By Teri Carnicelli
The Arizona Sunrays Gymnastics & Dance Center this spring celebrated its 25th anniversary, with more than 200 former gymnasts and dancers and their families coming back to mark the occasion with owners Julie and Dan Witenstein.
The couple has seen many former customers grow from tots to teens to young adults over the years, many of whom feel like an extended member of their own family, which includes three now grown children.
Arizona Sunrays has taught more than 25,000 children gymnastics and dance over the past 25 years and multiple generations of gymnasts and dancers have been enrolled in the school.
“We are very proud of the many kids and families we have had the great pleasure to effect in a positive way through coaching, teaching and the many programs at Arizona Sunrays,” Julie says. “We love having alumni come in to visit, or become some of our best employees.”
There are also several staff members who have been with the Arizona Sunrays since the very beginning.
“There is an immediate sense of joy and family when you walk in our doors,” Julie adds.
Dan began his gymnastics training as a teenager and went on to compete for Michigan State and Arizona State. He soon became the assistant coach for the Arizona State University women’s gymnastics team for five years. He then moved on the head coaching at a private club where he began developing Elite gymnasts and became a National Team coach.
Julie’s gymnastics experience was recreational and she became an instructor and compulsory coach. Julie’s focus was on theater and dance as she trained in acting and movement at various locations, including the National Theatre of Great Britain.
Dan and Julie pooled their talents together to create a professional, fun and safe environment for children to learn and experience the joy of physical activity. “Where every child feels like a champion” is their slogan.
Recently three Arizona Sunrays gymnasts qualified for Junior Olympic Nationals, and one gymnast, North Central resident Cassie Stevens, who is a student at Sunnyslope High School, earned a spot on the Junior Olympic National Team. Stevens already has committed to Auburn University with a full athletic scholarship.
Dan still coaches full time, while Julie works with their management team to keep the programs going strong and to keep up with current trends. “Thanks to the popularity of dance and ‘ninja’ television shows, we have more boys involved in our Dance Program, gymnastics and our Ninja Zone classes,” Julie explains. “It’s wonderful to see more boys in our ballet and tap classes, we even have boys-only hip hop classes. Our new Ninja Zone program combines gymnastics with marshal arts; we are the only Ninja Zone franchise in Arizona.”
For families who are interested in learning more about Arizona Sunrays, a special Gymnastics Celebration to mark the start of the summer Olympic Games will take place 1-2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, for children ages 2 to 13. Boys and girls will learn several new gymnastics moves and get to jump up and down on the trampolines and into foam pits. Parents will get a chance to learn about the many different gymnastics, dance, and “Ninja Zone” classes that will be starting in August. This fun-filled event will be a wonderful way to introduce children to the sport of gymnastics.
Parent participation is required for ages 3 and younger. Every child who attends also will be given a special gift and children who enroll in fall classes at this event will receive a complimentary Arizona Sunrays T-shirt. Cost to attend is $5 per child in advance, $10 at the door. Families can register in advance by visiting the gym’s website, www.arizona sunrays.com or stopping by in person at 3110 E. Thunderbird Road. For more information, call 602-992-5790.