FITNESS can do a lot for the body and mind, but as an adult there are few fitness regimes that really make you feel free. You know, that kind of free you experience as a child; cart wheeling on the concrete, climbing trees and playing British Bulldogs boisterously.
The Circus House is a vast, imposing space with looming, unfamiliar equipment. Luckily, staff are quick to put you at ease.
For adults on the other hand, boundless freedom of expression combined with exercise can be a little harder to come by. Gym environments have a tendency to stifle any fun out of fitness, exercise classes can be too formulaic and long walks in the country, well they’re just too darn grown up for my liking. So it’s for all the aforementioned reasons I encourage you to turn your back on ordinary exercise, run away and join the circus for some real child’s play.
Not too far away mind.
The Circus House is a training space located in Manchester city centre, on the retail park on Great Ancoats Street. Inside the old JJB Sports unit is everything you need to rekindle your childhood spontaneity. It’s a lot of fun and it will also get you fit. Unbelievably fit.
The Circus House, in the former JJB Sports unit on Great Ancoats Street retail park
Signing up for a go at the beginners trapeze class, I’ll admit I wasn’t as enthusiastic as the 12-year-old me. The Circus House is a vast, imposing space with looming, unfamiliar equipment. Luckily, staff are quick to put you at ease.
Sian, one of three company directors and the trapeze teacher, was pointed out the fact she only started out doing trapeze as a hobby herself, contrary to my imagination which had already envisaged her as a feral looking child growing up in a travelling circus family, fire eating from the age of two.
“I started learning as a hobby when I first came to Manchester in 2003 when I was at drama school. I did it once a week and then decided to set up some circus equipment in a friend’s barn. Two years ago I decided it’s what I’m meant to do. So I did an intensive three month course where I did nothing but circus skills
“I met Owen and Alex – the other directors - three years ago at a circus gig. We got chatting and I told Owen I planned on opening a circus training centre in Manchester and they were interested so we went to a meeting with the bank together.”
With the help of a charity called 3Space which ‘unlocks the potential of empty commercial property by making it available for temporary community use’, Sian and the Circus House team were able to bring the circus to town, quite literally.
“As a charity 3Space get a discount on the business rates to let us use the space. We’re on a seven day contract which would worry most people, but because of the nature of circus life we’re used to moving around a lot. All the rig packs down small. It’s designed for travelling and moving.
“We really want to find a permanent home in Manchester in the city centre though, close to good public transport. We’d love for a developer to build us a purpose built, shiny new building.”
Until then, the Great Ancoats Street location may be makeshift but it’s been adapted perfectly for high flying antics such as trapeze. Taking place on Wednesday afternoons 3pm-4.30pm and Thursday evenings 6pm-7.30pm and 7.30pm-9pm, Sian has nurtured a mixed group of men and women, looking for a fun new hobby and/or a way to put their bodies through the paces.
Detailed and deep stretching dominated the first half an hour of class because as Sian said, “You use a lot of different body parts than you would naturally or during any other workout.”
Once totally loose and limber, the warm up to trapeze was a go on the aerial silks – longs sheets of fabric draping from the ceiling and bundled together to form a rope on which to climb. Other members of the class shot up there like they’d just been released from captivity, trying all sorts of new twists and turns.
Aerial silks at the Circus House. And he's off...
Following their lead, as a total beginner it was harder than it looked, but Sian was encouraging throughout, even helping hoist me up when I complained “my body just won’t be able to do that, I’m not light enough.” To the contrary, Sian explained that much of it is mind over matter as opposed to there being a perfect fit.
“Some of the best trapeze artists I’ve seen have been 14 stone or even heavier” she said. “They’re incredible to watch because you normally think of a trapeze artist as being very slight and bendy. It’s an art form that can actually be accessed by anyone.”
Before I knew it I was up there with the best of them, my foot entwined in silk, hands gripping and heart pounding. I was up. Up, up and away.
Sian teaching trapeze to a student at The Circus House
Trapeze seemed less daunting after that. Much lower than the billowing silks, once up on the seat it was a matter of listening, learning and following instructions from, Sian, who stays with you every step of the way and, more importantly is there to catch you when you fall.
Both silks and trapeze are more than a bit tricky to master and despite having only made three very sketchy attempts at doing basics turns, I had enough hand calluses, leg bruises and all over muscle aches and pains the following day to suggest otherwise. It’s certainly not for finicky folk, but once you let loose and go for gold nothing can beat the thrill of getting up there and staying up there. It will take your fitness and confidence to new heights.
Annual membership prices cost £25 for adults and £15 for under 18s. For more information please visit www.thecircushouse.co.uk or call Sian on 07428947432.
Equipment at The Circus House