Many a New Year’s resolution is centered around fitness. If you have any doubt, just look at any store ad during the month of January: all workout related gear is on sale. There are a lot of great forms of exercise out there, but if you’re looking for something adventurous, look to the big top. That’s right- think circus! I first learned circus skills 13 years ago, and I’m still obsessed. Some skills you can learn on your own, while others you’ll need special instruction and equipment.
Circus arts provide a variety of skills while working your whole body. For busy moms, a single activity that encourages flexibility, strength, and endurance while also building muscle and ramping up your heart rate almost seems too good to be true. You have to be daring to try it, but circus really does provide a fun and worthwhile workout.
Choosing an Art
But what can you do? First, choose ground or aerial arts. Ground circus arts include low tight wire and balancing (also called acro-yoga, this particular activity requires more than one person. So if you’re super close with your girlfriends, call them up! It’s a great trust building exercise). Tight wire is all about balance, so you engage your core and work your legs while learning the skills. Balancing/acro-yoga is something you may already do to a small degree: if you’ve ever ‘flown’ your kids on your feet while laying on your back, you’ve done acro-yoga.
If you want to work on improving your balance before hitting a circus locale to try your hand at the real deal, there are a lot of yoga poses that promote balance. I’d also encourage simple stretching to increase flexibility; the wider range of motion you can achieve, the greater variety of skills you can learn.
Aerial circus arts are my personal favorite. Trapeze, silks/fabric, and lyra are the primary apparatus used in aerial circus. You may already be daydreaming about swinging across a chasm with only a net below you (or perhaps being frightened of the same thing!). There are several different types of trapeze, and although flying trapeze is the most popular, it’s also the most difficult. The large equipment makes it hard to find a place that teaches it. Static, or stationery, trapeze is more about strength and agility. It’s very graceful; like a mid-air dance.
There are different types of static trapeze. One of the wonderful things about circus is the freedom and creativity it encourages. You can even have multiple people working together on a single trapeze. I recommend beginning with a double point trapeze, like the picture below, as it doesn’t spin. Trapeze is great exercise because it requires strength, works multiple muscle groups at a time, and still allows the flyer to adapt the poses to their own flexibility and strength at the time. Plus, imagine the look on your kid’s faces when you tell them you’re a trapeze artist!
Silks, also called fabrics, is a great learning apparatus. The apparatus itself is made of a long piece of fabric, rigged to create two flowing fabric wings to work within. Beginners use a knot in the fabric to help support you, which gives you time to develop the endurance and flexibility to excel at it. Like trapeze, it’s a very graceful art. It’s also going to work your arms, core, and legs. As you learn new skills, you build strength that allows you to learn more complicated skills. Since skills piggyback off of one another, you’re motivated to increase your strength and improve your flexibility to continue learning!
Lyra is similar to trapeze, but looks like a hula hoop suspended in the air. The skills learned on trapeze and fabrics are often adaptable to those performed on lyra. Lyra can be static, like trapeze, or it can spin or swing.
Trying it Out
Are you interested in giving the circus a chance? You don’t have journey far away to learn these skills; there’s a studio that teaches circus right here in Knoxville! Dragonfly Aerial Arts teaches a variety of classes year round. They have static trapeze, fabrics, lyra, and acro-yoga classes for adults. If you aren’t sure what apparatus you want to try, they offer a try-me class for only $20! They emphasize that circus is for every body, and circus skills are adaptable based on current fitness level.
Kids’ classes and camps are available here as well. Last summer, my three year old took their Kids’ Circus class. He worked on tumbling, trapeze, fabrics, early juggling skills, and balance training. For older kids, the classes include unicycling, clowning, tight wire, juggling, and stilt walking.