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GYMNASTICS : Power Play : Simi Valley's Imagymnation is a place where youngsters can release all that pent-up energy.

August 06, 1992|AURORA MACKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most parents have probably mused more than once about the riches that would be theirs if only they could find a way to bottle their kids' energy. If offered in pill form--or perhaps some sweet-tasting powder that could be mixed with fruit juice--most grown-ups would pay a fortune for it.

After all, think of all the things they could do:

They could race around their buildings on their coffee breaks. And hula hoop while fixing dinner. And protest after the nightly news that there was just too much fun stuff to do around the house for it to be bedtime.

And the more tired they got, the more ferocious would be their energy.

Of course, being powered by kid-energy would have its downside. People would need a place to go to uncoil their inner springs. A place where they could have fun, but also get plenty of exercise.

A place like Imagymnation in Simi Valley.

Begun 12 years ago as a small site where children could learn the fundamentals of gymnastics in a fun, non-threatening and non-competitive environment, Imagymnation today takes up an entire warehouse just a block north of Los Angeles Avenue. Here the boundless energy of kids gets a run for its money.

Although visitors are immediately struck by a swirl of bright neon colors--such as red and blue "doughnut" mats that help kids learn back flips, or yellow foam rubber "cheese wedges" that help them do forward rolls--it's difficult to ignore Imagymnation's other features.

There's a wall-to-wall bouncing floor, made up of 2,000 foam-covered springs. An oversize fisherman's net that can be stretched from ceiling to floor so kids can scamper up and honk a horn at the top. A wood "treehouse' that kids can climb through. A cable with a small pulley that lets kids sail from one end of the room to the other. A net-enclosed trampoline that is carpeted at the edges for extra safety. Parallel bars. And even a small roller coaster.

Imagymnation, however, is not to be confused with an amusement park. Kids here are getting exercise--and learning gymnastics--under the guise of just having fun.

They also are gaining self-esteem.

"Most kids don't do this because they are going to compete," said owner Steve Greely, who taught gymnastics at several facilities in the San Fernando Valley before starting this program. Here, he decided to focus on what he called the "missing ingredient" in many children's gymnastics programs.

Classes are held for different age groups on different days. Children also are separated into groups based on their ability, so that no child is made to feel less skilled than another. Imagymnation also teaches several classes for handicapped children.

Instructors--many of them "graduates" of Imagymnation classes they took when they were younger--sound like a cross between teachers and cheerleaders.

"Hey, that's GREAT!!" said one instructor to a group of 4- to 6-year-old girls as they stretched a "snake" (a rope) on the ground and reached down to touch it.

"Now, can you keep your legs straight and make your big toes kiss at the same time?" the instructor asked. The girls giggled.

In another part of the facility, instructor Joel Eisel, 20, was leading a class of 10- to 12-year-old boys in back rolls and springboard jumps.

"You got it!" he said to one boy, who landed perfectly after leaping from a wedge-shaped board and then went into a front roll. "You remembered to tuck with the roll!"

A few feet away, a group of 9- to 12-year-old girls was skipping across a balance beam, followed by forward rolls down a mat.

"I've been coming for five or six years," said Jolene Uskali, 11, "and I've gotten a lot better. They're always saying things like, 'Good job' and 'Nice going.' It's fun."

Oh, the disadvantages of being a grown-up.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Imagymnation Gymnastics Center, 4685 E. Industrial St., Simi Valley, offers classes for adults and children from age 12 months. Four weekly, one-hour classes cost $39. Daily hours of operation vary. For information, call 581-4496.

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