“There’s strong and then there’s circus strong,” says Shanti Sethi, 41, a surface warfare officer in the Navy whose weekly regimen involves flying trapeze, partner balancing and aerial conditioning at TSNY-DC. “Circus is the majority of what I do to stay in shape, and I’m definitely in better shape than I’ve been in my entire life.”
The off-the-wall workouts have also become a common form of cross-training for folks who believe in the power of body-weight exercises, says Brian McVicker, owner and manager of TSNY-DC. That’s probably why circus-inspired fitness classes — incorporating static trapeze, silks, partner balancing and other acrobatic apparatuses — are popping up at gyms and studios across town.
You can add partner balancing to your poses in AcroYoga, offered regularly at Yoga District on 14th Street. Or you can work with a silk hammock at Crunch Gym’s AntiGravity Yoga Wings classes. (“It becomes addictive to flip around,” says instructor Kellee Charles, noting that dangling helps decompress the spine and get you deeper into postures.)
Interested in silks? Track down TSNY-DC instructor Robin Berry. When she isn’t climbing and twirling around flowing pieces of fabric, she’s teaching classes across the area. At Urban Evolution in Alexandria, her students are mostly parkour guys obsessed with tricks. At Falls Church’s Forever Dancing, she trains women who appreciate the artistic side of silks — and want an upper body workout. At DivaFit in Herndon, she gets pole dancers looking for another acrobatic outlet.
Or you can clown around with Gregory May, who opened the Center Ring Circus School in Columbia in December. May once traveled with Ringling Bros., specializing in falling (comically) off a 12-foot ladder. Now he’s building up a serious following with his aerial arts and fitness classes for adults.
“You’re so focused on trying to do these tricks that you don’t realize how many pull-ups you’ve done,” May says.
The growing popularity makes sense to 28-year-old Tara Ogren, who’s made a career out of running off with the circus. While “The Greatest Show on Earth” was visiting Verizon Center last month, the performer invited me to join her for a workout on a hanging hoop called a lyra. She’s in trapeze acts for this particular show, but lyra and silks are still part of her conditioning routine, along with running, stretching and handstands.
“Even people not in the aerial acts do it to stay in shape,” Ogren explained before demonstrating how she gracefully maneuvers her body around the hoop.