Gravity Check: An Introduction to Circus Arts

As the National Centre for Circus Arts (formerly Circus Space) reiterates its dedication to the artform by way of name change, 2014 is shaping up to be a year in which we can become masters of balance

Feature by Anna Tully | 11 Jun 2014
  • Louis and Beren – National Centre for Circus Arts

If the idea of prescriptive gym sessions leaves you with a feeling not dissimilar to rigor mortis, circus arts may just be the replacement that the right-hand side of your brain has been craving. “Gyms can be quite overwhelming and competitive, something that might not appeal to those of an artistic nature,” says Sian Haslock, of the Circus House in Manchester. "Circus has become more popular over the last few years due to the increase in people wanting to find an alternative [sport or physical activity]."

So what exactly, you may ask, are circus arts? They are usually divided into three areas. Aerial courses tend to involve, well, being in the air – think trapeze (both flying and static), the hoop, and ‘silks’, where the only thing stopping acrobats from falling is a piece of fabric. There’s also acrobatics (y’know, like forward rolls, but better), and equilibristics, i.e. being dead good at balancing.

While you’re chewing over which one might be for you and rejoicing in the fact that circus arts sound a little more appealing than cycling at 110rpm in a sweat box of a room, you’ll be glad to hear that the social nature of the activity helps disguise its physical intensity: “[It’s a] great workout, and you’re so busy having fun you don't notice the work you’re putting in,” says Barry J Welsh, one half of aerial circus theatre company Freefall Circus, based in Liverpool.

He goes on to explain: “Circus skills are a fun and interesting way to keep fit. There are many disciplines to choose from, including Aerial Circus, which is great for toning the upper body, for building core strength, helping to increase stamina and improve coordination and flexibility in general.”

Though the idea of dangling mid-air may not automatically conjure feelings of excitement in those with acrophobic tendencies, the vast array of disciplines allows for a flexible approach (er, no pun intended), depending on your personal goals.

Welsh expands: “Acro-balance is a high intensity but fun way to increase your flexibility, balance and strength. This discipline, while highly technical, can produce quick results and be practised without the need for high indoor spaces. Once you have the basics you can benefit from working on handstands and cartwheels... with friends in parks or outdoors.”

“Manipulation of Objects or, in layman's terms, juggling, can be beneficial to your co-ordination and spatial awareness. It can help you relax and act as a re-energiser when your brain feels tired through work.”

Improving physical stamina through creative means and having fun all at the same time? Sign us up – and as if that wasn’t enough, Haslock has witnessed a positive impact on the mental well-being of class attendees. “It can improve confidence, [enabling an] understanding [of] how strong and capable every human body is," she says. "I have a lot of women in my classes who have had negative body image problems and, through aerial arts, have found a respect for their bodies.”

Freefall Circus are in residence at The Black-E: