Exercise in full swing
Rocky Mountain News (CO)
October 17, 2006
Author: Lisa Marshall, Special to the News
It's 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday in
Colorado's fitness mecca, and the hard bodies are out in force. Packs of
Lycra-clad cyclists are crowding the shoulder on U.S. 36, svelte marathoners
are circling the reservoir and the fitness center parking lots are filling up
But beneath the fluorescent lights in
a large studio at the Dairy Center for the Arts, Lisa Wood, a 41-year-old Smoky
Hill High School teacher, is opting for a more obscure route toward those
rock-hard abs and sculpted biceps.
upside-down by her knees, five feet off the ground, preparing to pull herself
up into a sitting position on her flying trapeze.
building muscle and you're not even thinking about it," says Wood,
red-faced but smiling widely as she slowly rises into a standing position atop
the hovering trapeze bar, her two spotters close by.
"And it's not
an isolated activity, which so much exercise is. You depend on each
Wood is among 18
students in Frequent Flyers Productions' beginning aerial dance class, a
five-week course open to anyone 10 and older who possesses a willingness to be
physically humbled and a dream of learning to fly.
The class is one of
roughly a dozen in the Denver/Boulder area that invite mere mortals to partake
in the circus and aerial arts that many presume can only be marveled at from a
seat in the audience at a Cirque du Soleil show.
aerial arts classes provide an excellent way to improve not only arm strength
but also core strength, balance and spinal flexibility.
Across town at the
Boulder Circus Center, a 3,000-square-foot school and training facility founded
in 2004, workaday folks roll in from their jobs on Tuesday evenings to take a
beginner class in "aerial fabric," airborne acrobatics performed
while partially wrapped in a 30-foot-long swath of cloth hanging from the
On Monday and Friday afternoons, schoolchildren work up a sweat practicing hand
balancing, Chinese pole, circus acrobatics and various high-flying feats. For
those looking for something completely different, there are occasional classes
in contortionism and tight-wire walking.
circus artist and gymnastics coach Monnya Silver recently began offering
beginning aerial fabric classes for adults and children at Evergreen Recreation
Center. And in Westminster, an informal club called the Imperial Flyers gets
together several times a week to swing and soar on the trapeze.
"It's becoming much more mainstream," says Cathy Gauch, who has
performed aerial arts for more than 18 years and now teaches at the Boulder
Circus Center. Gauch credits Cirque du Soleil with shifting the public
perception of "circus arts" from one of "death-defying
feats" and distasteful sideshows to one of impressive human athleticism
As aerial arts in
particular have begun to show up more in music videos, films and dance
productions, audience members have been tempted to try it.
of has that desire to fly," says Gauch.
To reach out to
even more of those people, Frequent Flyers Productions, an 18-year-old aerial
dance company, recently launched a new Wings of Steel class, designed for rank
beginners wanting to improve their core strength via exercises on the
low-flying trapeze and other aerial apparatus.
"To do a
pull-up on a chin-up bar is one thing, but doing a pull-up to get yourself off
the ground and flying is really inspirational," says Catherine Bedell, 41,
who will co-teach the class. "It doesn't feel like a fitness class."
Bedell, who runs an educational nonprofit, says she was 15 pounds overweight,
didn't exercise at all and had "zero" flexibility when, five years
ago, she looked skyward at an aerial dance performance and saw her road to
fitness before her.
strength, grace, beauty and flexibility, but it was all different ages and body
types," says Bedell. She joined a class within a week.
and running and all those little groups and clubs you could do, that seemed
really intimidating to me. This was something that not everyone was doing, so I
felt comfortable going in as a beginner."
Unlike a gym setting, where weight machines often use unnatural motions to
target specific muscles, students in aerial classes use their own body weight
To ensure safety,
exercises are initially kept low to the ground, and class-members help spot each
But make no
mistake, Cirque du Soleil makes it look easy.
The mere act of
pulling one's feet off the floor, slipping them up and over a trapeze bar and
hanging upside-down by the knees works micro-muscles in the arms and trunk that
the circuit workout at the gym misses. One attempt to climb a 30-foot-length of
aerial fabric can leave a newcomer's biceps and triceps burning and conjure
unpleasant childhood memories of that rope in the grade-school gym.
On the plus side,
there's nothing quite like a long, upside-down stretch from the bar of a
blood to the head and letting your skull hang free really opens up the
vertebrae," says Darden Longenecker, a Web-site designer and aerial dancer
who co-founded the Wings of Steel class. Slowly overcoming an often-innate fear
of heights also can do wonders for a person's self-esteem, instructors say.
And then there's
the fun factor.
During a recent
low-flying trapeze class at the Dairy Center, a diverse group of college
students, grade-school kids, dancers, businessmen and women all formed two
lines to practice what seemed to be the most joyful exercise of the day.
With one hand
clutching the trapeze bar and the other outstretched to the side, each new
aerialist took a turn running gazelle-like in wide, playful circles, feet
lifting off the ground every few steps.
Flight at last.
And they said it
was too late to run off and join the circus.