Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Leaving The Gym For The Circus

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 11:30 AM

When I go to the gym, I usually just flail body parts around and assume that something is being exercised. Hoping for a more engaging workout, I tried an aerial silks class at Tucson Circus Arts.

If you’ve ever been to the All Souls Procession, you’ve seen the Tucson Circus Arts performance troupe, Flam Chen, perform hundreds of feet above the audience, twirling and flipping amid the pyrotechnics and smoke.

“I like it because I think people see performances and they think that it’s impossible, then they do it,” said teacher, Katherine Tesch, of teaching silks. Before joining Tucson Circus Arts she was a ballet dancer and rock climber.

The warm up for class starts firmly on the ground with some light jogging.
  • Mariana Dale
  • The warm up for class starts firmly on the ground with some light jogging.

Beginners’ class is flame-free and generously padded mats are placed beneath each hanging swath of fabric. The night starts with a basic warm up; jogging, crunches, and stretching. The age of the class ranged from less than 10 to adults in their mid-20s, girls and guys alike.

Once the silks are unfurled, Tesch, and her assistants explain basic strengthening exercises. From there, she reviews simple climbs and foot locks, which secure your feet in the silk for more difficult maneuvers, and beginning tricks.

Tessa Castillo, 9, hangs from the silks at Tucson Circus Arts. She has been taking stilt-walking classes for three years, but aside from summer circus camp, this is her first year taking silks classes.
  • Mariana Dale
  • Tessa Castillo, 9, hangs from the silks at Tucson Circus Arts. She has been taking stilt-walking classes for three years, but aside from summer circus camp, this is her first year taking silks classes.

The two-hour class reduced my chicken arms to limp noodles and for the next three days, simple acts like brushing my teeth and driving were wince-worthy.

However drained, I did feel accomplished, Even acrobatic n00bs, like myself, were able to climb to the top of the silk, and flip upside down.


Jade Satterwhite, 14, hangs out while practicing at Tucson Circus Arts. She is a two-year veteran of the summer circus camp and a stilt-walker.
  • Mariana Dale
  • Jade Satterwhite, 14, "hangs out" while practicing at Tucson Circus Arts. She is a two-year veteran of the summer circus camp and a stilt-walker.


Sierra Wentworth, 20, practices aerial silks at Tucson Circus Arts. Wentworth is minoring in dance at the University of Arizona and this is her first silks class.
  • Mariana Dale
  • Sierra Wentworth, 20, practices aerial silks at Tucson Circus Arts. Wentworth is minoring in dance at the University of Arizona and this is her first silks class.

Liz Schmitt, 20, stretches out her split on the silks, while Molly Belson, 13,  practices in the background.
  • Mariana Dale
  • Liz Schmitt, 20, stretches out her split on the silks, while Molly Belson, 13, practices in the background.

Katherine Tesch coaches a giggling Jade Satterwhite, 14, on the silks.
  • Mariana Dale
  • Katherine Tesch coaches a giggling Jade Satterwhite, 14, on the silks.

Tucson Circus Arts also offers classes in stilt walking, hand-balancing and other circus skills. Check out their website for the full array. The Beginning Aerial Acrobatics class I took is from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 on Mondays; the drop-in rate is $15

While I don’t see myself transforming into a silk ninja anytime soon, hanging from the ceiling a-la Spiderman sure beats the treadmill.

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