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The Greatest Workout on Earth


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Longer ago than I care to admit, I ran away with the circus. I joined the grounds crew at Cirque du Soleil, blissfully spending my days stringing nets and scraping old bits of masking tape off the stage floor. On one magical afternoon, I stood with the entire workforce in a huge circle. We each looped a length of rope around our waists, and when the signal was given, we all pulled our ropes tight, backed up slowly, and raised the big top.

Things don't get much better than this, I thought at the time. But then the trapeze artists came out to practice, and I found myself gazing in awe at their precise, daring moves. Scrubbing the floorboards, I never got close to the trapeze. But I have to admit that a secret little dream has lingered: Me, flying through the air with the greatest of ease.

Well, I recently got off the ground in a new fitness class called Circus Sports. And for anyone who harbors a similar romantic notion, I'm here to report that it's never too late to try a few circus moves -- as long as you're willing to make a clown of yourself.

Circus Sports is part of a trend of novelty fitness classes, geared toward people who are tired of step aerobics, Pilates, and cardio-kick workouts, as well as those who harbor a secret lust for the flying trapeze. "Daring, arduous, sexy, exotic," purrs the literature from fitness chain Crunch Fitness. Plus, the brochure promises, there are solid benefits to be had: For starters, "the abdominals of an acrobat, the triceps of a gymnast, and the lats of a trapeze artist."

Joining the Act

In the very hip Crunch facility in San Francisco one Saturday morning, our circus instructors, Lisa and Teresa, greeted five of us with bouncing enthusiasm. They handed us each a couple of bright red balls. The first trick to learn in Circus Sports is juggling.

We began with one ball, tossing it from one hand to the other, and when we had that down, we progressed to two balls. "Throw them in a nice arch, but don't even bother trying to catch them," said Teresa, demonstrating. I tossed a couple. The juggling balls, squishy and weighted, made a satisfying thud when they hit the floor. "Terrific," said Teresa. I deftly dropped a few more. "Great," said Lisa. Hey, I thought, circus class is a breeze!

We moved on to stretching and warm-ups, and then Lisa demonstrated how to do a headstand, making a triangle of our two hands and head and then lifting ourselves into the "frog" position, upside down, knees resting on elbows. If you think it's a little hard to picture, it's also a little hard to do if you are, say, a few decades out of practice.

Teetering in the frog position, we all attempted to stretch our feet and lower bodies straight up toward the ceiling. Some of us made it, some of us didn't. Those who did went on to handstands.

The two teachers popped about like little springs, cheerfully encouraging us to defy gravity. They made everything look easy, of course, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

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