Circus Girl: Fitness Takes Flight

Our daring young writer learns that flying through the air takes more than the greatest of ease.

Illustration by Isabelle Cardinal

I’m spinning upside down, gripping a wooden hoop that keeps me suspended five feet above the gym floor. My arms, supporting the full weight of my body, are starting to shake. My legs are folded to my chest. How much longer can I hold this pose?

And to think I volunteered for this assignment.

After five minutes, I extend my legs down toward the floor, ever so slowly. Finally, I drop to the mat, relieved to be standing on solid ground.

I’ve put myself in the hands of Guinevere DiPiazza, a professional aerialist and the co-owner/program director of Circus Place, which claims to be New Jersey’s only training center for what it calls the “circus arts.” The Hillsborough facility offers a variety of classes, workshops and private lessons for all ages. They also do parties for kids.

The Circus Place is not your ordinary fitness facility. Indeed, a session at Circus Place works muscles other fitness routines might miss. Trust me. Even the most active fitness enthusiasts likely would be sore after a series of these classes.

For me, a private lesson with DiPiazza is more than a vigorous workout; it is a small step toward fulfilling a secret dream of performing with Cirque de Soleil. DiPiazza starts me on the silks, two pieces of bright purple fabric hanging from the gym’s high ceiling, about two feet apart. I’ve done this before, so it’s easy to follow DiPiazza’s instructions.

We move to the hammock, a light-purple loop of fabric, also suspended from the ceiling. “You’re a natural,” DiPiazza declares as I go through a series of stretches and splits, hanging upside down in the secure cradle of the smooth fabric.

It’s time for something more challenging. I pull myself up on the aforementioned wooden hoop. DiPiazza calls it a lyra. Whatever you call it, it’s not for me. Hanging upside down, I can’t get past the growing discomfort. The blood rushes to my head. My energy wanes. DiPiazza can see I’m struggling. We move on.

The trapeze is my next challenge. I reach up to a bar at the end of a pair of ropes. Hoisting myself off the ground, I tighten my abs and swing my legs over my head and onto the bar. Once I secure the bar behind knees, I let go with my hands and drop my body below the bar. Then I grasp the bar again, pull myself up and swing my legs toward the ceiling for more stretches and splits. My head pounds; my muscles are screaming. The rough tape on the bar is pulling at my skin.

DiPiazza suggests we move back to the silks.

My hands are thankful to be grabbing the smooth fabric once again. I twist the fabric around my leg and foot, tightening it so I can stand upright while swaying above the ground. I go through a variety of moves—arching back, spinning, pointing toes. I weave my arms and legs in and out of the silks. This is exhilarating. There’s nothing like some pretty fabric to raise my comfort level.

Now it’s DiPiazza’s turn to showcase her moves. Stepping into the silks, she appears to float upward. Her body contorts into positions I wouldn’t have thought possible. And all while hovering 10 feet above the mats.

My lesson over, my biceps and shoulders are throbbing, and my brain is still trying to right itself. Back in my car, I barely have the strength to turn the steering wheel. But as I drive away, I’m already thinking ahead to another class.

Circus Place is located at 6 Jill Court, Building 23, in Hillsborough. Eight-week classes range from $250 to $350; private lessons are $70 an hour, but can be split with one other student. For information, call 908-829-3784.

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