Cir­cus Stu­dio’s fun ap­proach to fit­ness

In­tim­i­dated by the gym or just plain sick of it? Led by trapeze artist Adie De­laney, adult stu­dents at Kingston’s Cir­cus Stu­dio are tak­ing con­trol of their fit­ness with swirling silks and aerial hoops

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS PENNY McLEOD POR­TRAIT LUKE BOWDEN

When Kylie Dunn de­cided to give fly­ing trapeze a go, she was ner­vous. She’d never been “a gym kid” and wasn’t par­tic­u­larly sporty. “I couldn’t do gym­nas­tics or any­thing else,” she says. But hav­ing dreamt of fly­ing for years, and af­ter a year of “psych­ing” her­self up, she en­rolled in a two-day fly­ing trapeze work­shop in Mel­bourne.

“It wasn’t as suc­cess­ful as I’d hoped. I ended up with a catcher’s el­bow in my face and pretty bad bruises,” says Dunn, who at­tends Kingston Cir­cus Stu­dio’s weekly classes. “I now do static trapeze. We don’t swing or fly, but we do all sorts of tricks and move­ments. For me, it was about see­ing if I could do it and im­prov­ing my fit­ness.

“I’ve bro­ken my toe and had more bruises than you would care to imag­ine, but I love it. At the stu­dio, it’s a lovely, sup­port­ive group of peo­ple. It’s not like a gym where you feel judged. It’s a free­ing, sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment.”

Though there’s no sign of gym equip­ment in the Cir­cus Stu­dio on the top floor of the Kingston Sports Cen­tre, the par­tic­i­pants who’ve dropped in for this ca­sual, day­time class are dressed more like gym-go­ers than cir­cus per­form­ers.

A group of about six stretch on floor mats, be­fore try­ing var­i­ous tricks and strength­en­ing ex­er­cises on long silk rib­bons, which hang from the ceil­ing, and us­ing the static trapeze bar.

Adie De­laney, an in­ter­na­tional aerial artist who spe­cialises in fly­ing trapeze, opened the stu­dio two years ago, with the aim of teach­ing kids and adults how to use tra­di­tional cir­cus equip­ment, in­clud­ing trapeze, aerial silks, aerial hoops and jug­gling.

“My fo­cus is def­i­nitely on the phys­i­cal­ity of what we’re do­ing, and fit­ness,” she says. “For me, cir­cus has al­ways been a re­ally amaz­ing av­enue to fit­ness and well­be­ing, for men­tal well­be­ing as well be­cause there’s such a feel­ing of achieve­ment and suc­cess when you learn some­thing new.

“You have to face your fears, chal­lenge your pre­con­cep­tions of what you’re ca­pa­ble of, and al­most al­ways peo­ple exceed their own ex­pec­ta­tions of them­selves. And I find it’s re­ally great for their con­fi­dence.”

De­laney says learn­ing cir­cus skills helps build body strength and co-or­di­na­tion and pro­motes brain health.

“Strength is the No.1 ben­e­fit,” she says. “There’s not much that builds strength faster than hold­ing your own body weight. But it’s su­per-fan­tas­tic for spa­cial aware­ness and co-or­di­na­tion. Even hav­ing to think with your head be­low your feet is a mas­sive feat … when you’re on a trapeze or you’re on silks, you have to fo­cus, you have to bring your brain down to this one thing you’re con­cen­trat­ing on and the more you do, the bet­ter you get at it.”

She says she prefers teach­ing be­gin­ners, “be­cause you al­ways get that mo­ment when peo­ple re­alise they’re ca­pa­ble of more than they thought”.

There was an ex­cit­ing mo­ment at the stu­dio re­cently when 28-year-old Claire Tighe did three trapeze pull-ups/chin-ups for the first time. “That’s a hugely dif­fi­cult achieve­ment and it was bril­liant for so many rea­sons,” De­laney says. “I re­mem­ber hav­ing to learn pull-ups my­self and I re­mem­ber how hard it was and the amount of strength re­quired to lift your­self from hang­ing to over a bar.”

Be­fore join­ing the stu­dio, Tighe, a vet nurse, had done some anti-grav­ity yoga classes and gen­eral fit­ness train­ing. “This is in­tel­lec­tu­ally a lot more chal­leng­ing and de­mand­ing than run­ning on a tread­mill,” she says.

“You’re phys­i­cally and men­tally en­ter­tained and pushed. For some of the tricks, you re­ally have to be­lieve in your­self that you’re not go­ing to fall, or that you will catch your­self at the right time. There are things where you’re throw­ing your­self off with­out your hands and you have to know your legs will catch you at the right time.”

Stu­dio reg­u­lars in­clude pro­fes­sional cir­cus per­form­ers and teach­ers Robin God­frey and Felic­ity Hors­ley, who say learn­ing cir­cus skills al­lows peo­ple to en­gage with and strengthen their bod­ies in play­ful ways.

“It’s out­side of a gym mind­set of ex­er­cis­ing,” Hors­ley says. “It’s about mov­ing and con­di­tion­ing your body but through a more play­ful ap­proach. It’s also fun and emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing, es­pe­cially if you’re in the daily grind of a job.”

The at­mos­phere in the stu­dio is re­laxed when TasWeek­end vis­its. The small but com­fort­able space on the top floor is tucked away, over­look­ing var­i­ous gym courts, at the end of a se­ries of cor­ri­dors and stairs. Am­bi­ent com­pe­ti­tion noise doesn’t dis­tract De­laney’s stu­dents, who are prac­tis­ing their skills.

The fo­cus here is more on fit­ness than cir­cus theatre or per­for­mance, though there is scope for this, too, says De­laney, who grew up in Tas­ma­nia and trained in cir­cus arts in Mel­bourne be­fore tour­ing overseas as a trapeze artist.

“The idea we’d wear crazy cir­cus out­fits is pretty out­dated,” she says. “Yes, we wear cos­tumes to per­form, but as far as this com­mu­nity is con­cerned it’s not a mas­sive part of what we do. But we do use cos­tumes for cre­ative ex­plo­ration.

“Con­tem­po­rary cir­cus is huge now … there’s not nec­es­sar­ily a ring or glit­ter. But there’s nar­ra­tive, po­ten­tially plot, and it’s emo­tive and the­atri­cal. Peo­ple are us­ing cir­cus as a medium for much, much more.

“In terms of what we teach here at the com­mu­nity level, it’s work­ing to­wards that, and we have some younger 18- and 19-year-old stu­dents who are po­ten­tially work­ing to­wards it as a ca­reer, and we are ex­plor­ing the per­for­mance as­pects a lot fur­ther with them. We bring in the­atri­cal di­rec­tors to work with them as part of the youth cir­cus pro­gram, and that’s much more geared to­wards learn­ing per­for­mance as well.”

The age range of De­laney’s adult stu­dents is about 20 to late 40s, and she also runs classes for kids. In the fu­ture, she hopes to find a stu­dio space that’s big enough to teach fly­ing trapeze.

“We have a swing­ing trapeze here, which along with fly­ing trapeze is my spe­cialty, but it’s over in the [King­bor­ough Sports Cen­tre] gym be­cause the roof is too low here. And un­for­tu­nately, the roof is also too low here for a fly­ing trapeze, but it’s in my long-term plan to have one be­cause it’s one of the things I re­ally love teach­ing,” she says.

A youth aerial class (for ages eight and up) is held on Fri­days from 5-6.30pm. The next in­take for adult cir­cus classes is on Mon­day, Septem­ber 18. The Cir­cus Stu­dio is on the top floor at King­bor­ough Sports Cen­tre, Kingston. For book­ings, phone 6229 0900 or email adie@cir­cusstu­dio.net.au

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