I’ve always fancied running off and joining the circus, ever since I met a trombone player who went off and did just that for several years. How romantic and fun, with all the lycra you can imagine! However, having zero circus skills, it seemed like a good idea to get some experience first before my circus adventures began.
Skylab Studio is a lovely little place in Camden, run by Astra, who lived the my dream by spending 10 years as a costume designer and performer with a circus. She’s now on a mission to share her aerial skills with the likes of you and me.
I tried out the Aerial Taster class, which is an hour long. The studio is a short walk from Kentish Town West, Chalk Farm and Camden Market. I always imagined aerial classes would be located somewhere with high ceilings but apparently not – the loft room I’d entered had fairly normal height ceilings. I walked in on the tail end of what looked like an aerial yoga class, where participants were enjoying a savasana encased like bats in silk slings.
Everyone in my taster class was a beginner. Neither of us had tried anything like this before so we had no expectations although we imagined we’d be twisting and tumbling gracefully on the hoop and silks.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. After a brisk warm-up, Astra took us through some essential conditioning and this pretty much wiped us out. All of us came from relatively sporty backgrounds so we had figured we’d be ok at this but this worked muscles we had no idea existed. And this was all before we even got into the air! Each person had a crashmat and a set of silks on which to practise on. We started by experimenting with different grips and learning the right technique to lift ourselves up in the air. Again, a lot harder than it sounds! We eventually moved onto a (very) short sequence which involved hanging completely straight and upside down and rotating into a pike. As well as needing arm strength, having a super strong core is what actually holds your moves together – there was lots of thumping legs onto crashmats as we tried to gracefully lower our legs with control. It’s also what gets your body ‘up’, and if you can’t hang and move into a pike (it’s ok, no one in our class could. Apart from Astra) you have to rely on a little (or big) jump to even get you off the ground. Graceful, I wasn’t. Luckily, no one cared.
Before too long it was time to put the silks away and get onto the hoop. I was hoping I’d have better luck with this and it was indeed my preferred choice. After all, you can’t ‘sit’ on silks and my body needed a rest!
The hoop is sturdy and covered with grippy material, hanging a few metres from the ground. It’s best to work with a partner so they can keep an eye on technique and to spot you as it feels like there is more chance at this stage to fall right on your head. With the hoop, we practiced a sequence of getting onto the hoop by hanging with our arms, then going into a pike before hooking our knees over and pulling ourselves up. From here, we did ‘showgirl’, a sideways sit which we also added a beaming smile and wave to, before going back down in reverse. This I could do – I’m definitely a hoop girl!
The hour sped by and I wished it were longer. It’s absolutely knackering on your arms but it’s so fun, you don’t care. I won’t lie, it’s challenging and one girl was a little frustrated as she found the silks hard (the hoop was more her thing) but it certainly makes you realise that even if you’re fit, this takes a certain type of strength which you don’t get in classes such as CrossFit, yoga or bootcamps. I’m pretty sure that once you’ve tried the taster, you’ll be tempted to join up onto a longer course as it’s addictive and possibly the best for learning a new skill as well as being an all over functional workout.
For those who think they’d like to give it a go, definitely start with the Aerial Taster – it’s an hour long and covers hoop and silks. From here, you can move onto a longer course in either silks or hoop, or you can attend one of their more casual classes – Pop Fit (beginners), Pop HIIT (intermediate), or Pop Fly (advanced) – which work on strengthening and conditioning the crucial muscles you need for Aerial, as well as aerial yoga. There’s also Ballet Silks, Aerial Yoga and Ballet Fitness. For course students, there’s even an opportunity to take part in their showcase, which happens every 6 months and is a chance for you to show off your skills to family and friends.
Who’s it for: Fun-junkies who also want to get stronger and leaner than they’ve ever been before.
How much: Drop-in classes start from £15 but a pack of 10 is £120. Courses start from £75 for 4 weeks.
Where: Skylab Studio, 25A Ferdinand Street, Camden, London, NW1 8EU
When: Classes and courses take place from Monday to Sunday at various times
See the whole range of classes and the timetable at www.skylabstudio.co.uk