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Dancers turn up the Heat

| Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

Step by step, Ryan Smith started to get it.

In the small, second-floor dance floor of Pittsburgh Heat Hip Hop Dance Co. -- a 5-year-old studio on Camp Horne Road in Emsworth -- Smith stared into a wall-length mirror and mimicked the moves of his dance instructors, Kia Davenport and Brenna Jaworski.

It took a while. Smith is all of 4 years old and performed many of the moves a beat or two after his teachers, but he smiled widely as he and a group of aspiring dancers tried to master the rapid series of moves.

"You ready, Ryan?" Davenport, 21, of Baldwin, said as the music started. "OK, here we go. Clap, clap, now brush down the arm --- brush, brush. One, two, three, four. Now down on one leg. Get on your bootie, Ryan! Cross your leg. Now jump.....and sliiiide!"

Ryan leaped to his feet and clapped.

"I did the knee slide!" he shouted.

"And you did it awesome," said Jaworski, 27, of Emsworth, high-fiving Ryan.

Such is the scene most weekends at Pittsburgh Heat, a studio that prides itself on teaching students of all levels and ages the art of hip-hop dancing.

Jaworski, who grew up listening to boom boxes and dancing on the streets of Oakland, started Pittsburgh Heat in 2005 "on a dollar and a dream," she said. A former hairdresser in Shadyside, she said she always dreamed of opening her own dance studio so that she could make a difference in children's lives.

"My coaches and teachers had such a strong impact on my life. I wanted to do the same thing," Jaworski said during a break between classes. "I want to teach kids to believe in themselves and to work hard for something, even if it's not easy."

Pittsburgh Heat started small. After Jaworski rented the studio space in 2005, she printed 8,000 fliers and distributed them "from Ambridge to the city," hoping to attract a group of talented dancers. She got 16.

At first, Pittsburgh Heat was strictly a private studio for competitive hip-hop dancers training for and competing in local and national dance competitions. In time, Jaworski said, she began offering private lessons. That proved popular, so she began offering classes to the public. Today, she offers lessons -- including breakdancing sessions -- to all ages.

"It's really grown," she said. "Now I have 175 dancers."

Other dance studios offer hip-hop classes, including Pittsburgh Dance Explosion and Cynthia's School of Dance in Ross, and Janet Hays and Co. in Upper St. Clair.

Cindy Zurchin, owner and director of Cynthia's, said reality television shows -- such as "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance?" -- are driving dancing's popularity.

"And not just girls -- I'm seeing an increase in boys wanting to dance," she said. "The cool thing now is for guys to become great dancers. ... You have to be very strong and athletic to dance. It's not for the weak at heart."

Cynthia's offers hip-hop classes two days a week, but will add another in March, Zurchin said. And in June, she plans to begin offering a father-daughter class.

Though many Pittsburgh Heat dancers come for the competition -- witness the dozens of dance contest trophies in the corner of the studio -- other clients say they enjoy the relaxed and fun atmosphere.

"The teachers are very much in touch with their students, talking with them, teaching them, but also just having fun," said Jill Kerekes, who said she is in her late 40s and started dancing at Pittsburgh Heat after moving to Pittsburgh from St. Louis last year.

"I've always loved dancing and I've always gone out to clubs," Kerekes said. "But I always danced to my own groove. So I thought, 'Why don't I go and learn some routines?' And, boy, over at Pittsburgh Heat, they test me on a regular basis. Not only are we moving at a quick pace, but we're learning a lot of dance moves."

As with any small business, Jaworski said, the recession has brought difficult times.

But Jaworski said she has posted a profit the last two years, in part by keeping overhead costs low, and by charging students on a class-by-class basis rather than locking them in to packages.

Plus, by focusing on hip-hop and breakdancing, she is offering something different from traditional dance studios.

"Our daughter does ballet, but Ryan said he would only do hip-hop," said Christina Smith, 34, Ryan's mother. "I don't even know where he learned the term hip-hop, but all week at home, he practices the moves. So we assume he really likes it."

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