Workout of the Week: What I Learned in Circus Class

circus class

Me in a pike with the help of Ivo Gueorguiev.

I've always wanted to glide through the air on a flying trapeze. But my lack of coordination and tendency to walk into walls has always stopped me.

Still, a mom can dream. When I was invited to attend a class called aerial dance, taught by a Cirque du Soleil performer, I jumped--carefully--at the chance. I still can't believe it, but I attended circus class at the new Manhattan Movement and Art Center in New York City.

I may not be invited to walk a tightrope anytime soon--not that kind of tightrope anyway--but I did learn how to pike upside down, and I got a great gymnastic workout.

circus class

Ivo telling me to engage all my muscles.

First, we stretched. I knew I was out of my league when almost everyone in the class--people bendier and younger than me--could do the splits. But there were two of us with legs splayed in graceless frog-like positions. So I got over myself. I thought, I can do this. Or at least I can try. The instructor was an excellent spotter, and he wouldn't let me pull my hamstrings or land on my head--not while I had my camera, at least.

Next, we did pikes--upside down. Think of morphing your body into the shape of a boomerang, but done in preparation of a hand stand. "Stay strong and tight," advised Ivo Gueorguiev. He was the instructor--an award-winning Cirque du Soleil performer. Not wanting to disappoint Ivo--he let us know when he was disappointed--I put my hands down on the ground and kicked my legs up in the air, then fell back down. I tried a few times, and if I sucked my abs in tight and squeezed my buns, I was able to do a sort-of pike. Ivo nodded. He explained that engaging all of your muscles during moves is most important. If you're flying through the air, or being shot out of a cannon, staying tight from head to toe keeps you safe. This is good advice. Engaged, tight muscles help me get through breakfast with my three kids ages 3 and under.

Next, we moved to a circle suspended in the air--a trapeze--and we were supposed to hang from it. I had to think of it as a monkey bar at the local pre-kindergarten playground, or else I might have cried. I did not have the arm strength to pull my chin up over the ring, and I was sore for trying. Ivo reminded me that pulling yourself up, with a bar or even on the floor, is the best strength training. Using your own body as resistance is natural, healthy, prevents injuries, and most importantly, can give you Madonna's arms. He told me to keep doing my push ups at home.

Then we moved to the fabrics. These were two thin, velvety pieces of, well, royal blue fabric, hanging from the ceiling. The owner of MMAC, a fomer dancer, actress and current mom of two, Rose Caiola, explained that the ribbons could hold up to 800 pounds, and Ivo helped install them himself. Keeping my body tight and engaged, I was able to turn myself upside down. I even did a pike while hanging from the fabrics.

I still can't fly through the air unless my butt is firmly planted onto a porch swing. But going to circus class was an ah-ha moment for me. After giving birth to three children in the last three years, I  thought my body was forever doomed to post-partum weakness and poor fitness. It's not. I've been working out since last November, and I can finally lift my husky 28-pound baby without breaking a sweat. I can fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. And most importantly, I am fit enough--just barely--to give it a whirl at circus class.

circus class

Me at the end of class. Kidding.

This is Ivo's student, Jill.

Two circus moves to try at home:

How do you feel when you try something new? Have you had a post-partum ah-ha moment when you realized you could do something you weren't sure you could do?

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