At one point or another, I think we all have fantasies about running away and joining a circus. My fantasy usually involved choreographing the bears on unicycles or combing out the beard of the bearded lady. Just me? Well, when I saw my first Cirque du Soleil performance, I realized I’d need a very different set of skills to make it in today’s tented world.
In fact, if I couldn’t hula hoop with at least 15 hoops at one time, look graceful climbing two sets of silk or balance three grown men on my shoulders, I might as well throw in the towel. So I wrote my mother a note, packed up my most precious belongings, wet my pants a little in fear and headed to Cirque-ability in Toronto to realize my dreams. And to try out these leotards Nadia G’s been obsessing over.
The facility is a spacious loft with more gym mats and toys than the cities secondary schools combined. I promptly signed my life away in a waiver, met my classmates and instructor and hit the ground running (literally). Things started off with some basic drills for warmup. Turns out no form of fitness is safe from the deadly burpee or from laps. It wasn’t until we started stretching that I realized this was no beginner activity. The graceful girls around me pulled their bodies in to shapes I’ve never seen and I was happy to bend over and reach my toes with little strain. Still, my instructor showed me new ways to activate muscle groups I may have never used before. It felt as good as any yoga session I’d ever taken!
Then it was time to approach the hoop, known technically as a lyra. Dangling from the ceiling to where I could just reach up and grab it, keeping in mind I’m a towering 5 foot 2 inches, there was no denying my intimidation (the things I’ll do for a BK article). But with a lesson plan in front of me the support of all those around me, it wasn’t long before I was able to throw myself up in to the hoop, taking a minute to appreciate the aerial view of the professionals scaling the silks on either side of me. Then, I worked my way through beginner moves with titles like “man in the moon,” “push away split” and my personal favourite the “eggbeater spin.” In each, you’re expected to use your upper body strength and balance, all while concentrating on foot, hand and sometimes hilariously, ear placement. I don’t think I loved chalk as much in my childhood as I did during practice, as it kept my hands from gluing to the warm tape. Ew.
About half way through the allotted class time, I had already lost a good majority of the soft skin on my hands and could feel bruises on the backs of my knees. I’m told this is all relatively normal for anyone practicing on the lyra, silks or trapeze, but that didn’t do anything to make me feel like less of a wimp for wincing and poking at my new blisters. It has also altered my perspective of the small, fragile and delicate looking women of the circus, as I feel I finally understand their plight (minus the years of practice and dedication).
Class “winded down” with conditioning. You know, nothing strenuous, just left lifts, pull ups and hanging upside down for as long as you can stand (end sarcasm). Some little girl currently holds the record with seven minutes, and she can keep that. After an hour of aerial, I think I could hang for about 3 seconds. Sweaty, tired but feeling like the queen of the circus, I was led through one more glorious round of stretching before time was up.
So what should you take away from my experience? Well, if you’re bored of pumping iron at the gym or avoiding eye contact during downward dog at your local yoga studio, Cirque-ability offers fun classes that give you the chance to challenge yourself while having fun. Landing a new trick is nothing like counting reps, but bares all the benefits with a touch of style and sass. Bring your confidence, your lycra and leave your unicycling bear at home, just this once.
By: Eva Severed