"When you really love it, you don’t care about what people say. It’s what they leave with. It’s the true trait for an artist."
Tina Thompson is a growing force in the contemporary dance world of New York City with her Skin Dance Company. The company features a mix of professional and amateur dancers, but has a growing following in the super- competitive world of modern dance.
But that's not how I came to discover Tina Thompson. It was through her now-legendary fitness classes. Thompson teaches at 24-Hour Fitness and Crunch. Her classes are packed and have become infamous for their rigorousness and toughness. I can attest to the difficulty. I've never had a better workout, and Thompson is a demanding teacher. Her classes are not for the faint of heart. In fact, she has ignited much debate in the fitness world.
It is her unique background in dance that makes her fitness classes such an intense workout.
Tina Thompson was discovered fairly late for a professional dancer. She was ten years old before she went to her first dance class.
But Thompson told me she's been a performer since she was five years old, "My mother knew something wasn't right. When I was singing Frank Sinatra in the morning.. not normal for a black child. I didn't know. When his music came on I felt happy. I would get a kick out of it."
Thompson may have come late to the dance world, but she was quickly picked out for her innate talent and her nerves of steel.
By the time she was in her early teens, Thompson was dancing in a company in New York City. In fact, Tina told me she skipped her high school prom in order to dance. She knew then it was a calling.
While still in high school Tina was dancing with two of the most important companies in the world. Thompson danced with the Alvin Ailey company and with a Martha Graham ensemble. Tina told me she was going to school, dancing five nights during the week and weekends, and getting very little sleep. She even got to work alongside the renowned Martha Graham. (Graham died in 1991)
Eventually Thompson got a scholarship to attend the prestigious Juilliard School.
While dancing at Juilliard, Tina found work as a fitness instructor at a New York Sports Club on the Upper West Side. Tina incorporated some of her dance moves into fitness routines and attendance at her classes exploded.
Thompson said, "Those worlds weren’t supposed to be meshed. Every dancer wants to teach now."
She says putting dance moves into a fitness classes was unheard of then - in the early 1990's. And it was controversial. But it didn't matter. Gym-goers couldn't get enough.
She became something of a phenomenon in the New York Fitness world. Tina started to really gain notoriety with step classes.. even picking up the nickname "Diva."
Eventually she gave up dancing to teach full time. She said that's where she found herself. Thompson told me "I wanted my voice to be heard. In the fitness field, I got happy. I would get high off watching people feel as if they were on the stage."
And over the past 20 years Thompson's list of classes and loyal students has expanded dramatically. She hosts fitness boot camp weekends where she drags out her alternate persona "Sergeant Diva," and hosts intensive 3-day dance and fitness marathons.
Tina has also developed several branded classes including "Legendary Step", "Buff Diva Workout", "Body Wrapp" and "Lyrical."
Thompson also has a long and trophy-laden history with the Ms Fitness world.
But her real push right now is the dance company.. "My dream is for Broadway," Tina said, "to bring the SKIN Dance Company to Broadway. I’m in the process of writing a show called “Amethyst” The Purple Planet. That’s my baby. There’s going to be a lot at this year’s show."
Thompson is raising money for the dance company and a behind-the-scenes web series about her dance company.
- Clint Henderson