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So You Wanna Be a Trapeze Artist?

Learn to fly and get an intense core and mind-body workout with Aloft Aerial Dance.
Tuesday Sep 16, 2008.     By Maya Henderson
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Trapeze class
photo: Margot Dahl
Everyone gets a turn on the trapeze at Aloft's class.

Like the long lean muscles, body awareness and strong core that comes from pilates but get a little bored on the mat or reformer? Maybe you see the value of flexibility and mental strength but aren't too enthralled by the spiritual and meditative properties of yoga. Then you must try a trapeze class with the Aloft Aerial Dance troupe.

Classes are held at the Aloft Loft (recently relocated from Humboldt Park to Fulton Market), which was opened in 2005 by Shayna Swanson to provide a home for dance troupes and aerial dance and circus performers in Chicago. Since then, it has become the go-to source not only for such gravity-defying artists, but also for regular people who desire cool, irreverent and hip workout classes.

The Skinny: Aloft is an aerial dance and circus performance troupe, but this ain't Barnum and Bailey. Think more old timey vaudeville-style performances, not swing trapeze. You won't learn to flip through the air and grab on to another trapeze or performer. But you will get a great core and toning workout. Besides trapeze, Aloft offers aerial conditioning, silks, pilates and hooping classes. But if you're interested in doing any of the circus arts, it's highly recommended you start with trapeze. The second Saturday of every month Aloft offers a free intro workshop where curious newbies can get a chance to check out Aloft's sprawling Loft Space and give trapeze a try.

The class starts with simple warm-ups to get blood pumping, get the shoulders open and the arms and legs ready to work. The most basic moves are similar to those of pilates: abdominals in and up with a rounded ribcage (if you're not sure what that means, they'll explain in depth for you), shoulders down and legs hugging the midline.

The Get Up: Form-fitting exercise clothes. You'll be flipping and hanging from the bar a lot, so wear a shirt that can be tucked in or won't rise up. You'll also want to wear slim-fitting pants that cover your knees. You also do things barefoot, so don't worry too much about fancy socks or shoes.

Wear and Tear: With any new activity, especially with foreign movements, there's a chance for injury. Luckily the intro classes at Aloft are kept pretty small so everyone is spotted and given proper personal attention. However, no matter how prepared or how often you're spotted, you'll have sore hands during class and for awhile afterwards.

Maya on trapeze
photo: Margot Dahl
The author hopes you don't notice that her feet aren't pointed enough.

The Commitment: In the free workshop, everyone takes turns getting used to the feeling of hanging on the bar, and once the class is comfortable, you move on to flipping around the trapeze, swinging your body up to the bar and doing cool moves like the Mermaid (body flipped to one side in a side plank, resting on the bar) and the Angel (hanging off the bar, with only one hand and a foot on for support). Regular classes are ongoing.

Aloft doesn't currently offer an intro series, although it does offer specific classes for beginners. If you miss a week or two, or decide to jump into a regular trapeze class, there's a chance the class may move at a faster pace, so try to commit to one day per week, especially if you're interested in moving on to Silks (the instructors/members of the company say it will feel like you're using more core and muscles during 10 minutes of Silks than during an hour of trapeze). There are also aerial conditioning classes for those who really want to get fit.

The Cost: Everyone pays $30 annually for the Aloft membership fee and each drop-in class is $35. However, you can purchase a 4-pack of classes for $120 or if you know you'll be able to commit to taking four classes in a row, purchase a consecutive series for just $100. Ten classes (can be taken at any time) will set you back $275.

Difficulty level: You'll need a pretty strong core, but nothing we did on the first day was impossible for anyone to do. The class I attended was pretty diverse, with about 15 women of all ages and body types, and while some of us needed more assistance than others, everyone could complete all the moves we learned in the workshop (some a little more gracefully than others). Any experience with yoga, pilates, dance or gymnastics will also make getting a feel for the trapeze easier.

The Payoff: Sculpted abs, a sexy back, strong shoulders and an overall increase in strength and flexibility. Not to mention you can brag to your friends about being able to fly.

The Verdict: Do it, especially if you love yoga and pilates. It's surprising aerial-dance classes aren't more popular. They're fun, invigorating and unique. You leave feeling exhilarated and without a doubt that you've burned more than a few calories.

You can check Aloft's website for more info, but for up-to-date class and general info, it's best to send an email to


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