When Julie and Dan Witenstein first opened Arizona Sunrays Gymnastics & Dance Center, they gave themselves five years to make a go of it. Twenty-six years later, their business is flourishing and they will be moving to a new state-of-the-art gymnastics and dance facility next year.
“I was a gymnast in college, and had been coaching while in college as a way of making a little extra money,” Dan said. “I ended up building a passion and a love for the coaching side of it. Together, we wanted to create the kind of program that we thought gymnastics and advanced programs should be.”
Married just three years at the time, Julie, a former recreational gymnast and an actress, shared Dan’s vision. In 1990, they took over a closing business and the Arizona Sunrays Gymnastics & Dance Center was born.
“From the very start when we joined forces, we immediately wanted to become the most professional business of our kind,” Julie said.
This month, the Witensteins plan on breaking ground on their new 34,000-square-foot facility and move in by September. The new facility will be just a mile north of the center’s current location. With the new building, all of the center’s programs will be under one roof. As the center’s popularity and programs grew to include babies and toddlers, the Witensteins were forced to lease a second building in 2003 to accommodate their dance programs.
The new building, at 15801 N. 32nd St. in Phoenix, will sit on four acres and will provide more parking, more and larger viewing areas, a dedicated preschool room, a snack bar and more.
“We’re creating the ultimate training facility in gymnastics, dance rooms with natural light, more functional space for staff and green space with a courtyard,” Julie said.
The center will also add three more programs to its long list of activities: acrobatic gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling and aerial arts.
Last year, the Witensteins celebrated the center’s 25th anniversary with a party that brought together 200 people, many of them alumni of the center who flew in from around the nation.
“We just saw all the years flash before our eyes,” Julie said. “To see our former kids come to us as adults was an amazing feeling. We have some grandchildren of former students coming in. It will be bittersweet leaving this building with all its memories. But the new building is an exciting new chapter in the history of Arizona Sunrays Gymnastics & Dance Center.”
But not everything is changing. The dynamic partnership between Julie and Dan will continue as always – he coaches elite gymnasts and she handles the business side.
“That allows me to be out in the gym, which is what I love,” Dan said, adding that as a USA Gymnastics training facility, at least 40 of his former students have received college gymnastics scholarships and some have competed at the Junior Olympics or other elite international competitions.
As for the dance part of the Arizona Sunrays Gymnastics & Dance Center, as many as 400 youngsters take classes in tap, ballet, lyrical, modern, hip-hop, jazz and musical theater. Classes are available for adults as well.
The commitment the Witensteins make to their business and students is equally matched by their commitment to the greater community.
“We’ve always done some version of a scholarship since we began and we’ve had a more formal scholarship program in recent years,” Julie said. “We also donate classes to almost any organization that asks for them. We really don’t have a limit on how many we give. It’s just ingrained in who we are whether through our business or personally.”
The Witensteins also credit their longtime synagogue, Beth El Congregation, with supporting them during the center’s the early years.
“Some of the early demonstrations and shows we did to get our name out there were certainly at synagogues and eventually, of course, at Beth El,” Dan said.
Janet Perez is a freelance writer based in Phoenix.