Training techniques for Cirque du Soleil aren’t just for elite, athletic performers anymore.
For more info
Want to get involved in some of the activities discussed in this story?
For aerial dance, yoga, trapeze and conditioning, both for adults and children, go to www.circusbuilding.com.
For acro yoga, go to www.facebook.com/groups/ acroyogacharleston/.
To learn more about Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission’s new slackline park and an introduction course on Saturday, go to www.ccprc.com/index.aspx?nid=161.
For more on Carnivalesque, go to www. carnivalesqueshows.com/Carnivalesque/Welcome.html
An emerging fitness niche, the “circus arts,” has spread across the nation in recent years and is now taking root, in various forms, in Charleston.
Circus arts are a set of disciplines more associated with carnivals than cardio, but are moving into the mainstream with fitness classes offering fun, creativity and camaraderie that a treadmill or barking boot camp instructor cannot.
The grouping of disciplines generally includes trapeze, performing aerial dance or yoga on suspended silk fabric or slings, circus rings, hooping (think “Hula”), acro yoga, slacklining, riding unicycles, belly dancing, juggling and spinning poi or even fire.
The activities are motivating some couch potatoes to join classes with former ballet dancers, gymnasts, rock climbers, yogis as well as aspiring amateur circus and carnival performers. And the circus arts appeal to children and teens.
Many tackle key components, core strength and balance, that increasingly are being noted as part of a functional fitness routine.
From the Big Top
One sign of its commercial potential came five years ago when Cirque du Soleil partnered with Reebok to create Jukari “Fit to Fly” and “Fit to Flex” programs, though none exist in South Carolina.
Since then, circus and cirque gyms and schools, offering “nontraditional workouts” have sprouted in major cities, as well as those known for having active populations such as Austin, Texas, and just up Interstate 26 in Asheville, N.C.
In Charleston, the interest in circus arts most recently was exhibited during Holy City Cirque Variety Show on June 16 at The Brick House Kitchen on James Island.
Hundreds came out to either watch for free, or even dabble for a $15 donation, in acro yoga, aerial silks, slacklining, hooping, juggling and other activities.
Organizers for the event originally planned to have it at Hampton Park, but the city pulled its permit after seeing the large number of people who indicated an interest in attending on its Facebook page.
Among the organizers of that event were several “acro yogis” — Gregory Guay, Sally Bette Newman and Kari McDuffie, who have been spearheading free meet-ups at local parks via the “Acro Yoga Charleston” Facebook page. They also have collaborated with Charleston Community Yoga to host several workshops, with certified acro yoga instructors.
On July 1, Jordan Anderson and Clayton Woodson, who have been teaching and performing aerial yoga and dance for five years, opened the Circus Building in part of a warehouse hidden behind a Taco Bell and a church on St. Andrews Boulevard.
Anderson and Woodson are focused on aerial silks, yoga and slings, including programs for children starting in August, along with conditioning classes to prepare students for classes.
They are among a core group of locals who are approaching circus arts from a performance standpoint. The group is called Carnivalesque, featuring not only acrobatics, aerial arts and belly dance but burlesque, and has been performing since 2011. Anderson and Woodson’s aerial performance name is called Wonderson.
They had been teaching at a Catalyst Creative Arts Studio, which closed at the end of June.
In a Facebook post, Catalyst announced its closing, citing that its large studio was “a waste of space, money and maintenance” but that it planned to create a nonprofit, called Catalyst Circus and Performing Arts.
The post says, “Catalyst Circus and Performing Arts has developed a tremendous, thriving outreach program in our Charleston community, our sponsors are excited and eager to help us reach our goals and the outpouring of community and friend support that we have received has been such a blessing from God.”
Not for slackers
Meanwhile, slacklining, which crosses beyond the borders of circus arts, has found a stable home in the Charleston area with the addition in March of the slackline park next to the climbing wall at James Island County Park.
Slacklining involves someone balancing on a line, measuring one or two inches wide, that is strung between two anchor points, such as trees or poles. It has been a fixture in the climbing community for decades as a training tool for core fitness and balance.
Unlike the high wire, slacklines usually are a few feet, or less, off the ground and offer opportunities to work on tricks with less risk.
Josh Hall, outdoor program manager for Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission, says the park staff first noticed slacklining during Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl in February 2012.
The Gibbon Slackline Team put on a show as part of the act and appeared at the PRC’s East Coast Paddlesports and Outdoor Festival in April as part of the slackline park’s introduction to the community.
“The slackline park is a great addition to our climbing wall,” says Hall, adding the slackline is less intimidating than the wall. “We think it will provide a great cross-training activity for an array of activities, including stand-up paddleboarding.”
Home for circus
Anderson says she and her partner, Woodson, called their new business Circus Building because “we envision it as a place to begin circus.
“Right now, we’re 100 percent focused on aerial, but who knows where it will branch out,” says Anderson.
As for aerial yoga, silks, hoop and trapeze, Anderson says people come to classes from the standpoints of either fitness or artistic performance, but inevitably end up embracing both.
“A lot of the people get into it for fitness, but once you’re doing it for a while, and you build confidence and strength, it lends itself to creative expression,” says Anderson, who was unable to do one pull-up when she started doing aerial yoga five years ago.
Ultimately, she hopes building a circus community will bring together Charleston’s emerging artistic community with its already solid fitness community.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.
Anastasia Timma, 22, of Hanahan, practices on an aerial sling as Circus Building’s Clayton Woodson instructs and spots her.×
Sally Bette Newman takes a circus-style bow after an aerial silk performance at Holy City Cirque last month at The Brick House Kitchen on James Island.×
A performer spins fire poi at the Holy City Cirque event. As a performance art, poi involves swinging tethered weights through a variety of rhythmical and geometric patterns.×
While not really needing instruction, riding a unicycle, considered among the “circus arts,” takes prac- tice and the training improves core stability and balance.×
April Bisner, 40, of James Island, takes a moment to concentrate in an aerial sling before trying a pose.×
A performer spins a fire hoop.×
Attendees got to experience spinning poi balls.×