Alternative fitness performers come to First Night

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | 6:30 p.m. CST; updated 9:37 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 28, 2010

COLUMBIA — Hula-hoopers, fire-spinners, a juggler and more are set to give audiences a view into the world of alternative fitness at Columbia's First Night celebration Friday.

“There has been national attention on alternative fitness, and I wanted to support that,” said Jane Accurso, the technical and entertainer director of First Night.

Want to go?

When: Dec. 31, 2010

Time: 5K Run/Walk at 4:00 p.m.; doors for the evening event open at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Downtown Columbia. See map for details.

Price: Admission buttons purchased prior to event are $8 for ages 8+; $10 on the night of the event

Button Admission Locations: First Christian Church, 101 N. Tenth St.; First Presbyterian Church, 16 Hitt St.; Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.; City Hall, 701 E. Broadway 

Shuttle and Parking: Columbia Transit buses run from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; parking garages at Sixth, Eighth, Tenth and Cherry, and Eighth and Walnut will be open; streets around the courthouse closed during fireworks display

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First Night is Columbia's alcohol-free New Year's Eve celebration. The 16th annual celebration includes more than 60 performers and activities at different downtown locations. First Night kicks off with a 5K Run/Walk at 4 p.m. and ends with a midnight fireworks show outside the Boone County Courthouse.

“All year around I keep a very close eye on the creative movement nationally, seeing what is of interest to people,” said Accurso, who works on the event throughout year.

As Accurso planned, two main themes unfolded, she said. The event's activities and performances are centered on "alternative fitness fun" and "a girls' night out."

The St. Louis Hoop Club, Fire Good Productions and "Juggling J" are scheduled to perform at First Night as part of the alternative fitness theme.

St. Louis Hoop Club

Michelle Schaeffer, who formed the the St. Louis Hoop Club in 2008, started hooping about two years ago after seeing a friend do it using a homemade LED hula-hoop.

“I thought it was just the most amazing thing, and I had to learn how to do it,” Schaeffer said.

The group focuses on hula-hoop dance education and performance in the St. Louis area.

This will be the first year Schaeffer and her group perform at Columbia’s First Night.

“It is amazing for people of all ages and just makes people feel good,” she said of hula-hoop dancing.

Accurso agrees.

“I think hula hooping is so fun. I’ve been wanting to get hula-hoopers for about three years now; I just couldn’t find an organized troupe,” Accurso said. “We have great hoopers around here but when I talked to them, they said they weren’t ready to do a performance. I did research and found the St. Louis Hoop Club.”

Schaeffer said the group hopes to involve the crowd.

“We are bringing extra hoops. For our more casual performances, we have more of an interactive aspect with the LED hoops,” she said. “We’re looking forward to having a great time with the kids and families.”

Fire Good Productions

Andrew Johnson and Matthew Christ started Fire Good Productions, a Columbia based fire-spinning troupe, in 2007. The group has five full-time performers and two prospects, Johnson said.

“(Fire-spinning) could be thought of as yoga or meditation,” Johnson said. “It benefits you a lot more than you think it would as far as physical fitness.”

This will be the second consecutive year the group has performed at First Night.

“More often than not we perform at things like music festivals and city events,” Johnson said.

Preparation for this year's event took a little longer than most performances because of a piece specially choreographed for the event, Johnson said.

“It’s eclectic. It’s something you won’t see very often,” he said.

Although fire-spinning can be viewed as a form of meditation and is calming to some, it is still a dangerous craft, Johnson said.

“There’s always the danger of something bad happening, so it always makes us nervous, but we’re always excited to be a part of any performance,” he said. The group has had no accidents in its three years, Johnson said.

“It is professional, but relaxed. Enjoyable but safe,” he added.

Juggling J

Jason Hollandsworth, or “Juggling J,” is a Columbia juggler and joggler scheduled to perform at First Night. Joggling combines long-distance running and juggling.

Hollandsworth competed at the International Jugglers’ Association Festival and placed in a number of events including the 400-meter dash, 100-meter dash and relays.

He started in juggling in 2003 and has been dedicated ever since.

“My wife got me a gift card for Barnes and Noble and I couldn’t find any books among their five million books,” Hollandsworth said. “But I found the 'Great Juggling Kit.' It had three juggling balls and an instruction book. I opened it up that same day and learned that day too.”

Hollandsworth has participated in a number of festivals, birthday parties and a few corporate shows, but this is the first time he will perform at First Night. He plans to accompany the Columbia Track Club in the First Night 5K Run/Walk.

“I may not go as fast as some of the other guys, but I plan to joggle the whole time,” Hollandsworth said.

Hollandsworth said he will also be doing a one-hour stroll, juggling and interacting with others at the First Night event.

"I just always enjoy seeing people's reactions and the excitement in the kids' faces," Hollandsworth said.

Although they may not all understand it, Hollandsworth’s family members are supportive of his juggling.

“My wife thinks I’m a big geek with the juggling and joggling, but I still really enjoy it and I don’t mind being a geek,” he said.

A complete listing of performers can be found on First Night’s website.

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