Tucked away in a row of warehouses, the South Florida Circus Arts School may not look like much from the outside, but stepping through the front doors can be a transformative experience.
Lengths of aerial silk hang from the 25-foot ceiling, suspending women who are practicing acrobatic moves that mimic a mid-air ballet.
A 9-year-old girl with clown face paint ambles by on three-foot stilts. A man who looks like he should be the starting tailback for the Miami Dolphins contorts into impossible shapes while a class makes game efforts at matching him.
Welcome to the circus.
“It’s a total-body thing,” says Ebon Grayman, an instructor at the school who spent more than a decade with Cirque du Soleil. “When you’re doing circus, it’s about controlling your own body, not just a couple of weights. There’s nothing like it.”
The school offers a variety of training programs, and teachers like Grayman focus primarily on core strength, running students through a warm-up battery of poses that look like extreme yoga.
The crux of a circus workout is working with one’s own body weight — a high-impact series of movements and motions that test and increase dexterity.
The school is unique to South Florida.
“We’re the only game in town,” boasts owner Laurie Allen, whose daughter Elisa — the one with the stilts — has taken to the big-top game.
Asked how long she has been on stilts, Elisa replies, “I just learned yesterday.”
Classes range in size from busier sessions Wednesday and Thursday nights — when about a dozen pupils of mixed experience levels pack the sweltering classroom — to one-on-one workouts during the days and weekends tailored to the individual. The workout looks fun but is actually quite grueling.
“The sweat really pours in here,” Allen says.
After warm-ups, students split into groups to scale silks and climbing ropes. Advanced acrobats walk novices through swinging trapeze routines, launching themselves from a wide wooden ring and onto mats that cover the floor.
Big-time shows like Cirque du Soleil have scouted the school, and recently the Las Vegas-based La Reve signed circus veteran Grayman. But while he waits for the call to action, he plans to continue to train for Allen.
“My philosophy is to work hard but to have fun doing it,” he says. “And nothing is more fun than this.”