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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org