Men of Iberville: Dance with a local scholar and football standout

Zachary Junda
Anri Stewart with Get Ready to Sweat dancers.

Anri Stewart is a man of many talents, slogans, and tattoos, and he has a personality as big as his smile.

Stewart was born in White Castle but moved to Plaquemine at age 12. He's been a fixture in Iberville Parish his entire adult life, launching one of the fastest growing fitness studios, Get Ready to Sweat, last July. Get Ready to Sweat offers classes focused on body enhancement through dance. Stewart's studio is set up on Meriam Street, and the venue gets its class participants moving to the music of zydeco, jigg and bounce, and hip hop.

"It's a workout group that we do a lot of different working out to different dance styles," Stewart said Monday afternoon inside his studio. "I pick dance styles and I add those dance moves with some workout moves and we make a routine. So, you can learn some moves while you go out and party and you can get fit and dance and have fun."

Stewart teaches two classes a day. Sometimes the classes are held on Meriam Street, sometimes they're at the Carl F. Grant Civic Center. Get Ready to Sweat has caught on so much that sometimes they pack out the center. On average each class has anywhere from 20 to 50 participants. The work can't be done alone though, so Stewart relies on Mallory Thompson-Quinn, a partner instructor, and Kaitlin Morales-Daigle, a manager handling the business end of things.

Launching a fitness studio was right up Stewart's alley. Stewart described himself as a "nerd' growing up, heavily involved in academics and other school clubs. He loves math and got to skip seventh grade math. He was the only one in his class taking calculus his senior year of high school. But that nerd eventually found himself on the football field playing linebacker for Nicholls State University while also graduating with an accounting degree.

He got his start in football as a sophomore at Plaquemine High School. Stewart recalls he caught the coach's eye playing flag football one day during P.E., and the coach encouraged him to try out for the team. Stewart needed his dad's permission before trying out. The deal was that as long as he kept his grades up, he could play. Stewart not only kept his grades up, he graduated fourth overall in his high school class and was a National Honor Roll Student. He was pretty good on the football field too, being named to the All-Parish and All-District teams his junior and senior years.

"It actually turned out to be something great," Stewart said. "I was good at it. I started my first year out, and it went into my senior year. I did some great things. My senior year I actually was the number one student-athlete in the area."

That Stewart played and excelled at linebacker is amazing because Stewart doesn't have a mean bone in his body. And only weighing 175 pounds, he was admittedly a "little stick." Yet on the field he was a force. As a senior in high school he recorded 126 tackles and 11 sacks. At Nicholls State, he recorded 77 tackles over the course of three seasons. But playing linebacker is the defensive equivalent of playing quarterback, and Stewart's smarts made him the perfect choice to get his teammates lined up.

"My coach told me, 'I see the leadership,'" Stewart said. "'The linebackers are pretty much the quarterbacks on defense. I needed you there, I know you can handle it. You got the physical attribute for it. You're underweight, but you'll make up for it in other areas.'"

Stewart had a variety of colleges he could've gone to after graduating from Plaquemine. Rice University offered him a full scholarship. LSU and Texas offered partial scholarships. But deciding to travel 67 miles south to Nicholls was influenced heavily by his mother. Stewart got full academic and athletic scholarships from Nicholls. And, as he joked, he was close enough to home where "mom could put hands on me if she needed to."

Stewart's football career was cut short going into his senior year of school. Stewart's parents were incarcerated for four years, and Stewart, the oldest of three siblings, had to leave school and take care of his brother and sister.

"I went from a spoiled brat to becoming a man pretty much overnight," Stewart said. "I had to pretty much hop in (my parent's) shoes and make sure bills got paid. I had to make sure my little brother got everything he needed for graduation and make sure my little sister stayed on the right path to graduating. All from living college life, going to play football--all that's taken away to coming to work a 9 to 5 just to make sure my brother and sister can make it."

Stewart's parents got out of jail three years ago, and he feels the time away actually brought them closer together. Stewart said it got him out of, what he calls "survival mode." Getting out of survival mode goes along with another company Stewart launched called Brothers Helping Brothers. In Brothers Helping Brothers, Stewart and other men in the Plaquemine area go out and minister to children in the community.

Brothers Helping Brothers isn't the only outreach program Stewart and his studio is involved in. Get Ready to Sweat got in contact with a group called One Blood. It's a group that says no matter the skin color, people in a society all bleed the same color blood.

"We're all the same color underneath," Stewart said. "We're all red. It brings different ethnic backgrounds and different religions all into one big place. They all come together and have a worship experience. We all love God and we all bleed red."

Faith drives Stewart. He grew up in church thanks to his parents, and because of his faith he has a slogan: "I don't look like what I've been through." Stewart’s experienced more than he lets on. He almost lost his life not long after he was born. When he turned 10, a spot was discovered on his brain that caused seizures. A year later, he fell on his back and was diagnosed with scoliosis. But through all that, Stewart never lost his faith.

"Through it all, God prevailed," Stewart said. "Everything I've been through is to get me here. And I'm here with a smile."

Stewart loves math and playing football, but dance may be his biggest passion. He got into dancing through a group called God's Creation. It's a group centered around the church that would sing, dance, and act in plays. Stewart got involved in God's Creation because his father, Henry, is a gospel singer.

"I've never been a technical dancer where I took classes and did performances," Stewart said, "I just like being the life of the party. When music comes on and we're at a party, I like to dance."

Stewart has seen and done it all. He's a former athlete, a businessman working towards his CPA, and a musician. He cuts his own hair despite having a father and brother being barbers and taught himself how to fix his own car. The only thing he can't do is write with his left hand, and even then he's certain he could do it if he practiced enough. That mindset goes along with another mindset his parents instilled in him when he was younger.

"You can do it, but how bad do you want to do it?" Stewart likes to say. "You can do anything you want, but that ain't the question. The question is how bad do you want to do it? If you really want to do it bad enough, you're gonna get it done."

Anri Stewart's past and present makes him stand out in Iberville Parish. He used to tattoo opposing players on the football field, now he has a sleeve of tattoos symbolizing peace on his right arm. He grew up singing and dancing in the church. Now he uses music to better the lives of others at Get Ready to Sweat. His story is as long as it is fascinating, and he is chock full of slogans.

But one slogan best encapsulates Stewart's purpose: "It's always a blessing just to be a blessing," Stewart said. "If I'm known as that, if they can remember that, I feel God will say 'job well done my good and faithful servant' when I go up top to him."