FACETIME- Let's dance: Steffanina's a hip-hop prince
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
When Matt Steffanina leads a hip-hop class, laughter is not just tolerated– it's encouraged. While Steffanina appears to have rubber bones that allow him to undulate effortlessly to thumping beats, not everyone in the class is quite so, ah, fluid. But that's just fine with the young dancer, whose infectious grin and patient instruction mean that by the end of an hour, his 25 or so students are all bustin' moves– and looking pretty darn good doing it.
"He has a true gift for teaching," says Tami Miller, a former professional ballerina who now attends Steffanina's Thursday class at Atlantic Coast Athletic Club with her 12-year-old daughter, Micaela. "I don't care if you're 65 or 10, he can reach everyone in the room."
Indeed, if anyone questions hip-hop's broad appeal, Steffanina's classes at ACAC, UVA, and various dance studios are proof that the 21-year-old has developed something of a cultish following, with students in some of his classes arriving early to ensure front-row space. And, as Miller and Steffanina agree, age is no barrier.
"I've had four-year-olds up through a guy who was 78,"says Steffanina, laughing. "He rocked it!"
Growing up outside Washington, D.C., Steffanina didn't do much dancing– instead, he spent eight years working up to a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
But when his family moved to Wintergreen when he was in seventh grade and his mother decided to homeschool him and his two younger siblings, Steffanina's athletic abilities exploded. In addition to teaching Tae Kwon Do, he quickly became a sensation on the slopes: at age 15, he started teaching snowboarding classes at Wintergreen Resort. (His flexible school year allowed him to do schoolwork during the summer.)
Around that same time, he says, he and a couple of friends discovered hip-hop and breakdancing, and yet another passion blossomed in the unfinished basement of his parents' house, where Steffanina put down cardboard to practice his moves.
"I had a bunch of old Michael Jackson and some Usher videos," he says. "Those were the two I modeled myself after."
After graduating from high school at age 16, Steffanina attended PVCC for two years. But despite earning a 4.0 GPA, he says sitting through class wasn't quite his speed. Instead he completed a one-year online course to become a certified personal trainer.
These days, Steffanina teaches four classes a week at UVA and one at ACAC, where his session has become so popular that another will be added this summer.
Miller and Micaela loved his class so much that they hired him to teach hip-hop for Micaela's twelfth birthday, making the event "the best party ever," Miller says. Micaela has even higher praise: "He's slammin'!" she says.