Flint, MI —From the front of the building at the corner of Corunna Road and Downey Street, FLI-City Studios is easy to miss.
While the building is covered in an eye-catching mural of greens, blues, oranges, and purples, there are no windows to look in on ballet lessons or overhead signs announcing the dance school’s name.
Instead, a small mailbox to the right of a black, always-locked door reads “FLI CITY VERTICAL AMBITION” in small, block-letter stickers. A poster attached to the adjacent (also locked) door directs guests to enter through the back.
“It’s one of those coincidences,” said Jared Hurd, who co-owns the dance school with his wife, Alisyn. “Even our building: you can’t go in the front. You have to go around.”
A coincidence, he jokes, because the Hurds have been working around obstacles their entire careers.
Alongside operating FLI-City, the two professional dancers run their own dance company and teach classes at studios across Michigan, effectively devoting all of their time to their mission: making dance accessible for everyone.
“We were teaching at several other studios, and they weren’t really aligned with the type of work we would like to be doing,” Alisyn said in an explanation of founding FLI-City.
Her husband was more blunt.
“(Other studios) made dance very expensive. They made it out of reach for people who didn’t possess the funds,” he said.
FLI-City has a tuition assistance program and a lending library of dance shoes available for those who can’t afford them.
The Hurds also use their space to offer a range of classes—ballet, modern, hip hop, and more—for dancers of all ages.
“Adult programs are few and far between. Like, the general studio culture is: you’re 18, you don’t dance anymore,” said Jared. “So we’re trying to change that.”
Alisyn added that the two often encourage adults to branch out beyond the studio’s adults-only offerings, too.
“We’ve basically just provided a space where—if you’re not (a child) and you’re not a professional dancer—you still have a place where you’re included, you’re welcome, and you’re encouraged,” she said.
But aside from making dance accessible, there is another reason why the couple wanted to start their own dance school.
“(Other studios) didn’t teach hip hop with any accuracy to its foundation or cultural history, and in doing so they just basically shit on it as an art form,” Jared Hurd said.
The Hurds are not only dance educators, company leaders, and FLI-City’s owners. They are also the founders of Vertical Ambition Crew, a breaking group (“Don’t call it breakdancing,” you’ll be told by any true b-boy or b-girl) that practices every Wednesday night at FLI-City.
Both Alisyn, whose b-girl nickname is “ShorteeRoc,” and Jared, whose b-boy nickname is “J-aura,” speak passionately about hip hop and breaking and the importance of teaching history alongside movements.
“It all came from poverty. It all came from struggle and from severe violence,” said Jared. “But it was flipped and turned into something beautiful, something extremely beautiful, and it’s now a worldwide movement.”
In fact, the movement is so worldwide that breaking will be an Olympic sport in 2024.
In pursuit of sharing and celebrating breaking and its history, the Hurds now open the studio to anyone interested in dancing with their crew during their Wednesday night practices.
“It’s a welcoming space for you to be creative with your movement,” said Shawny “C4” Neubecker, a b-girl with Vertical Ambition Crew.
“There’s no judgment,” she said. “We get so excited when people come out and take the floor who are maybe uncertain or unsure … we celebrate that.”
Neubecker went on to explain that breaking is a great way to feel supported by your community since it features a built-in sharing space called a “cypher”—the ring of breakers that forms around a performer.
“The cypher is a place of giving and receiving,” Neubecker said. “The person in the middle is giving, but they’re also receiving our energy and our love.”
Vertical Ambition Crew will be hosting their monthly breaking battle on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at FLI-City Studios starting at 7:30 p.m. for any interested breakers or spectators.
Otherwise, FLI-City’s open-breaking sessions are every Wednesday night from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.