How to Join the Circus

The high-flying workout that builds a communal bond as strong as your muscles

By Alycia Karlovich

Cirqueon provides information on Czech and European developments in the field of new circus projects. Courtesy of Cirqueon.

Cirqueon provides training for amateurs and professionals on circus apparatus, from silks to tightropes. Courtesy of Cirqueon.

Suspended mid-air by two long strips of yellow fabric, or “silks,” a woman hangs upside down in a straddle split while grasping the arms of a teenage boy below her. His body is twisted into in an upside-down ball.

“Silks is a kind of acrobatic dance,” Kristyna Svata, a 26-year-old bookstore manager and amateur aerialist, said.

Behind the swinging duo, a small yet muscular woman hanging from pink silks rapidly drops into an upside-down backbend, her toes resting against her head. In the next room, another woman climbs up a rope as if it were a steep hill, her large biceps flexing in the process.

This is Cirqueon, where the pros train alongside amateurs in various disciplines of “contemporary circus,” or cirque nouveau. Cirque is a performing art genre that blends traditional circus acrobatics with theatrical storytelling.

“It’s the body as the theater for creation,” Sarka Marsikova, the 33 year-old director of Cirqueon, said. Cirqueon is a three-studio warehouse with 20-foot-high ceilings in the Nusle district. The space serves as a training space for cirque professionals and a school for amateurs.

Spend a few minutes walking amongst the rooms of muscular acrobats and it’s clear this isn’t the circus your parents brought you to as a kid. Unlike traditional circus, animals and tents are rarely used. Instead, the focus is shifted from the spectacle itself to the theme, characters and storyline as told through acrobatic performance, pantomime, scenery and a myriad of musical genres.

“The music is important,” Eliska Svobodova, a 27-year-old aerialist and physical therapist working in Prague, said. “I try to live the story of the song and express the emotion.”

One lesson can work out muscles you never knew you had! Courtesy of Cirqueon.

One lesson can work out muscles you never knew you had. Courtesy of Cirqueon.

Traditional circus performance was usually taught through families and until recently, training wasn’t commonly available for average people seeking unusual workouts. But the exclusiveness is beginning to change with cirque, both in Prague and throughout the world. Classes and training spaces open to the public are a relatively new trend.

Cirqeuon opened five years ago. Prague has always had a big juggling community, but Czech acrobatic artists had to learn the rest of the circus skills from scratch.

“We were building something that was not here, so this was something exciting,” Marsikova said.

Here you will find:

  • silks, in which you perform suspended acrobatic tricks supported by two long fabric strips
  • corde lisse, a rope suspended from the ceiling from which dangling performers display their contortions
  • a solo trapeze swing, a metal bar suspended from two ropes that launches acrobats into air flips
  • lyra, a metal hoop suspended from the ceiling for contortion and spins
  • hand-balancing canes, specially crafted poles for contorted handstands
  • a teeterboard, which looks similar to a seesaw and supports high-flying stunts
  • a tightrope
  • unicycles
  • juggling balls, batons and bowler hats

“I think girls are bored with aerobics and zumba,” Svobodova said. “It’s always the same thing on the floor but this is creative.”

“I used to do gymnastics on a moving horse, but then I fell down and hurt my leg and couldn’t continue. So I was thinking of something connected to gymnastics that’s interesting, but I could do without my leg,” Svata said.

Although the motivation to begin aerial might be an exciting and unique way to get fit, people often find themselves staying in class for something else — the community.

“Everyone has their own motivation,” Marsikova said. “But they all get to create something together.”

Those in circus training tend to be open and encouraging, regardless of your age or athletic background. If you are struggling to balance your handstand and still use the wall for support, the people standing around you will shout words of encouragement and motivation.

“It’s a real family because there is no superstar system,” Marsikova said. “You have to work together because your life depends on it.”

The level of trust builds quickly in an environment with the potential for danger. One can easily fall from an aerial apparatus or while doing handstands or partner acrobatics on the floor, potentially causing serious injury.

As the community grows, so do the bonds amongst its members. In the lounge area, people laugh, dance and talk while getting changed. Marsikova is greeted by hugs when she enters the studio.

“The teachers are really friendly,” Svata said. “They are enthusiastic about what they are doing.”

Cirqueon offers classes in a variety of disciplines if you’re looking to join Prague’s small circus family. Classes are offered during the week in the evenings. For 3,000 koruna (119 USD), you receive a 15-class semester package. There are courses in mimeing, juggling, handstands, teeterboard and both floor and aerial acrobatics.

The most nerve-wracking class of all: Fire Art, in which you learn how to combine acrobatics, martial arts and dance while performing with fire. Conditioning classes are offered to build the high level of strength needed for cirque and aerial performance.

“The first lesson is the most difficult, because you have to use muscles you didn’t even know existed,” Svata said.

And just because you may be beginning and do not have the full strength does not mean that you can’t perform impressive tricks. In silks, beautiful splits are easy to grasp within your first few classes. On your first day in a floor acrobatics class, you can learn basic somersaults and hold a handstand with the help of a coach.

“Don’t be afraid of things you haven’t tried before because it’s really open for everybody, even those who aren’t sporty,” Svata said. “Nobody hates them for it.”

Cirqueon’s intro classes are open to all ages and levels, even those with no prior athletic, dance or gymnastics background. “It’s not about experience,” Marsikova said. “The limits are in your head. Just try it. It’s so fun.”

For those with prior training or willing to motivate themselves, there are also Open Space periods for individuals who want to train independently. Group classes have capacities ranging from 12 to 15 people.

Yet there is always one piece of advice universally given throughout the circus family, and reiterated by each of the people interviewed. Stransky put it simply, “Work hard, even if it hurts, because it hurts every time. But the joy afterwards is always worth it.”

 

Alycia Karlovich is in the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development Class of 2017. Her hometown is Newport, Rhode Island.

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Categories: Spring 2015 Issue Number 2

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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