Avalon Educational Institute: A space made for dancingAvalon Educational Institute, a Duluth nonprofit school for the arts, opened its doors over two years ago and offers martial arts, dance and wellness programs to the community.
By: Esther Piszczek, For the Budgeteer News
When his mother asked him if he wanted to study the martial arts, 9-year-old Justin Markus — dreaming of becoming a Jedi Knight — said “sure.”
Today, he’s not quite Luke Skywalker, but rather the founder and executive director of Avalon Educational Institute, a Duluth nonprofit school for the arts that opened its doors over two years ago and offers martial arts, dance and wellness programs to the community.
Located at 404 West Superior Street, Avalon is on two levels, the upstairs consisting of a lobby, a martial arts wing, and two dance studios, and downstairs with two treatment rooms for Wellness Program services, a small meeting space, and a yoga studio and teachers’ lounge, which are currently under renovation.
Nicholas Surfista DeShaw has been teaching the Afro-Brazilian gymnastic/dance martial art Capoeira for the past two years.
“Every time I come (to Avalon) it’s like I’m coming home,” he says. “It’s one of the most welcoming places. It is the nicest facility in the city for martial arts. I could have gone other places [to teach], but I chose to come here.”
Avalon also offers classes in Muy Thai, a cultural fighting art of Thailand, as well as Martial Arts Weapons use, and Open Hand, where students learn artistically designed cultural fighting techniques from a variety of the martial arts.
Eric Kirchner is a Tai Kwon Do instructor at the YMCA and Avalon’s business consultant.
“[Avalon’s] teaching philosophy spreads an even focus around to all students,he said.
Markus designed the programs around what he calls “accountability-based education, [that encourages] students to learn to communicate, support others, and become leaders.” At Avalon, students learn the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of each art form from its language, tradition and technique to the art’s application. Through this model, Markus says, each art for “is given due respect providing a well-rounded learning experience for each student.”
Avalon’s dance program includes belly dance, contemporary ballet, and pole dancing. Historically, pole dancing was practiced in strip clubs, however, over the past 10 years it has been taught at fitness clubs and dance studios as a gymnastic dance work out that builds strength and tones the body.
Markus describes it as “vertical gymnastics” that “involves the holistic use of the entire body in an integrated workout, teaching finesse and body movement while building strength.”
Instructor Jamie Serina competes in national pole dance competitions.
“The pole dance class is breaking new boundaries in Duluth,” she says. “It is a great way to build confidence and a new way to take dance to the next level.”
Adds Markus: “You won’t find this type of strength training in any other modality.”
Avalon also offers salsa dancing every Thursday night at 8. At the start of each night, a beginner lesson is taught and then the floor is opened up for dancing at $3 per person.
Avalon rounds out its educational experience through its Wellness Program.
“(It’s) about replenishing the self and the art of caring for yourself in a sustainable way,” says Wellness Program Manager Cassandra Anderson, who also teaches “basic physiology and massage techniques that can be used on friends and family” in the studio’s Healer Series.
Disclosure: Esther Piszczek briefly taught one class at Avalon Educational Institute.