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.”

Co-Owner of FLI-City Studios, Alisyn “ShorteeRoc” Hurd, breaks at the Vertical Ambition dance crew practice on Sept. 15, 2021. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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.

Ballet shoes are displayed on a shelf underneath Vertical Ambition Crew’s awards at FLI-City Studios on the west side of Flint, Mich. on Sept. 22, 2021. The dance studio prides itself on being accessible and affordable, so ballet shoes are available for dancers who may not have their own. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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.

Vertical Ambition Crew member Kiké Riera, 27, of Pontiac, practices a dance move at FLI-City Studios on the west side of Flint, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2021. The award-winning crew has members from across the state. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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.

Jalen Fobbs joins the Wednesday night dance session at FLI-City Studios on Sept. 15, 2021. Each Wednesday evening, the Vertical Ambition Crew holds practices open to the public so community members like Fobbs have a place to express themselves. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“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.”

Shawny “C4” Neubecker, dances with her crew Vertical Ambition, at FLI-City Studios on the west side of Flint, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2021. Neubecker has been dancing for the shortest amount of time in contrast to other crew members but has already ranked high at national competitions. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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.”

https://flintbeat.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/VerticalAmbition1-720WebShareName.mov
Members of the Vertical Ambition Crew and other dancers from the community take part in a Wednesday evening practice session at FLI-City Studios on Sept 22, 2021. The west side Flint, Mich. dance studio hosts the crew’s open practices every Wednesday evening. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

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.  

Matthew “GAM” Abraira, of Pontiac, Mich. dances with his crew, Vertical Ambition, at FLI-City Studios on the west side of Flint, Mich. on Sept. 15, 2021. FLI-City Studios was opened by Alisyn and Jared Hurd to create an accessible, affordable dance studio for the community. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)
Co-Owner of FLI-City Studios, Jared “J-aura” Hurd, spins on his head while b-boying at the Vertical Ambition Crew practice on Sept. 15, 2021. Hurd and his wife, Alisyn, opened the dance studio on the west side of Flint, Mich. to create an accessible, affordable, dance community.(KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Kate Stockrahm

Kate is Flint Beat's business and nonprofit reporter. She joins the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered...

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1 Comment

  1. WOWWW! How do you get to join this?? At 56, I can still breakdance. it’s so easy, U all! I will love dancing all my life because it is one of my passions. I have a dance background also and this helps a lot. vertical Ambition turned it out at the recent Franklin Avenue Mission FAM JAM. I wanted to be a member but they are not taking on new people yet. they should. How do I join?

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