Viva La Vegan!

In the second and final part of the history of two recent additions to the fitness world, we look at the circus side of fitness including the development of the Aerial Hoop, also known as the Lyra, Aerial Ring or Cerceaux. 

The origins of Aerial Hoop are unclear, but it has been mentioned in mainstream circus performance since the mid-2000s, having been performed in Cirque du Soleil's Varekai show, which has toured internationally since 2002. It is a suspended steel hoop, much like a hula hoop, but rigged by one or two points and may have evolved from the high wire and trapeze swinging acts, which in turn came from gymnastics and acrobatics.

Lou_4In recent years, circus performance has come a long way. Thankfully, the vile focus on animals as entertainment has greatly decreased and the human body has become more of an attraction thanks to Cirque du Soleil's theatrical shows and Australian companies such as Circus Oz, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and the National Institute of Circus Arts. The rise in popularity of modern burlesque has contributed not only to the entertainment side, but in many ways to the popularity of circus as alternative fitness. Not only has pole dancing contributed in it's various forms but also the art of striptease, contortion, hula hooping, cheerleading and acrobatics classes have emphasised the conditioning of the body. Most recently the aerial arts, including Aerial Hoop, trapeze, tissu or silks and hand balancing have become more popular as circus fitness has come into the mainstream.

Melbourne was first exposed to Aerial Hoop at a fitness level during a national pole dancing competition, where it was showcased as a coming attraction in between competitors and not long after, classes were offered at a local pole dancing studio. Pole Divas in Melbourne were the first pole dancing studio in Melbourne but also opened the world's first dedicated aerial hoop studio. Most often, aerial hoop is taught on a single apparatus with an instructor and a student or a small group, taking it in turns to instruct and practice in a circus or gymnastics school, or in the corner of a pole dancing studio. This studio space has been open since February 2011 and contains 10 hoops rigged permanently in one room, with 9 students in each class.

billie_and_daniel_duo_4Aerial Hoop is absolutely breathtaking to watch, and all of the performers combine acrobatics, contortion, dance and a hell of a lot of strength in each act. The upper body conditioning involved to be able to achieve such a thing is remarkable. Not only does Aerial Hoop develop the flexibility and strength of the shoulders, arms and back muscles, but one must engage the core almost constantly in order to control the spin and pendulum motion of the hoop. During the act, performers climb into the hoop and swing, spin and pose in and around the ring, often hanging by a knee, a single arm or even the ankles or shoulder blades. During a double act, two performers must work not only against the swing of the hoop but also the weight of their own and another, synchronising movements or using them for momentum.

During an aerial hoop class, students are guided through a dance warm-up incorporating dynamic stretches and pull ups using the apparatus in either a static or swinging motion to improve the core strength and enable the build up into more advanced poses and combinations. The instructor will demonstrate new tricks, moving around the room to spot students and afterwards a short routine is learned, incorporating new material and followed by a Pilates-based cool down and conditioning phase. Students who have experience in circus arts or pole dancing often find themselves with an upper body strength advantage and can quickly progress to more difficult material. Aerial Silks or Tissu can be a progression from aerial hoop as it requires more strength, flexibility and confidence but leads to a very beautiful and gravity-defying performance.

Hollie_4However difficult it may sound, aerial hoop is just as accessible to those without any prior dance or circus backgrounds, as with any sport or fitness regime, tuition can be tailored toward to absolute beginner. Instructors have often trained with establishments such as NICA or with another aerial arts company or circus school and have other dance and fitness backgrounds. The principal instructor of Melbourne's Aerial Divas studio spent four years performing in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil's O as an aerialist, performing acrobatics, trapeze, aerial hoop and tissu, and former instructors have moved on to large contracts such as Silks shows at Ferrari world in Dubai and performances with circus and cabaret tours.

One of the most important aspects of a fitness routine is being able to participate regularly and often motivation can be a problem. When learning new skills such as aerial hoop, and being able to advance with regular practice, there is more of an incentive to continue regular training. For those who are not excited by the idea of a regular gym or running routine, a class like aerial hoop that combines strength and cardiovascular training may be just the ticket.



Healthy Party Girl is a Vegan, pole dancing & aerial arts enthusiast, blogger/writer/reviewer and has a number of other hats as well.
She is studying a Certificate III & IV in Fitness and has a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition/Psychology) on hold while she completes further studies in Marketing & Advertising. She loves piglets and calves as much as kittens and puppies. You can find her on Twitter or at her website.

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