By Laura Jackson Roberts
Andy and Ben laugh at the back of the line, poking each other. The giggles aren’t so much joyful and pure as they are distinctly ornery. Andy sticks a wet finger into his little brother’s ear; Ben squeals and shoves Andy as far as his short arms will allow. The line of boys ahead of them sways like a lizard as the rest of the group notices my children play-fighting. A chorus of burgeoning testosterone rises to bounce off the mirrored wall and high ceilings.
“Boys!” a voice calls. “Let’s focus! Andy and Ben: Show me your cartwheels!”
My children snap to attention and stand still. Unprecedented!
The voice belongs to Kimberlee Kafana, who is known as “Miss Kim” at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance, and she’s teaching Boys Only Tumble, Stretch and Flex. It’s Friday afternoon, and she, along with her helpers, are here to take on a gaggle of whirling Tazmanian Devils that look an awful lot like elementary school boys. These kids love Miss Kim, and they love to tumble, and what’s more, they’re getting good at it.
Miss Kim has been teaching boys-only classes for many years. And while the co-ed and female classes she instructs enjoy the same physical and emotional benefits, she stresses that “boys will be boys, and we need to let them be boys.” In her class, it’s okay to grunt, and beat your chest, and throw yourself as hard as you can onto the mat. Doing so beyond the watchful eyes of girls sets the boys free, Kim says. “When girls are in the class, [the boys] lose a lot more confidence in themselves than people realize. It’s an impressionable age, so it’s important to let them have that separation.”
I’m in agreement. When nine-year-old Andy finds himself amidst a group of young ladies, the urge to bug them takes over, and he picks and pokes and smirks. Ben, who is five, regularly launches into a booty dance, as though he wrote the book on flirting. But sans ladies, my guys easily focus on the benefits of tumbling.
And they are many. Tumbling, Kim explains, helps them developmentally. They’re not just playing around; they’re building self-confidence, becoming better students, and learning to focus on their own skills. “There are natural-born athletes, where things just come so easy. Then there are children who might be a little weaker, or less flexible. They can find success and in that journey they are the ones who control their progress and their challenges and what the outcome is going to be.” She goes on to say that she and her assistants will tailor each child’s experience to his particular physical needs. “By the time you’re done and you’ve given him the tools to succeed, he might be the most flexible. The end result is fitness for a lifetime. They are the people who control their destiny.”
Hard work. Self-discipline. They have to earn their own skills in Kim’s class, just as they do in life, whether they are natural athletes or not. She tells me she’s here to motivate and inspire them. And she does.
I wait downstairs for class to finish, listening to the thunder of feet as each child presents a skill to his peers. Kim calls, “Way to go, Andy!” and the boys clap for him as he nails a round-off. I sneak up the stairs to watch my second-born, who has never really gotten the hang of his cartwheel. He runs down the mat, flops over onto his side, and stands up, beaming.
The older boys put their arms around my little guy and ruffle his hair. “Nice cartwheel, Ben,” they say. At home, Ben will wear out my furniture showing me his tumbling skills. When I ask him where he learned to be such a great cart-wheeler, he’ll look up from the mangled couch cushions and tell me, “From Miss Kim. She says I’m totally awesome!”
Boys Only Tumble, Stretch and Flex is offered for boys K-5 at Oglebay Institute’s School of Dance on Fridays from 4-5pm.