Have you ever wanted to run away and join the circus? You totally can! And take it from me, it is everything you had hoped for. Check out my latest adventure in exercise and find out what I learned when I went to circus school at Cirque School LA.
Have you ever seen Cirque du Soleil? Or, you know, that aerial thing that Pink did with fabric that one time? Or, maybe like me, you have memories of the circus and those gorgeous guys and gals flying and spinning through the air on the trapeze. I've always been fascinated by aerial tricks and performers. So, when one of my friends told me she attended classes at Cirque School LA and was learning the art herself, I knew I had to try.
According to Aloysia Gavre, founding director of Cirque School LA, "The hardest part about circus school is walking through the red door." And she's right. The pretty, red front door of Cirque School doesn't look too scary. But, even though I was super excited to find out what was behind it, I found myself weirdly terrified. What if I fell? What if people yelled at me or thought I was lame? What if I couldn't do anything? What if I failed? But seeing as I had a job to do for OA, I headed in despite the cold fear-sweat that darkened the pits of my hoodie.
The greeting you get when you walk in pushes all that fear aside. The entire staff is friendly, welcoming, helpful, and supportive. You are often reassured that people of ALL abilities are welcome. I immediately felt super jazzed to get out there when I looked around the room. Colorful scarves hung down in front of low and high trapezes. Professional-looking people tumbled and swung and balanced upside down on stands using only one hand, their legs gracefully splitting and coming together with seemingly zero effort.
I was signed up for the Aerial 101 class and had hopes of dangling from a hoop or something by the end of class. But after a warm-up, our unbelievably excellent and fun instructor, Lauren, told us to grab some hanging fabric and get ready to climb. The regular students wrapped the fabric around their ankles and shimmied up to the rafters in a hot minute. Jump back! Over the next hour, I went from this:
And it was truly an experience. During the fabric portion of the class, I learned how to climb and hang on long sturdy pieces of fabric attached to the ceiling. I learned how to lock my foot into the fabric and hang to the side. I learned that my upper body strength could really use some work, especially my core. If your core is strong, you can gracefully lift your legs and swing from one place to the next. If it's weak, you end up flinging your trembling limbs about trying to find a good place to secure your body, like a wet dog trying to scramble out of a bathtub.
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Next up was the trapeze. The trapezes we were working on were only about three feet off of the ground. But when it was my turn to try, I stood in front of the bar, unable to grab it and swing my knees over. I just stared at the thing, immobile with fear.
Without making me feel wimpy or weird, Lauren helped me to figure out how to climb up and get upside down. I hung there for a while. I hung there because I was too scared to move to try and get down and I hung there because I was too embarrassed to ask someone to lift me down immediately. With blood pooling in my face and head, I felt the truth settle in. I wasn't afraid because I was in danger; I was afraid because I felt completely out of control. How did I become so full of hesitation?
I remember a time when I thought of my body like a soft blankie: comfy, warm, friendly, infinitely smooshable and stretchable, something that would do whatever I needed it to. But here I was gingerly dangling, trying to protect my bones like they were pieces of antique china, scared to death of not knowing exactly what I was doing.
After class, I went home and spent most of the night sleepless, remembering the exhilaration I felt and imagining again and again how I could do things better. I imagined strengthening my core and arms, montage style. I imagined stretching for two hour every day. I imagined my toes pointing gracefully in the air. I imagined myself tucking and hanging and rolling without fear. I imagined perfect control. I imagined letting go.
If you want to try Cirque School LA, I definitely think you should walk through the red door. You might see me there. I think I need to go back to circus school very, very soon.
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Images: Amanda Donohue