equal” and the coaches “really try to cater to all types of learning.”
Looking ahead, Reichert said the academy is planning a grand opening event in February, as well as the circus show — written by Myers and starring students — in May.
“We’re here taking care of the people,” Myers said. “Your well-being is really important to us. We take our time for the people.”
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