NEW PORT RICHEY
As the blazing sun fell behind a clouded horizon, the arms of two dozen people shot into the air as they took in a breath of yoga ecstasy.
The free yoga class on Tuesday evening was the first part of a multiphase initiative by the city's Cultural Affairs Committee to revitalize historic areas of the town by developing downtown's Cavalaire Square into a gathering place for classes and community events.
"This square was created to recognize New Port Richey's relationship with its sister city, Cavalaire sur Mer in France, and we want to see it used," said committee chair Derek Smith. "It's a nice place but it's in such a weird spot, so we want to make sure people know about it. Our next phase is to work on some ornamental lighting for it and signage."
The committee has been working on the idea for a while, but it wasn't until July 21 that they were able to clean up the square, remove old vegetation and plant new Drake Elm trees, which the city provided. The plan is to create a multipurpose outdoor urban setting that residents can use as a forum for community engagement.
"You don't see this type of thing really in this region," Smith said. "We want to do some things like record swaps, a regular yoga class like this, some classical music sessions, basically anything that will make this square a popular place for community gatherings."
Tuesday's yoga hour, hosted by local yoga instructor Jackie Loudakis, fits the cultural aspect of what the committee hopes to achieve.
For local residents, it was a chance to get out and try something new. New Port Richey's David Steese, 29, has participated in yoga classes before, but the outdoor setting of Tuesday's class was an improvement over studio yoga.
"I've been to five or six other classes but I like this better because it's outdoors," Steese said. "Even though it's hotter, this is a big plus. It's better just to be out in nature breathing fresh air."
Alyssia Lindsay, an 8-year-old from St. Petersburg who is spending a few weeks here with her grandmother, came to experience yoga for the first time.
"I like yoga," Alyssia said. "Everything about it was fun."