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NJ Performing Arts & Cardio Fitness

by Susan Cousins Breen

Hit the Stage: “Experience the joy of the arts and fitness” is the motto of NJ Performing Arts & Cardio Fitness, which opened in Sewell last January.

For the parent that is looking for a special holiday gift for their child or simply wants their son or daughter to experience the many facets of the performing arts, NJ Performing Arts & Cardio Fitness may be the perfect way to go. Unique to the studio is the absence of the traditional dance recital. Instead, owners Rick Docimo and Suzanne (Miss Sue) DeStefano focus on the individual goals of each student and incorporate those learned skills into musicals three times a year.

NJ Performing Arts & Cardio Fitness’ mission is to bring the performing arts and fitness into the lives of South Jersey parents and their children in a well-rounded, non-competitive environment. “We offer dance, music and drama lessons and focus on the individual needs of each child, their happiness and success,” says DeStefano, the artistic director. “Some of our students are preparing for futures in the arts, while others come to have fun, learn something new, and build confidence. With so many things to try, children can find their niche.”

The wide variety of classes includes ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, lyrical, chorus, acting and audition preparation. Plus, there are hip hop and ballet classes exclusively for boys; adult classes in hip hop, Zumba, salsa, ballet, tap and yoga; and couples’ ballroom dancing classes. Private music lessons (voice, piano, guitar and flute) are also available for all ages.

“NJ Performing Arts is absolutely amazing,” says parent Sara Smith, of Turnersville. “It feels like you’re part of a real family, there’s a good vibe, and it’s such a nice place to gather while your kids are taking their classes.”

The studio’s dedication to its students includes mainstreaming special needs children in the classes; about 5 percent of their students have special needs. Smith’s two daughters—Emma, 6, and Kaelyn, 5, take ballet and jazz lessons and Kaelyn, who has special needs, also takes piano lessons while Emma participates in a drama class. “I’ve seen my kids’ confidence soar since joining the NJ Performing Arts,” says Smith. “The instructors fully accommodate Kaelyn’s needs and my older daughter, who is very shy, spoke, sang and danced on stage during the Theatre Arts Camp’s musical production last summer.”

A dynamic aspect of the NJ Performing Arts experience is the three musicals that are presented each year. “Two are presented at an assisted living facility in Atco, which gives students the opportunity to earn community service hours,” explains DeStefano, “and the third is a full-scale stage production held at the local high school in the spring. During the 2012-2013 season, student dancers, singers, musicians and actors will perform ‘Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown’ in December, ‘Cinderella’ in June, and ‘Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp’ in August. The summer production marks the conclusion of our eight-week Theatre Arts Camp.”

All students, even the adults, are encouraged to participate in the musicals. “We’ll have a moms’ and dads’ class learning routines that they will perform next June in ‘Cinderella,’” says DeStefano.

The 3,300-square-foot facility includes a music studio and two dance/fitness studios with professional padded dance floors to minimize injuries. During classes, parents gather in the lobby, which has complimentary beverages and a play area for their younger children.

Docimo, who is immersed in the world of fitness in addition to being stage manager and set designer, believes the mind and body should be in balance. His goal was to bring a cardio-fitness program to the area that would encourage residents, especially those older than the age of 50, to make fitness a lifelong goal.

DeStefano—a distant cousin of Russell Markert, the founder and longtime director of the Rockettes—began training locally in the performing arts as a young girl and eventually headed to New York City. She has performed professionally in the musicals “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Mame,” “Can Can,” “Annie,” and “Cabaret,” among others. With the studio, DeStefano has succeeded in combining all the arts in which she was trained at one location, where she can share her love for them with children. She also writes the end-of-the-year musical productions for the studio. A middle school teacher for 18 years, DeStefano has a B.A. from Rowan University in elementary education (K-8) and K-12 reading certification, which allows her to provide tutoring in reading for her students at the studio.

“Our students not only gain a wealth of knowledge in the arts,” says DeStefano, “but also create lifelong memories and friendships.”

NJ Performing Arts & Cardio Fitness
Tower Square Shopping Center
137 Egg Harbor Road; Suite C
(856) 228-8FIT (8348)

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 9 (November, 2012).
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