Starting August 1st, join Sophiann Mahalia for Afro HIIT- a new class at UMA, Sundays from 2:00-3:00. Afro HIIT is a dance infused workout class, combining high intensity exercises with African influenced dance movement. The goal? Move and strengthen your body while having fun and learning about African culture. She comments on Afro HIIT’s origins “I wanted people to have fun working out. I know over quarantine that was a struggle for me- I didn’t want to work out. But once I created it, I was like- this is a fun way to keep your body going without even realizing you’re working out!”
Sophiann describes this class as a perfect entryway for those looking to start learning African dance forms, she comments: “I wanted a class that had African in it but wasn't strictly an African dance class. I know sometimes when people hear straight African dance they can get nervous or think they can’t do it. I want to be in an area that everyone is comfortable with.” Sophiann began studying African dance forms at the age of 9 and has been deeply immersed in the styles and culture since then. She brings a love and care for African dance to her Afro HIIT class. She says you can expect to “get more into African Culture. I do a lot of whining, but I also give new movements that you might not have seen before and I give students the names of the movement and let them know that it comes from Umfundalai or somewhere else. So you're working out but you're also gaining knowledge and cultural experience from the class.” She hopes that students will be able to take what they learn in Afro HIIT and “transfer over to more African infused dance classes and dance hall classes.”
Sophiann hopes that people leave the class wanting more and surprised that the hour went by so fast.
You can sign up for class through our schedule page! $15 drop ins. Free for members.
Updated Mask Policy
Due to rising cases of COVID as the Delta variant spreads, the city of Philadelphia is now recommending that everyone wears a mask indoors in places where you do not know that everyone is vaccinated. See more information here. In order to stay in line with the city's recommendations and protect our communities we have edited our mask policy:
-People who are vaccinated and wish to take class without a mask must show proof of vaccination every time they take class (this is different than the previous policy that allowed only showing proof of vaccination once). A picture is fine!
-People who are unvaccinated must wear their mask at all times while in the building. Teachers will be reinforcing this expectation in class and if people are unable to keep their mask on they will be asked to leave.
-We strongly encourage everyone, even those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask while indoors. However, if you still prefer to not wear a mask and can provide proof of vaccination this will be allowed.
We know this isn't necessarily the direction we were all hoping this would go. But acting fast and staying vigilant against the spread of COVID is still a top priority. Help us keep the vulnerable people in our communities safe!
We appreciate your attention to this matter.
Jacintha an d marie's choreography Debut!
Jacintha Kruc and Marie Manski both began their formal dance training at UMA in 2019, taking Laurel’s classes in the studio. They have taken almost all of her different style offerings, from Solo Salsa to partnering classes and Latin House. Jacintha comments on the beginning of her dance journey: “I always wanted to dance and loved watching people dance but didn’t get to try it formally until I was in my 20s when I moved to Philly. I danced at a local gym and then came to UMA in 2019 through my friendship with Vince. I love the way dancing allows me to express myself and use my body to pull out different energies.”
The friends continued taking classes throughout the pandemic- online at home, and then, when they felt comfortable enough, at parks throughout the city. They would meet up at a designated outdoor location, set up the class by creating a wifi hotspot and stream the class via a laptop. Marie commented: “We’ve danced at a few different parks, playgrounds, parking lots, tennis courts. As long as it’s flat and has wifi!” They did this in the rain, snow and shine (they even showed me a park with a covered area they would sometimes take class under when it was raining).
Throughout this time, the two friends have been more than just your typical class goers. Laurel reflects: “Through COVID we were a team, not only did they dance with me- they helped me co-host my virtual classes, and gave me feedback on virtual classes. They would edit and upload my videos. I seriously don’t know what I would have done without them this past year. They are not just my students- we are sisters/family, dancing and spreading the love of Latin dance.”
When I pitched the idea for this project to them, I imagined they would just film a session of them taking a class at a park that I could pull some fun clips from and share with y’all. Instead, they took the request and ran with it, choreographing an almost 2 minute long dance featuring each of the styles they have taken with Laurel: Salsa, Bachata, Reggaeton, and they even have some socially-distanced Partnering. I was absolutely BLOWN AWAY with the rhythmically-complex choreography they came up with as well as the confidence they performed it with in front of random park- goers and passerby!
Check out the video and get to know a little more about Jacintha and Marie below!
Kayla: Tell me about yourselves! What do you do for work/ fun?
Marie: I work at the University of Pennsylvania as a Graduate Program Coordinator for the Department of Anthropology. I get to work alongside brilliant activists who are paving the way to a new future. They truly inspire me! For fun, I like to cook, bake, and make ice cream. My creative outlet is formulating new recipes and creating themed meals.
Jacintha: ...and I love eating the food Manski makes so that makes us a great team!
I am a Jane of all trades and have many jobs,but for the past nine years have worked in historic preservation and conservation. I am currently restoring all the hand-carved woodwork in the governor’s office in the PA State Capital. I like to do anything that involves problem solving and using my hands and body for work. I enjoy painting murals and making art installations and seriously... eating anything Manski makes (especially her ice cream!)
Kayla: What’s something that you think is unique about Laurel’s classes that you might not find at a different dance studio?
Jacintha: Laurel really focuses on inclusivity and personal growth. Everyone enters the class with various skill levels and experiences, despite that, each individual dancer can still feel challenged. Laurel and all of the UMA teachers bring various physical languages to experiment with while sharing the histories of those forms and how they influence each other. Her classes encourage me to be more confident, access my femine side, and socialize through dance. Her laughter and light hearted nature also brings something to look forward to with each class. She is a wonder woman for sure!
Marie: I think the thing that is most unique about Laurel’s classes is her. She herself has a diverse dance background and story that encompasses hip hop, ballroom dance, and salsa. Because of this experience, she is able to articulate style and range of movement as well as its history. On top of that, Laurel is simply an excellent teacher. She delivers concepts and ideas in a way that is easy for any level of dancer to understand and her positivity is contagious.
Kayla: Any words on your dance journey- coming in as people who don’t identify as dancers to now making your own dance influenced by Laurel’s classes?
Marie: I want to encourage anyone who doesn’t identify as a dancer to consider dance as a means to get to know a part of yourself, as a means to be creative, expand your mind, and develop community. There’s something about pushing yourself to your limits, physically and creatively, that allows for growth and humility. You don’t have to identify as a dancer to enjoy dancing. But practicing the art of dance has allowed me to express myself in ways that I couldn't before.
Jacintha: I feel dance helps me articulate the feeling of music and rhythm running through my body. I don’t identify as a dancer either but I can’t help but dance through my house and wherever I am! I believe anyone can dance and learn these skills. Dancing has allowed me to grow and push myself. Laurel’s classes opened a new way to think creatively using my body by accessing new spaces in my body and pathways...thinking about the way I press my foot down into the floor that then sends energy up into my leg, flows through my hips, winds up my spine, glides up my arm and out my fingers...it has been amazing to learn from her. I think my dance journey has been one filled with community connection and plenty of fun and laughter!
Rent Studio space for rehearsals, classes, events and more!
Our beautiful, light-filled studios are located right in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. We have 3 different studios available for rent for your class, rehearsal, meeting, party or other event!
Finding his own voice
At Urban Movement Arts Kemuel Benyehudah has been able to express himself through
By: Bibiana Correa
If there’s something Kemuel Benyehudah loves to do, it’s dance.
“To me, it’s about rebellion, it’s about do it yourself, it’s about making things more equitable for
Black and brown kids who were like left out, and they created their own ingenuity with their
bodies because that’s all they had,” Kem said. “I’m going to get creative with my body, I’m going
to get out and put graffiti on all these trains because you don’t see me so I’ll make myself
Kem grew up in New York City with a house filled with martial arts, thanks to his father’s love of
the fighting style. In college, Kem was introduced to the drum and bass scene by his friend
Johnny Fajardo. That then sparked his interest in techno and the New York City club scene.
“The music just made sense to me, I connected with it,” Kem said.
About seven years ago, Kem moved to Philadelphia to start his doctoral program at the
University of Pennsylvania. New to the city, he started immersing himself in the city’s club scene
but also wanted to get involved in a dance community. He first started taking classes at the
Koresh Dance Academy in Rittenhouse.
Then, a friend of his suggested he take classes at Urban Movement Arts. He first took the free
salsa classes for students with Ken, then he took the partner salsa classes with Laurel. Soon
one class a week turned into six classes a week, even taking 14 classes in a row, ranging from
hip hop and street dancing to salsa and bachata
Kem loves UMA for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the bond the instructors have.
“The instructors are a community in that they practice together and dance together, and that
wasn’t always the case at other schools,” Kem said. “A lot of times there wasn’t overlap and I
think students lose out when that’s the case.”
Throughout his time at UMA Kem learned a lot about listening to his body and its limitations.
During classes he realized his body may not move in the exact same way as his instructors, it
moves in his own way.
“There's little things, little feedback and things that helped me understand that I can't move like
Vince, or I can't move like Ricky or I can't move like Ron, or I can't move like Laurel, so don't put
that pressure on yourself,” Kem said. “That kind of put me in this other space where I don't
make it into a competition and don't turn it into like, you're trying to be, you know, like the
teacher or someone else in the class, I’m finding my own voice.”
Kem loves how dance, specifically at UMA, has given him and countless others the space to
express themselves, discover themselves and give them a space to be confident.
“The space brings people together who probably normally would not be in the same space, you
know, people from all different walks of life come into that space and leave with the feeling of joy
and euphoria of learning that they can push their body in a way they never thought possible,”