A new yoga

Cir­cus-in­spired fit­ness a mod­ern twist in evolv­ing move­ment.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TAMSYN BURGMANN

Just ahead of cir­cus artist An­dra­lyn Zayn’s de­but on the bungee trapeze, she mis­com­mu­ni­cated with a tech­ni­cian in dress re­hearsal and did a dou­ble-front flip straight into the bar.

Emer­gency room doc­tors didn’t di­ag­nose a con­cus­sion, so she hauled her headache back to the venue and slathered on enough makeup to hide the cylin­der-shaped bump on her fore­head.

“There are no breaks, and your body isn’t your own,” said Marissa Gough, 33, one of Zayn’s cir­cus part­ners.

“I have done shows where I’ve gone, vom­ited my guts out, got up, put my cos­tume on, went on to stage - ‘Lahhh!’ And then went back out to vomit more.”

Both per­form­ers fol­low the mantra that “the show must go on,” but their ath­letic art form and its prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion has evolved since ele­phants and sparkling out­fits were king un­der the Big Top.

Gough, Zayn, and her hus­band, Duane Steel, run a troop called De­fly­ing Fit­ness and travel across Canada and in­ter­na­tion­ally train­ing par­tic­i­pants in cir­cus-in­spired phys­i­cal feats for ex­er­cise and to im­prove ac­ro­batic skills.

The team is in Van­cou­ver un­til the end of Fe­bru­ary hold­ing work­shops and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cour­ses rang­ing from ba­sic hand­stands and flex­i­bil­ity to aerial strength and ac­ro­batic con­di­tion­ing.

Zayn, 32, de­scribes their styl­ized fit­ness classes as “the next yoga,” not­ing par­al­lels with pop­u­lar train­ing meth­ods such as CrossFit, park­our, pole danc­ing and bel­ly­danc­ing.

“It’s find­ing new ways that you can stay phys­i­cally fit with­out hav­ing to do the same old reg­u­lar gym stuff,” said Zayn, while stretch­ing on the floor of a Van­cou­ver gym.

“And once you have eaten your veg­eta­bles, then you get your dessert and you get to play with your spe­cial­ity.”

Gough said train­ing can be adapted to any­one’s abil­i­ties, but it is founded on rigour and dis­ci­pline. All cer­ti­fi­ca­tion cour­ses are rec­og­nized as con­tin­u­ing education cred­its.

“We’re fix­ing what the In­ter­net has ru­ined in peo­ple’s hand­stands, or the peo­ple who learned from peo­ple who shouldn’t be teach­ing,” she said.

Cir­cus-in­spired fit­ness may ap­pear niche, but its prac­ti­tion­ers be­long to a larger, next-level move­ment with es­tab­lished roots in Canada that has gen­er­ated spinoffs.

A trend in­clud­ing hun­dreds of cir­cus schools, troops and off­shoot ven­tures emerged from the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of Cirque du Soleil, a world-fa­mous en­ter­tain­ment com­pany that orig­i­nated in Mon­treal, said a spokesman for Canada’s largest cir­cus school.

“I’d think that within the last 10 years we saw that grow­ing slowly but surely,” said Christophe Rousseau, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Ecole na­tionale de cirque.

“As much as the cir­cus act and the ac­tiv­ity of cir­cus is pop­u­lar, we are all very happy.”

Mod­ern cir­cus puts a pre­mium on hu­mans and the dis­play of seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble acts, de­vel­op­ing sto­ries and char­ac­ters over con­tro­ver­sial an­i­mals stunts.

Pop cul­ture has also vaulted the elite medium into the main­stream. The 2008 al­bum “Cir­cus” by Brit­ney Spears and su­per­star Pink’s aerial dance at con­certs have spurred recre­ational en­thu­si­asts to learn the ropes. Rousseau be­lieves that con­tem­po­rary cir­cus is still in its in­fancy, with am­ple prospects to grow, but ad­vised rook­ies to take pre­cau­tions for their safety.

He said young peo­ple are as at­tracted as ever to join­ing show busi­ness, be­liev­ing their ef­forts are worth the po­ten­tially ex­hil­a­rat­ing life­style.

Ter­rence Drake, 32, has made a name for him­self as an in­de­pen­dent fire en­ter­tainer and per­for­mance art spin­ner.

“It’s part of the ‘love your work, fol­low your dreams’ stuff that all the kids are do­ing,” said Drake, who re­cently re­tired af­ter per­form­ing across Canada and the United States for years.

“I hated my of­fice job. So I quit and started my own busi­ness and lit my face on fire for peo­ple to clap - and rode the high for most of a decade. There’s a lot pack­aged in that dream of run­ning away with the cir­cus. All those prom­ises are ac­tu­ally there, for the lucky few.”

Pas­sion was the com­mon mo­ti­va­tor at the gym last Satur­day where De­fly­ing Fit­ness was teach­ing a group of fo­cused stu­dents the tech­nique for im­pec­ca­ble hand­stands. Par­tic­i­pant Levi Kolodzie­jak, 36, said he used to lift weights, but found body­build­ing “su­per bor­ing.” He dis­cov­ered cir­cus-in­spired ex­er­cise was a bet­ter fit.

“I’m not go­ing to de­vote my en­tire life to it, like they do for cir­cus per­for­mance. But I can take pieces to en­hance my phys­i­cal fit­ness,” said Kolodzie­jak, be­fore kick­ing both legs up against a wall in the gym he op­er­ates.

“And then for my clients, I can take cer­tain pieces and help them achieve their goals.”


An­dra­lyn Zayn teaches Marissa Gough how to prop­erly do a hand­stand dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion at De­fly­ing Fit­ness in Van­cou­ver last week.

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