Just because Ringling Bros. Circus is shutting down doesn't mean your circus dreams are dashed.
Somerville is home to a thriving circus community, and you (yes you!) can join.
Just outside of Union Square, you’ll find two aerial studios serving more than 1,000 students in the greater Boston area, and offering all regular joe’s a chance to fly.
Look up when you’re at either Esh Circus Arts or Aircraft Aerial Arts and you’ll find rigging points dotting the ceiling. From them hang ropes, hoops, trapezes and silks. And on those, aerial students flip, spin, drop and tumble.
Both studios opened in 2010 with a single instructor and just a handful of students. Ellen Waylonis, co-owner of Esh, says the popularity of circus as a mainstream fitness activity has helped her business see massive expansion.
“You get to come over here and be a superhero once a week. I don’t know how that can’t make you feel pretty awesome,” Waylonis said.
Esh now has about 700 students and boasts dozens of aerial classes and ground classes — think juggling, contortion, hand balancing and cyr wheel.
Both Aircraft and Esh meet students where they are with beginner classes and help them level-up as their skills and strength develop.
We’ve all seen the majestic photos of bendy aerialists from Cirque du Soliel suspended in the air as fabric unravels and flows around them.
My experience with circus arts proved slightly less majestic, but still really fun.
First of all, to get the flowing fabric effect, you first need to climb up the silks. This is not as simple as it sounds.
In my first attempt at aerial silks, under the watchful eye of coach Marci Diamond at Aircraft Aerial Arts, I realized pretty quickly this probably wasn’t going to happen.
Students' progress at different rates depending on their fitness level, Aircraft Aerial Arts owner Jill Maio said.
Mackenzie Clark of Somerville, who has been training at Aircraft for a year, is proof of this. She said she didn’t have a problem climbing the silks her first time in the studio.
“I’m not very flexible, but I’m a rock climber, so I could climb,” she said.
It took a couple of months of weekly training, but I finally reached the top of the silks.
My only regret was that there wasn’t a bell to ring when I got there.
Over time students build up strength, progress isn’t quick, but it happens and eventually you get to climb higher and try fancier tricks.
Esh offers a professional prep program for students like Kylie Webb, a pro circus performer with the Somerville-based Boston Circus Guild who has performed at places like Burning Man and the Lawn on D.
We caught the 23-year-old at Esh last Thursday practicing a routine on a cyr wheel — a large steel ring with a 6-foot diameter that she spins around in.She’s been training for four years and it’s a journey that’s given her self-confidence and strength, she said.
“I have gained confidence and I surprise myself constantly,” she said.
Despite how it might look, Jill Maio, owner of Aircraft Aerial Arts said circus arts are accessible and possible for most people — with a little training of course.
Esh and Aircraft both serve students ranging from toddler age into their 70s.
“If you can hold a plank, you’re ready to try circus,” she said. And she’s right.
“I couldn’t even touch my toes when I started,” Melissa Karen of Medford said. Seven years in, Karen flips and twists around on every circus apparatus at Aircraft like a pro.
But it doesn’t always come easy. Expect bumps and expect bruises as your body gets used to bending and suspending in new ways.
“We have a saying here, ‘Circus hurts,’” coach Diamond said. She’s not kidding.
“I promise the bruises do stop eventually,” Karen said, adding that the friends and personal growth along the way make it all worth it.
Both studios offer ground and aerial classes for youth and adults. An eight-week session at Aircraft Aerial Arts starts at $190. Esh Circus Arts group sessions start at $165 and aerial classes at $239.