Spicing up Hazelwood with dance

El Movimiento: Latin Beginnings Ministries offers free salsa and breakdance lessons to area youth

By Charlotte Beard

We are almost a month into the return of kids to school. Many parents have their children involved in some form of sport or extra-curricular activity; however, other parents struggle to find additional ways to engage their child. Financial burdens also cause a strain on finding those opportunities.

A dance studio in Hazelwood has spent almost two years offering a no-cost quality alternative for youth. El Movimiento: Latin Beginnings Ministries located at 7211a North Lindbergh Blvd., was established in 2017 as a nonprofit for youth by dancers David Blake and Tashia Ochoa. However, the two dance instructors developed the concept for Latin Beginnings in 2014.

“The whole thought process behind that was building a community that focused on beginners or people who were interested in (Latin dance) and didn’t know much about it,” stated Blake.

Blake and Ochoa desired to provide a “layman’s” approach to Latin and breakdancing. They began to get requests for dance instruction for youth. It was then that they decided to open the studio and offer salsa and breakdancing to K-12 youth.

Classes run on a semester format with a one-month quarterly break. Current classes resumed Sept. 10. Pre-enrollment is not required; however, each class is progressive therefore, attendees are encouraged to start at the beginning of the semester.

Alyssa Gray, age 14, has been attending the classes since the studio opened in 2017. Prior to her coming to El Movimiento she had dance experience in jazz, hip-hop, and ballet.

“I knew next to nothing about Latin dancing and I hadn’t touched the surface of breakdancing…at all.”

Gray’s family found out about the opening of El Movimiento and its youth Salsa classes while attending one of the studio’s Tuesday socials in St. Charles. Both Gray and her sister had previous desires to learn salsa and the offering of breakdancing was an added plus.

The youth meet on Mondays at 6 p.m. starting with a short character-building session, followed by the salsa lessons and ending with the one-hour break dancing instructions. Latin Beginnings Ministries aims to instill character strengths in the youth that they can use outside of the class within any aspect of life.

“It gives the kids a lot of opportunity to break the ice,” Blake said of the character-building session. “You may have some that are very boisterous, then you may have some kids that are kind of shy. With the lessons we try to make it as interactive as we can by asking them questions and get the kids feeding off each other. Some of them know each other and some of them it’s their first time meeting each other. We get kids from different (geographical) areas.”

Gray shared, “(The instructors) do a lot of devotions and they apply how dancing is a way to worship God. God wants me to be the best I can be, and they train you to be the best you can be.”

This semester’s character-building sessions will cover nine attributes or characteristics of a person living in accordance with the biblical term “fruits of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humbleness and control. Each principle is used as an opportunity to practice and apply in the students’ interactions during dance and throughout the week in between classes.

Blake stresses, “Though we are faith-based we are not beating people over the head. We do welcome (the opportunity) to explain our position of faith. If kids decide it’s in their heart to take it to the next level (with questions), we want that eventually. But overall, if it’s not where they are at this point in their life, we’re planting seeds. You can’t deny that the respect we’re instilling in them transfers to impact this community and where ever they’re from. We want to teach them to have confidence, to have integrity in everything that they do and to respect their parents.”

Gray went on to share her experience with the dance instructions. “They are very, very patient. They show you how to do things step-by-step and warn you. Like (telling you) if you do this part wrong it can hurt you, so you need to be sure you put your hands in the right spot. When we’re doing salsa (they show) how to lead your partner. For me, one of the hardest things was learning how to follow because I always danced by myself where I could go and do my own thing. But now I have to learn to follow a partner.”

“We encourage them throughout the lesson,” shared Blake. “We pair them up and rotate during the Salsa and break dancing. If someone is seen having a struggle [the kids] take some of those things learned from the lessons and [apply] them to [help] each other.”

Besides the Monday night classes, the studio provides youth workshops. This semester they will host a workshop offering various opportunities such as: art of being a DJ, graffiti art, creation of rap/hip hop lyrics, and break dance battles. Blake and Ochoa are working towards a community within its youth group that allows for out-of-town competitions.

Saturday, Sept. 22, the studio will host its first Toss Up: Break Dance Competition, a Jack and Jill style of competition, as part of its bi-monthly special youth night. All K-12 youth are invited for free; a donation of $5 for each adult who attends or competes is requested. The winning duo will be awarded a $100 cash prize. Registration begins at 6 p.m. with the competition beginning at 7 p.m. Registration is available by contacting David Blake or Tashia Ochoa at 314-200-5194. Those interested may also visit https://www.elmostl.org or @latinbeginnings on Facebook.

The studio does provide basic/intermediate Latin dance classes to adults as well on Wednesdays. Bachata is taught 6 – 7 p.m. and salsa from 7 – 8 p.m. There is a $10 charge which helps with the nonprofit’s overhead costs and free offerings to the youth. In addition, they host a “free-for-all” Tropicana Tuesday social 7 – 10 p.m. that offers lessons for beginners and first timers in St. Charles at Picasso’s Coffee House located at 1650 Beale St. #155. Additional parking is available in the adjoining garage. The social event is open to all ages. Attendees are introduced to salsa, bachata, kizomba, zouk, and the cha cha. All skill levels are invited to encourage social dancing. Those who are interested in private classes for Latin or hip-hop dance may contact the studio.

For other youth who may consider attending a class, student Gray offers a word of encouragement.

“Don’t be shy. It’s okay to be yourself. Part of dancing is about throwing out your own style because nobody is the same. Throw yourself into the dance. The dance doesn’t make you who you are. You get to make the dance what it is,” she said

Adults who desire to volunteer their services or provide other support to the studio may contact David Blake or Tashia Ochoa at 314-200-5194 or email elmolbm@gmail.com.

BREAKOUT BOX:

About El Movimiento – Latin Beginnings Ministries: El Movimiento is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that seeks to share and implement character building principles through programs developed around the artistic gifts and talents of dance, to serve the youth and community at large by molding and shaping our students to be integral role models and outstanding citizens.

CUTLINE: Submitted photos

Cover-Dance1 Students dance during the salsa session of an El Movimiento: Latin Beginnings Ministries class.

Cover-Dance2 Alyssa Gray (front) performs a breakdance routine with classmates during an El Movimiento: Latin Beginnings Ministries class.