If you were like me as a kid, besides the day when teacher pulled the rainbow-colored parachute out of the closet (no pun intended), gymnastics was your favorite gym-class theme.
Remember climbing the ropes, doing flips on the rings, and tumbling around on those all-too-thin wrestling mats?
Then, of course, think of the Olympic games on television and every Cirque du Soleil event, with all the far-too-athletic-and-muscular-to-be-real men and women who have balance, strength, and coordination most of us only can dream of.
Well, it was with these thoughts in mind that I sought to find out: Do everyday people really engage in this stuff?
My curiosity led me to Xelias Aerial Arts Studio in Northeast Minneapolis. I discovered that, yes, lots of people are doing gymnastics every day, and it is every bit as thrilling—and challenging—as it looks when the pros do it.
Meg Elias, founder, artistic director, and coach at Xelias, told me all about her growing studio.
You might think that gymnastics as we know it is just for kids. However, I was surprised to learn that more and more, adults are finding Xelias. The coaches and trainers there have professional performance experience, and really drive the experience for students.
Elias says, “Kids have so many choices for athletics and sports. But for adults and other young people who are not into ball sports or team sports, gymnastics, core strength, stretching is totally their thing.”
Xelias classes allow more artsy folks out there to express their athleticism in a thrilling, artistic way. When you walk into the studio, you are surrounded by a beautiful landscape of clouds, plus subdued lighting. The space is welcoming, with fun music playing in the background. It’s definitely not a gym feel.
The atmosphere may not be a typical gym experience, but the workout certainly is. Sessions focus on strengthening and conditioning, as well as, of course, learning new circus tricks.
As Elias assures, “It’s a very supportive environment.”
Elias notes, “We have students of all ages, all shapes, all sizes, all genders. And, we have a strict ‘no watching’ policy. We want all the students to be involved, committed to learning the workout, and participating. And the students really do want to ‘get it right.’”
When students learn a new trick, classmates live that excitement with them, often breaking into applause and cheers.
Students get to try out “verticals,” which are tricks on the ropes, or the tissu, the fabric stuff that experienced aerial artists basically “dance” in the air with.
Elias warns, “The tissu is very humbling. Everyone wants to try it, but it takes a ton of practice.”
To gear up for the tissu, everyone learns partner aerobics, tumbling, and body positioning first.
As Elias explains, “Everyone learns at their own pace. Dancers and athletes tend to be easier to coach, because they already have more ‘body awareness.’ But we push everyone at their own ability level.”
The highlight of every class season: showcase events. Experienced students get the chance to design their own routines, while coaches and trainers guide the rest. Every student from every class, regardless of age or experience, is given the opportunity to be part of the showcase.
Elias remarks, “This is really how the students express themselves. It is really fun to see them choosing their costumes and the right music for their performance.”
Xelias has summer sessions starting May 24, plus an intense four-day Circus Boot Camp in June.
Find out more about Xelias at www.watchhumansfly.com.