fitness

Circus, community and quarantine (Guest post from Renee Frigault)

It has taken over 2 weeks to write the first sentence of this article. One part of me really wanted to share about the workout group I’ve been participating in during quarantine. Unfortunately, another part of me has been struggling to find the activation energy for anything requiring putting words together. My brain often feels like sludge, and like so many right now, much of my current life has been centering around work, home schooling and fending off the desire to scroll endlessly on the internet. Many aspects of life feel hard right now. Thankfully, the last 5 weeks have also included something that hasn’t.

Screenshot showing individual frames of Renee, Diane, Cheryl, Rebecca, Cassandra and Sonia. All are flexing their biceps after a workout.

I’ve been training aerial circus for six years. (I wrote about it here). These have been the best of my adult life — in large part because it connects my body and mind together, challenging me to use both in difficult and creative ways, and also because it has introduced me to a new community. This world of interesting, creative and driven circus people have made me feel welcomed to their art form, despite the fact that as a 48-year-old, larger-than-lithe mechanical engineer, I am well outside the stereotype of the typical aerialist.

So, when my aerial coach extended the invitation to join an online workout group she had started, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Pre-pandemic, I usually struggled to work out at home. Now it is one of my favourite parts of the day. This 10am Monday to Friday group has become my primary source of physical conditioning and community connection during these stressful quarantine weeks. Our group is a mix of professional and amateur circus artists from multiple disciplines. Some I already knew, but others now feel like friends despite us never having met in real life.

After the first few weeks we began taking turns leading the workout sessions so it could stay fun and wouldn’t become a ‘job’ for my coach. It’s been several decades since I’ve coached or led a conditioning class. At first, I was definitely intimidated by the idea of trying to lead or teach a group with real circus artists. As usual they were supportive and welcoming, and it has felt really good to contribute and give something back to this special group.

I credit connecting with this group of strong and creative women with helping support my mental health. Moving my body and connecting with community has been huge for me, and it turns out that many of the others feel similarly. When asking permission to use a photo from our group for this article several of the others agreed to provide quotes. Expecting short one or two line snippets, I was blown away when they generously provided their own full thoughts and stories.  [Editor’s note from Fieldpoppy — I’ve shortened their comments, but these women sound amazing 😉]

Starting with the woman who brought us together — Diane Mcgrath (aerialartstoronto.com):

“I run FLY WITH ME Aerial dance studio and teach adults over 35ish. Every year I try and get away to be taught and be creative give back to myself. I started taking classes as usual with Hayley at Marbella aerial school in Spain. Within a week we were hearing more and more about China, Italy and now Spain being hit with covid. After a lot of research and thought we decided we need to get out of Spain before it’s too late. When we got home, we quarantined for 14 days, and started exercising in the garage. I asked my aerial friends to join in and a few of my students. It became a regular thing — and this daily gathering with these lovely strong women is such an amazing break, away from everything going on. It’s one time during the day I don’t worry or think about what if. Everyone is going thru different things. We all check in with smiles and support each other in different ways. I decided after a couple weeks of leading the training to ask if we could share the leading and change it up a bit and add different things to it.  I didn’t want it to be a class I was running — it was a time to be together and share this training. It was for us. So, it’s been great everyone stepped up and new movement and styles of trainings!

Rebecca Devi Leonard, www.AGirlintheSky.com, has a similar story:

“Working out in isolation with other women has been one of the silver linings to the pandemic. Diane has been a life-long circus training mate for me, since 1999. When the pandemic started to become a part of the new reality in March, Diane and I connected and started working out over facetime. Diane had just returned from Spain and had all of these interval circuits from her coach that had been developed to use objects like water bottles and towels you can find in your home. I had just returned from Hawaii and for the first time had tried out a power lifting gym that used similar style training circuits. These ground-based exercise regimes are the ideal formula to translate into a home bound program. Like most isolated folks we began to connect to our communities of friends to check in and see how they were faring in the new normal. Most of my friends are now homebound and trying to find ways to self-care and create a sense of routine. Days seem to get away. The group started organically as we would connect with other women in our wide spread communities, Ottawa, Peterborough, Los Angeles, Hamilton, Ajax. We would share that we were doing this and ears would perk up and eyes would sparkle and the invitation was offered. As a professional circus artist one must have the discipline to train regularly — however as human being, I have always been more inspired to train within community. We are pushed to go beyond our own limits and buoyed up and empowered to continue on when on our own we might call it quits.  As it became clear that this was not a short lived thing, we decided to share the leadership role of the daily workouts so that we could all have the opportunity to lead and follow, and to contribute other ideas of different physical practices form everyone’s unique backgrounds, explorations and trainings such as yoga, Pilates, flexibility etc. This daily ritual of meeting at 10 am, with enough time to have morning coffee and take care of life beforehand, has been an anchor, a starting point to these days stretching into weeks of isolation. The physical practice is a foundation for any other practice and the accountability of being with this encouraging, supportive and non-judgmental group of strong women is such a blessing right now.  Having a sense of routine and seeing the friendly faces every morning is a highlight of the days and gives me a sense of social connection that is essential in this time of isolation.”

Cassandra Jackaman had no experience with circus before the lockdown:

I came to this group thanks to some amazing good fortune – I have never trained or had regular exercise in my life since having children 19 years ago. That good fortune came my way through my friendship with Rebecca. I was messaging with her about 2 weeks into physical distancing, and she mentioned she had plans to exercise with friends that morning and I asked if I could check out what they were doing to see if it would be manageable for me. The next thing you know I had a call on messenger, and I was in the group exercising in real time with Rebecca and Diane! I set my coffee and toast aside, pushed my coffee table aside and joined in in my pj’s and it was amazing!!! I worked up a sweat and laughed and was so grateful to see the faces of these caring inclusive women who were strong and giving 🙂 I am so grateful to be part of a group of women that choose to come together to help one another push our bodies and minds to try new things and get stronger! I joke I will be in the best shape of my life after covid 19 and it’s true – I feel stronger and more flexible than ever before :).

The other thing is the mental spiritual benefit to connecting to these lovely women every day. I am a social person that needs human connection – meeting even virtually has been a real lifeline for my mental health and is helping me stay more sane. This group grounds me physically and emotionally and the most amazing way for me to start my days. I have been challenged by the cooperative nature of this group to lead us which is totally out of my comfort zone but has been positive as everyone is so encouraging and open! Lastly creating this time and space for me has led me to add on a bit of extra time to try something else I would like to develop and build into a routine – meditation. I exercise then rest for 10 then set up for 15 mins of guided meditation with some reading and writing and hope that will also be something I commit to and see results from.

Like me, Cheryl Duvall (www.cherylduvall.com) has more experience with circus, but this time has been just as transformative for her.

  • As a professional musician, I use my body to realize my art, and it’s very important to keep a strong foundation as musicians are easily injured (repetitive strain, back/neck problems, etc.) About a year ago I started to feel quite sick. It took about 10 months to diagnose a large tumour on my thyroid that was causing serious issues – I just kept getting sicker until it was removed in early February. I was unable to train for months before and after this surgery. The day I finally got my energy back was the day they announced the COVID quarantine/closure orders. Diane was checking in on me regularly and sending some at home workouts to start training. One day, I was ready to try one and I messaged her that I was going to do it…next thing I know, she’s calling me over video messenger and I’m working out with an incredible group of women every morning over zoom. It has been a godsend in regards my recovery and transition back to training. I love what all these women bring to the table in terms of interests and experience and I’ve even led my first workouts ever – this is something I wouldn’t be able to do alone. I’m grateful!!”

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If you are wondering exactly what a bunch of aerialists are doing for fitness now that we are literarily grounded our group has based many of our workouts on plans developed by Haley Cronin of Marbella Aerial Fitness (www.marbellaaerialfitness.com). Haley is in Spain and like almost all professional circus artists has lost her primary source of work. For anyone wanting to try circus now is a great opportunity to connect with this community, try something new and help support these talented artists. Many of them around the world are posting videos, leading online group classes and offering private instruction (all at ground level J).

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Renee is a professional engineer and recreational aerialist. She works and trains in Toronto, ON.