Circus in the city – Flying Arts Collective

I hold pretty consistently to an 8am-4pm Mon-Fri work schedule, but as a self-employed consultant, it is primarily by choice. When a last minute client reschedule opened up a Friday morning slot I took the opportunity to get in some extra aerial practice.

The Flying Arts Collective offers drop-in open gym time Fridays 10:30am-1pm and Sunday 4pm-6pm. The inexpensive class $10 (non-member), $5 (member) (cash only *I think*) is meant to supplement existing aerial training. Someone is in charge to ensure equipment is used safely, but no teacher is provided, so this isn’t the place for pure beginners or learning new tricks. The main doorway is well marked on the street as ‘Toronto Fighting Arts Collective‘ (shared space with all sorts of interesting looking groups) at 927 Dupont 2nd Floor.

I showed up my usual 10min early (being late for stuff gives me hives), which I wouldn’t recommend since I was the very first one there. Upon reflection I can see that 2.5hrs of aerial is more than plenty of time to work out and performing arts folks aren’t renowned for being early birds. Fortunately, someone from the martial arts space noted my lost expression and invited me to make myself at home and start warming up. Jasper from Flying Arts arrived at 10:30am to lower the permanently rigged equipment. While others trickled in, I signed a waiver, paid for the class and finished warming up. By 11am, things were well underway.

The 2.5 hour all you can aerial session is very well equipped. 5 sets of silks, 2 single point hoops (different diameters), 1 static trapeze, 1 dance trapeze and a corde lisse (rope) were all available for use. Each piece of equipment had ~1” foam matting beneath and a few crash mats floated around for general use. On the day I was there ~15 people attended the session which kept much of the equipment in use without being crowded.

Similar to the open gym sessions, training classes at this space are run on a per class price system. This is similar to a yoga studio, but pretty unusual in Toronto for circus training, which generally runs on a per semester basis. My hours of research watching Centerstage and similar 1990s era dance movies, have led me to believe it is a common class format used in the New York performing arts community. This could also explain why the majority of the people attending the open gym session appeared to be either professional performers or just very very good. It was equal parts impressive and intimidating.

Everyone there was friendly and welcoming. Any and all intimidation I felt was entirely the result of my much deflated ego clanging around my own headspace. I’ve been training on hoop for over a year and like to think that I’m pretty fit these days, but I’m also still a 40something full-time working person who just started silks this summer. Despite an intention to work on my silks skills, I bailed after a few climbs and stayed on the more familiar hoop for the remainder of the class. Next time I’ll go in with a written plan of what I want to work on so it is less tempting to just work the things I’m already comfortable with.

All-in-all, it seems like a great place. The fact that they offer a number of daytime training classes could allow me to add in an extra circus training session around my work schedule. I’m going to buy a 5-class pass and see how it goes!

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Show time!

Cirque du Old Lady became a real thing at the end of June when I performed in the student showcase. Notification went out a month before the show which gave me 4 classes to work out a routine. The school offered a special choreography focused class, but I wasn’t able to make the weekend workout times so I was on my own from a development perspective.

For the space theme so I picked a song and whipped up a simple costume idea. I haven’t put together a routine since my gymnastics days, but the process came back pretty quickly. Playing the song on repeat I broke it into sections and chose a few obvious places to ‘hit’ particular moves. From there, I tried imagining the moves I could do to get from one section to the next. I chose moves that I felt I could perform consistently and safely even when nervous. I left out some of the flashier moves like meathook that I’m still building strength for. I did include a foot hang, but also planned for an alternate move if it wasn’t feeling solid during the performance.

Written down, the routine was a list with sections of moves with the line from the song I wanted to ‘hit’ beside the end of each section. From there, I brought the routine list to class and started working on the sections. In a class environment, no one was going to want to listen to my song over and over so I mostly worked on the routine by singing the song in my head. For some sections I had a few ideas of what I might do and tried each out to see what felt best. There were definitely some major differences between how moves worked in my head and how they actually flowed in real life. It took 3 full classes of working through the various sections of my 4 min song to feel like I had a routine that flowed reasonably well. To develop muscle memory, I worked the routine in different variations such as slow speed and working everything on my bad side. At the end of each class I hooked my phone to the speakers and did the routine to live music. After 4 weeks of work I felt confident enough with the routine to perform in the student showcase.

In the final week before the show, nerves kicked in big time and I spend a lot of time reminding myself that I was doing this for fun. Music was on cassette tape the last time I performed a routine in public. The fact that my performance was meant to be a little silly went a long way toward calming my fears of making a fool of myself. With a little clowning in the routine that was kind of the point.

The actual show was great. Just like me, everyone performing was excited with a side of nervous. The backstage energy was supportive and we all got out there, did our thing, and had a good time. My own performance went by in a blur. My husband and little girl tell me it was good. It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly fun and in the end that really is all that matters.

All photos are courtesy of Cirque-ability.

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Learning pains

People often develop strong opinions about things that come in contact with the body. You don’t need to be an elite athlete to have a favourite brand of running shoes or bicycle. When I started journalling I noticed that my hand tired less quickly in my fancy Moleskine journal than when I used cheapo binder paper. Circus training means using equipment provided by the studio. Professionals may have their own apparatus, but part of being a student means learning to adjust to what is available.

Of course I have a favourite aerial hoop at Cirque-ability. When I started classes last year I dreaded the days when it wasn’t available and I had to train on ‘the other one’. The tippy single point one with a smaller pipe circumference that hurt my hands and dug into my soft parts even more than the larger stable double point. With more experience under my belt I still prefer to use the one I’m most familiar with, but mentally I try to welcome the opportunity to stretch out of my comfort zone. Physically, however, it guarantees a world of hurt. I was on a completely different hoop yesterday and today I’m dragging my bruised self around. This new smaller double point with short ropes and padded taping that was awesome for grip, but pulled at my clothes has left me with the same sort of full body ache I remember after every single class in the early weeks of training. A good sign that I learned something new, but I’ll be happy to see old faithful back up next week.

Slothing out this morning was incredibly tempting, but I’ve unfortunately found running and foam rollering to be more effective weapons against impending activity induced rigor mortis. I run turtle slow under the best circumstances, but the rhythmic movement seems to help everything loosen up. I’ll probably be passed out by 10pm tonight, but Friday night outings haven’t been a part of my regular lifestyle for quite some time anyway.

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Springing along

Happy to report that my lack of updates is because I’ve been sticking with the bumped up workout plan. I still have to be careful about overloading my left shoulder, but continued PT seems to be keeping it on the healing track while still training. Generally I feel like it is fitting into my day-to-day life without major sacrifice. I even managed to get decent workouts in during two work trips which has been a major stumbling point for me. Three years ago I would have cringed at the idea of trying to find time to exercise 5-6 days a week. I only have time to take class in the studio once a week and even that can be a pain to work into the family schedule. It has taken time to ramp up to where I am, but thanks to my weekly ‘circus hit’ I genuinely look forward to the hour I spend fitting a conditioning workout in or going for a run. I’m prone to minor depression of a kind that I don’t usually notice until after I’m on the other side and life starts feeling less difficult. By most climatological measures, this winter pretty much sucked, yet for me it had almost no noticeable hard parts. Even if I wasn’t seeing the physical benefits, I’d say that the mental health improvements are well worth the effort I’m putting in.

From a training standpoint, the additional exercise is resulting in small, but important, performance improvements. The strength I’m gaining will give me more endurance, control and protection from injury. I’ve upped my max number of pull-ups from 4 to 6, but for the most part these aren’t measurable. I’m at the point in training where it is less about learning new tricks and more about adding some artistry, perfecting the tricks I do know and learning to move between tricks with control and grace. I’ve even signed up to perform at the end of June in school’s student showcase.

As for non-circus things, things are following a reasonably smooth path these days. Life has been mostly days of work, errands, family dinners, house projects, and enjoying time with my husband and kid. From the outside it may seem predictable and boring, but after a reasonably dramatic decade, I’m at a point where I can appreciate the more stable flow that is happening now. A growing kid, consulting work, three dogs and a 100 year-old house seem to ensure the routine doesn’t stagnate into a rut.

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Bump in the road

New format training is definitely working! I felt noticeably stronger during my last hoop session especially through my core. Unfortunately, I also took note of a sore spot in my left shoulder that has been showing up on and off for about 3 months. At first it would resolve itself between training sessions, but for the last few weeks it has become a constant. I’m old enough to know that ignoring something like this is likely to result in permanent damage so I found a physiotherapist last week and went in for professional advice.

After running through a diagnostic test series, he identified my rotator cuff and bicipital tendon as the irritated components. Not at all surprising considering that a large component of aerial work involves hanging with my arms overhead. Add in moves done from skin the cat that combine hanging with arms turned inward and behind the back and the shoulder stresses are pretty easy to identify. I probably could have self-diagnosed via google, but I felt it was important to get a real diagnosis to ensure that any steps I take to fix the problem don’t end up making it worse. The physiotherapist recommended a series of ultrasound and massage treatments to speed healing in the joint along with daily exercises to strengthen the supporting muscles and help prevent future injury. Only time will tell for sure, but I’m hopeful that I’ve acted early enough to allow for many more years of hanging upside-down. I’m taking a break from training moves with extreme shoulder positioning while it heals, but there was no recommendation to stop completely which I was very happy to hear.

This week, I used the shoulder issue as an opportunity to switch things up and take a beginner lesson on silks. After a year on the hoop, I consider myself pretty strong, but climbing and gripping on fabrics seemed to require totally different muscles. My hands pumped out which hasn’t happened on lyra in many months. Happily, I was able to climb and learned foot-lock and a couple poses. I’m signed up on the hoop for the upcoming spring session, but will try to fit some fabric climbing in where I can to build my grip strength. Maybe I’ll switch to fabric for the summer session and go back to being a beginner. Hoop isn’t nearly as popular as silks so I’m sure I’d be able to jump onto one every now and then.

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And the training continues

I’m trying to get into the habit of updating more regularly, so if you aren’t in the mood for stream of conciseness drivel then best to click away…

Much to my surprise, the ‘take it to the next level’ circus training plans are continuing pretty well. Last week I completed the formal lesson plan part of the training curriculum and am moving to a new type of training. Instead of getting a regular high from learning new tricks every week, the main point of training will be to perfect the skills I know, explore how to transition between tricks and working up the courage to develop a routine that I might actually perform. Progress is going to slow waaay down from here on in, so I’m going to need to work on my patience and focus on enjoying the ride.

Part of that ride has been upping my off hoop workout sessions. I’ve been regularly putting in 4 or 5 conditioning sessions (alternate running and strength training videos) since Christmas. The pay-off is a little slow in materializing, but I’m trying to be patient… There’s that word again!

My core actually seemed kind of weak during my last hoop session. Meathooks were difficult to hold (wrong side was non-existent) and I wasn’t able to hold a one-hand grip for more than a few seconds. My coach thought that my workouts might be neglecting obliques so I’ve swapped the workout videos with a more free-form do-it-myself session. I start up the Netflix for an hour and do as many different kinds of stretches, sit-ups, pull-ups and push-ups as I feel like. I’m 6 days into the new format and definitely feeling more ache. Tonight I’m back on the hoop, so I’ll have a chance to see if it is helping.

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February Navel Gazing

February has always been a reflective month for me. The new year is less shiney and as it gets broken in often feeling very similar to the one before. Any seasonal affective sadness is usually well entrenched as I try to keep my head down trudging through to spring. Add in my birthday marking another full trip around the much missed sun and it is easy to see why I’m plumbing the depths of my belly button this time of year.

Last February (like so many before) I was determined to make this month a pivot point. Work and family life were going really well. We were settled into the new house. Simon and I were married on a beach in Costa Rica the day after groundhog day and for the first time in years I felt like I had some extra energy to direct. By Valentines we were back home and I started tracking my diet and exercise habits via fitbit and the myfitnesspal app. It felt a little cheesy at the time, but for my birthday I committed to thinking of 42 as my year of life, the universe and everything. The crazy part is that all my self-motivational rah rah actually worked. I’m down 30lbs, in the best physical shape of my adult life, and even though day to day life can get stressfull I feel mentally confident that I can handle it.

This February my personal goals are to stay the course. Family, work, volunteering, physical and mental fitness are all in a good place. I’m sure that life has a few curve balls coming as it usually does, but right now I’m really happy.


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Cirque du Old Lady – 8 months and 2 days

After all those words about how awesome circus classes are going and the desire to push myself, the days immediately following brutally reminded me that shoving my butt off from the plateau will not come without a price. Two nights spent tossing from one side to the other with restless dreams about aching muscles and matching days made cranky from lack of sleep, going back to work and feeling incredibly old. Not sure if it was the workout, the stretching or both, but my hips ached in a way that made me flinch after sitting for more than a few minutes.

It’s easy to write about the good things that come with this, but I also want to remember the parts where I struggle. Thankfully, today is a bit better. Time and foam roller massage have helped and I surprised myself by sticking with the plan and getting a decent run on the treadmill. My mood is lifting and will hopefully stay that way as I get back to work.

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Cirque du Old Lady – 8 month update

Christmas break marked the end of my third training semester and I am very happily signed up for another round. In the last 8 months on the aerial hoop I’ve progressed from beginner to solid intermediate. I wish I’d written more during the early part of the process, but my newbie excitement kept me too busy devouring every other blog I could find. One thing I learned from all that research/surfing is that I’m an anomaly. Recreational circus training is pretty new in general and like most gymnastic type activities is primarily a young person’s game. I’m certainly not the only 40 something doing this sort of thing, but I generally have about 15-20 years on most of the others taking class.

The first three months of circus classes were a wild ride. I was learning new skills and getting noticeably stronger every week. I would wake up the next day covered in bruises and aching from head to toe. The bruises continue to this day, but I’ve mostly lost the need to pop advil after every class. If it sounds like I was torturing myself, the answer is yes, but I was also having buckets of fun – still am! It takes about 12 weeks for the body to build new muscle and the vascularization to support it and that was true for me. As mentioned in the last post: I have stronger hands, established callouses and seriously improved arm definition.

I believe that circus is suitable for anyone of any skill level. However, it is also a physically demanding activity that can easily lead to injury without good instruction which I definitely have had. The aerial classes at Cirque-Ability are structured in a way that allows you to work at any ability level. This takes away any pressure to ‘keep up with the class’ which I really like. They have enough equipment stations (silks, trapeze and hoop) for each person (maximum 6) to mostly have one to themselves. For each apparatus, there is a skill book to progress through at your own rate while the instructor demonstrates new skills, answers questions and keeps an eye out for everyone’s safety. I have a background in gymnastics/trampoline and am a naturally flexible person and therefore had an advantage over a true beginner. Prior to starting I was at the higher end of normal weight for my height and had an established exercise routine of running 5k 2-3x a week and strength training or some other activity 1-2x a week. I was fit, but not unusually so.

I’ve accomplished quite a lot, but am now at a fork in the road with my training. The next set of advanced skills require more strength and flexibility than I currently have. My options are to either plateau where I am or try to see if I can take it to the next level. Plateauing is pretty attractive. Work and family commitments don’t allow for more than my once a week circus class and the 6 day break seems to help prevent any tweaks from progressing into injury. I’m in the best shape of my adult life and could happily focus on perfecting the skills I know without risking additional injury, extra workouts or changing my eating habits during the week.

Instead, my plan is to go with Door #2. Of course I am – why else would I be writing about it? First step is to maintain fitness and flexibility over the holiday break. One week in and I’ve stuck to my plan so far. Apart from time off for Christmas eve and day, I’ve managed some sort of workout each day. It’s been a mish-mash of running with the dog, trampolining with the kiddo, stretching and video workout. Next week will be more challenging when I’m back at work with less free time. Trying to improve my eating habits over Christmas seemed futile so I’m saving that for later in January when life gets back to a more normal routine.


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Circus report – 12 weeks

Finished my 12th circus class last night and I’m still having fun. For both better and worse, my body is showing the effects of regular training.


Muscles – Yes indeed. Especially arms.

Abs – No one’s more surprised than me to see abdominal definition on my forty-something post c-section torso. I’m still miles away from a six-pack, but it ain’t a keg either.

Taller – Not really, but stretching has lowered my shoulder position making my neck look longer.

Energy – Feels like my body is defying the first law of thermodynamics some days.

Mood – Have I mentioned how damn happy I am?


Bruises – I’m flailing around on a steel hoop once a week, identifying bruises in weird locations is how I spend the other 6 days.

Man hands – Callouses and veins are part of being able to hang on.

Wear – I will have to pay close attention to twinges if I want to prevent them from turning into actual injuries. I tweaked my shoulder in class last week and am now learning to focus on correctly engaging my muscles to keep it from becoming a problem. I suspect this is only the first of many.

Nauseating – Hanging upside down on the hoop while it is spinning: internet wisdom says I’m just going to have to suck it up and get used to feeling a little queasy.

Both better and worse is the drive I have to improve. My enthusiasm makes me want to plunge into the deep end, but the grown up side of me knows that pushing too hard will only lead to injury and take away all my fun. Instead of signing up for more classes, I’m sticking with training once a week and continuing with running, stretching and conditioning between classes. I can always drop in at Skyzone for some trampolining if I need an extra circus hit during the week.


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