EDITOR’S NOTE: Aerialist and acrobat Christine Van Loo, who lives in Santa Monica, Calif., will be performing with Cirque de la Symphony at the North Charleston POPS! program at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Earlier in the day, from 10 a.m. to noon, she also will conduct a workshop at Aerial Fit’s Circus Building.
BY DAVID qUICK
Q: When and how did you get into acrobatics and aerials?
A: I began at age 8 in New Orleans where I grew up. As a hyperactive child, I was driving my parents crazy. Nowadays, they might have put me on Ritalin, but thankfully my parents enrolled me in acrobatic gymnastics instead to dilute the abundant energy.
Acrobatic gymnastics is one of the three gymnastics sports in which people balance each other in high one-arm hand-to-hand handstands and toss one another into death-defying multiple flips and twists. All of this is performed choreographed with dance and tumbling on a gymnastics floor exercise mat. It merges art with sport and as a creative and energetic being, I loved that.
Q: Did acrobatics come naturally to you?
A: As much as I loved the sport though, I was self-admittedly the worst student in class for years. My Russian coach Igor used to say, “There are children with talent and then there is Christineka (his pet name for me). She just works hard.”
It appeared that I wasn’t cut out for the sport, but I proved that passion plus determination overcomes lack of talent by becoming a seven-time national champion, female Olympic Athlete of the Year (in 1988 by Sports Acrobatics) and Athlete of the Decade (in the 1980s by the U.S. Sports Acrobatics Federation). I am considered a legend in my sport, which is funny to me because I don’t feel that old.
Q: Acrobatics is a sport of youth. Where did you take it in adulthood?
A: I competed internationally until age 19. Then I spent five years teaching: acrobatics, gymnastics, dance, aerobics, you name it. But I missed performing.
I accidentally stumbled into the performing world by going to watch a friend of mine audition for Cirque du Soleil. While sitting in the bleachers watching 25 artists and athletes warming up on the mat, my hands began trembling. I gripped the bleachers to steady them but then my whole body started rocking back and forth. I couldn’t still my screaming body.
My body stood up and my feet walked over to the table and my hand wrote my name on the audition list. My body knew that I was watching my real life from the outside.
The audition lasted seven hours. I was smiling every minute. A week later, Cirque asked me to tour with them in a show called “Quidam.” I was in a relationship at the time and felt wrong about up and leaving him for two years to join the circus, so my future was a little circuitous before I finally became a performer, but that’s another story.
Q: I think it’s interesting that you’re coming to Charleston both as a performer with North Charleston POPS! and instructor at Aerial Fit. Why is teaching important to you?
A: My mission is to inspire others to re-evaluate what they are capable of in life. Whether through movement or teaching or motivational speaking, these avenues allow me to give my creative energy, my experiences, my lessons, joy and love.
My husband (Jonathon Conant) and I are currently creating an aerial retreat center in Costa Rica called Airborne Arts, which is the essence of all that I have learned as an athlete and artist and all that he has learned as the creator of the largest company of flying trapeze school in the world.
Airborne Arts overlooks a 900-foot waterfall, a lush valley and the ocean. Toucans and butterflies are flying around the grounds and you can walk to jungle waterfalls. It’s truly paradise. We’re creating an environment there that offers people the opportunity to dream, relax, explore, play, create and expand themselves.
Q: When you are invited to perform, do you tend to reach out to circus arts studios in those towns to hold a clinic or do they tend to find you?
A: Both. I usually reach out to the circus community, but I often have them reach out to me before I get the chance. I reached out to Jordan (Anderson) and Clayton (Woodson) at Aerial Fit (in Charleston).
Q: Why should the average, though physically capable, person consider trying aerial fitness?
A: Aerial fitness is amazing for several reasons. First, you’ll be hard pressed to find a fitness regime that works your muscles and core better than aerial fitness. It’s an entire body workout that gives increased strength and flexibility results quickly.
Although physically challenging, you may not even notice because you’ll be having so much fun. I believe that a person should enjoy an exercise plan in order to stick with it.
Aerial fitness, like acrobatic gymnastics, is a perfect blend of art and athleticism. It’s dancing in the air. It exercises your body, creativity, coordination, balance and so much more. And for me, as a woman, I love the fact that when I do it, I feel both strong and feminine at once.
Q: What is the state of aerial fitness in the U.S. right now? Are there places where it’s particularly gaining traction?
A: Aerial fitness has exploded over the last few years. When I started as an aerialist, I could count the amount of aerialists in the country on two hands. Now it has become a common household word and places are sprouting up everywhere.
Q: Yoga seems to be a strong entry point for aerials? Do you agree and, if so, why?
A: Yes, I agree. People who enjoy yoga fit very well into aerials. Most yogis have a great sense of body awareness, flexibility and strength, as well as a calmness of mind that allows them to pick up aerial skills quickly and easily.
Aerial yoga has also created a bridge between the two worlds; so often when people try aerial hammock they want to learn more in the air.
Q: Who are the people who tend to gravitate to aerials?
A: I have seen a huge range of people from those with athletic artistic backgrounds such as gymnastics, figure skating and dance to people with no athletic background whatsoever gravitate towards aerials.
People come to get in shape, to try something unique, to have fun, to feel sexy, to become a professional aerialist, and to stretch their imaginary limits.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.