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Waterside tai chi classes

Tai chi participants slow down to pursue balance inside and out

From far away, they look like dancers in slow motion. It isn't until you join them in the pavilion that you realize there's no music.

They stare at the water in silence. In front of them, a pelican dives for breakfast in the Intracoastal.

Sandie and Frank Arthur of Largo, along with Judy Perlow of Seminole, breathe in unison. They stretch their arms, bend their knees, kneel forward and turn. They start the process again.

At 8 a.m. every Friday, three to six students follow Nate Patterson down Bonner Park's boardwalk to the water's edge. It is here, with the shorebirds' splashes as the only noise, that the small group practices tai chi.

Patterson, who also teaches at Oom Yung Doe Martial Arts School on Walsingham Road, has a roster of students ranging from elementary age to seniors in their 80s.

"Different ages and levels can do the class at the same time,'' Patterson said. "We usually start out with a pace set by the most advanced in the class, but as it goes on, individuals find their own rhythm.''

About a year ago, Largo recognized there was an interest in an outdoor setting for tai chi classes, said Barb Stalbird, a program coordinator and nature park specialist for the city. "We knew people would love the spot in the mangroves at the water's edge,'' she said.

Frank Arthur struggles with a misaligned shoulder and a torn hamstring. He was hesitant before joining the class in the spring. "Sandie had been enjoying tai chi off and on for four years, and my doctor encouraged me to try it with her,'' the 75-year-old said.

As Patterson leads the class through another series of movements, he reminds them of the balance they are attaining.

Tai chi is an exercise that goes back to ancient China. "Keep doing tai chi, and you will gradually learn to move more lightly, both inside and out,'' the teacher said.

Patterson became interested in tai chi as a youth, watching Kung Fu movies on television. "I began to learn about Buddhist monks and the strength found with martial arts,'' he said. "As an adult, it's now what I do for a career.''

As a visitor approached the group in their weekly routine, she apologized for causing any disruption. Patterson nodded. "It's okay. The class needs to keep in mind that Bonner is a great place with the fresh oxygen and quiet, but even in a loud big place like New York City, you see people outside doing tai chi. It's about finding a quiet place within. That's what it is all about.''

If you go

What: Waterside tai chi classes • When: 8 to 9 a.m. Friday • Where: John R. Bonner Nature Park, 14444 143rd St. N, Largo. • For information: Call 518-3047

Cost: $4 residents with Largo recreation card; $5 nonresidents with Largo recreation card; $8 for those without card. Payment is due at class time. No advance registration is required.

Tai chi participants slow down to pursue balance inside and out 05/26/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 9:29pm]

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