Wrap, spin and drop your way into strength and fit­ness, writes ANGIE TOM­LIN­SON

The West Australian - - TODAY -

If you’ve ever walked away from a Cirque du Soleil spec­ta­cle, a Fringe show or even Pink’s lat­est con­cert in awe of the aerial skills, take heed: you can do that too. Well, maybe not all of us to a pro­fes­sional skill level, but al­most any­one can be up there spin­ning, wrap­ping and drop­ping and you don’t need a dance or gym­nas­tics back­ground to get there.

“There’s so many peo­ple that look at these shows . . . and say that would be cool — and I’d say you can learn it too,” Fan­tasy Fit­ness and Dance di­rec­tor Holly Gan­non says.

“We start at be­gin­ners, of course, and work our way up. Most of my stu­dents don’t have dance, gym­nas­tics and def­i­nitely not cir­cus back­grounds, so it’s all brand new.”

The night I visit, it isn’t im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous that “I can do it too” watch­ing Holly teach her most ad­vanced class — the silk per­for­mance course. The dancer in Holly is im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous as she stands hands on her hips, back arched, foot en pointe as­sess­ing her stu­dents.

Fol­low­ing a warm-up, Holly ditches her leg warm­ers be­fore as­cend­ing the two silks, ef­fort­lessly spin­ning, hang­ing up­side down and drop­ping be­fore pro­nounc­ing “any ques­tions” on the new chore­og­ra­phy. Um, yes I have a few. This is most def­i­nitely the ad­vanced class.

All the stu­dents in this class have been prac­tis­ing for at least two years, build­ing their strength and skill through Holly’s syl­labus. There’s a ca­ma­raderie through the stu­dents, an en­cour­ag­ing at­mos­phere the stu­dio has been built on.

Silks, two pieces of fab­ric sus­pended from the ceil­ing, is one of Holly’s favourite ap­pa­ra­tus. “It’s a lot of fun, a lot of strength, a lot of climb­ing, a lot of spin­ning, a lot of drop­ping,” she says. The stu­dio also of­fers lyra — a sus­pended hoop, and dare I say the more tra­di­tional pole danc­ing which make up the three big ap­pa­ra­tus for course pro­gres­sion from begin­ner to per­for­mance level.

Also on of­fer is stretch­ing, con­di­tion­ing, flex­i­bil­ity, strength, fit­ness and dance classes.

Holly says the aerial classes build great strength: “I find the big­gest im­prove­ment is in peo­ple’s core mus­cles, back mus­cles and their pos­ture, also with their flex­i­bil­ity and stretch­ing. It is a high re­sis­tance-type ac­tiv­ity and you are al­ways sup­port­ing your body weight in the air, so peo­ple do get much stronger through their joints and mus­cles.”

Holly set up the Wan­gara stu­dio eight years ago, ini­tially as a dance and fit­ness stu­dio us­ing her 18 years study­ing and teach­ing bal­let, as well as her ex­pe­ri­ence teach­ing jazz and tap, qual­i­fi­ca­tions in per­sonal train­ing and de­gree in nu­tri­tion. Ini­tially start­ing with pole danc­ing, she in­tro­duced aerial silks in 2012, which quickly caught on, be­fore adding lyra two years later.

Be­fore start­ing silks, she couldn’t find an in­struc­tor to teach her the skills to in­struct in Aus­tralia, so she ended up do­ing her coach­ing via Skype with an in­struc­tor in the US. Holly found the rec­om­mended syl­labus had the be­gin­ners’ first trick as climb­ing a silk.

“For my stu­dents, that’s not a first day kind of move — it’s dif­fi­cult, re­quires a lot of strength and is frus­trat­ing for your first les­son,” she says. Her so­lu­tion? De­velop her own syl­labus.

“Most of our stu­dents, when they first come in, think ‘I’ll never be able to do that; that looks re­ally scary. Do I have to climb on my first day?’ Ab­so­lutely not,” she says. Be­gin­ners level one re­quires no fit­ness, skill, ex­pe­ri­ence or strength level be­fore start­ing.

“We start at the floor, we don’t climb on the first day. It’s a real tech­nique-based and skills pro­gres­sion-based syl­labus. There are tiny lit­tle steps but stu­dents ac­tu­ally im­prove re­ally fast and get strong re­ally fast,” she says, adding ap­pa­ra­tus are op­er­ated on a pul­ley sys­tem, which al­lows any ap­pa­ra­tus to be low­ered close to the ground for ini­tial train­ing.

Crash mats are also used and there is one ap­pa­ra­tus per per­son, mean­ing lit­tle down­time for the mus­cles to cool down.

Holly has a con­ta­gious and un­lim­ited en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm. “Peo­ple come af­ter work and they’re like ‘hmph’, and I’m like ‘c’mon ev­ery­body’ and then they get ex­cited because it’s silk time, or poledanc­ing time — time for some­thing fun. My stu­dents also bring a lot of en­ergy into the stu­dio, which is great because when I teach I give them a lot of ev­ery­thing, but then they give it back.”

Pic­ture: Nic El­lis

Teach­ers at Fan­tasy Fit­ness and Dance in Wan­gara are, left to right, Tania Walpole, Priscilla Yuen, Holly Gan­non, Sarah Bor­lase and Jonathan Wear­ing.

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