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Having fun, keeping fit: Circus tricks

Flying, juggling, unicycling

  • “It’s fun,” says Quinn Davis, who got hooked by the introductory course at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • Deb Chesser demonstrates a circus trick during a class at SHOW Circus studio in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • Chesser watches Davis work on mastering the fabric strands.

  • Instructor Deb Chesser, standing, observes her students trying different tricks during a recent class. “It’s a lot of core strength and figuring out where you are in the air,” she says. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • Chesser watches Davis work on mastering the fabric strands.

  • Circus class at SHOW Circus in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • Circus class at SHOW Circus in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear

  • “Circus has become a very foundational piece of my life,” says Davis, practicing above on the lyra. GAZETTE STAFF/Lisa Spear



Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2018

There are lots of ways to stay in shape during the winter months. Some are fun, some, not so much. Staff writer Lisa Spear set out to find  few ways that people are enjoying indoor exercise that might not immediately spring to mind when you are seeking a fitness routine.

Quinn Davis is hanging upside down 10 feet above the ground, each ankle wrapped in a strand of purple fabric fixed to the ceiling.

Davis looks relaxed hovering in the air, body core stable and sturdy, legs jutting out like a pair of scissors.

This is a class at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton and the instructor, Deb Chesser, 29, places her hands on Davis’ waist, pushing gently. Davis starts to spin slowly with legs rotating above the ground like the hands of a clock.

It’s fun, says Davis, who comes to the introductory acrobatic class every Saturday. An added bonus is that the moves work nearly every muscle in the body.

“In circus you get a nice full-body workout without even realizing it,” says Chris Oakley, SHOW Circus co-owner. “It’s a beautiful way for people to get fit without the drudgery of doing something over and over again.”

All ages, all levels

Classes at the studio are open to all ages and anyone, of any fitness level, is welcome. For those who want to keep their feet on the ground, the studio offers classes in juggling, walking on stilts and riding unicycles.

A student at Hampshire College, Davis, 20, who is from North Adams, likes the aerial tricks. “Circus has become a very foundational piece of my life. It has changed my life.”

Over the last 10 weeks taking this introductory class in acrobatics, Davis has gotten stronger and mastered unexpected new skills, like climbing and spinning on the fabric pieces.  

“It’s a lot of core strength and figuring out where you are in the air,” Chesser says. “Circus is really different in terms of how you move your body — so there might be some frustration at first. These are muscles that you are not used to using.”

​​​​​​A sweaty hour

Chesser is teaching this Saturday class in late December. All three students are wearing T-shirts and tights. While Davis dangles from the fabric strands, another student hangs from a trapeze, and the third is swaying on a lyra, a hoop that hangs in the air. Everyone moves at his or her own pace.

“They are having a lot of fun with the class and that is probably the most important part,” Chesser says.

Student Hannah Clemente, 28, of Northampton, says that she’s noticed a big improvement in her upper body strength since taking the classes.

“When I first started coming, I couldn’t even get up in the trapeze,” she says, noting that while it is still difficult, she now can hoist herself up.

“It’s been really great. It’s also been really hard. I come out of it really tired and really sore,” she says. But she’s not complaining: “This is a good way to spend an hour sweating your brains out.

Building on basics

In the introductory acrobatics courses students start out with some warm ups, like lunges and shoulder shrugs, and work up to new skills.

Performing on the fabric strands is an early lesson and students first learn how to tie a knot in the two hanging pieces and then use the knot to stand on and balance themselves in the air. From there, they work themselves into other positions. In one pose, it appears the acrobat is doing a split in the air, another looks like the individual is simply lying in a hammock.

“It’s really interesting to see what people gravitate to,” Chesser says.

In advanced classes, students might learn how to wrap the fabric around the cores of their bodies, like the string twirled around the center of a yo-yo, and then let go of the fabric, quickly dropping as it unfurls. A knot around the waist catches each person as the individual descends toward the ground. Or, students might also learn how to hang from the trapeze by their feet. Each class builds on the skills the students have learned, Chesser says

An accessible art

Part of what drew Chesser to circus acrobatics is how accessible they are, she says. She was always curious about this performing art as a child, she says, but it wasn’t until she was living in Detroit as an adult that she was inspired to take a class. When she moved to Northampton a few years ago, she found the SHOW Circus Studio to continue training and was eventually recruited to be an instructor.

Studio owner Oakley’s interest in circus acrobatics was sparked by a traveling Chinese circus that passed through his hometown when he was a teen. Self-training led to a job with a performance company to tour the country. Later, while studying circus at New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, he met his business partner, Henry Wheaton, and they decided to open the SHOW Circus space in the Paragon Arts & Industry Building in 2009.

The studio caters to all ages, abilities and backgrounds, Oakley says. “We are a very open space and inclusive space. People can be themselves and explore their physicality with no judgment and no competition.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at Lspear@gazettenet.com.

How to connect

The SHOW Circus Studio is located in the Paragon Arts & Industry Building, 150 Pleasant St., Easthampton. The sessions run for 10 weeks. One hour classes are $170, 1½-hour classes are $245, two-hour classes are $320. 

For more information visit the SHOW Circus Studio website.