Circus Academy students get fit, have fun while overcoming fears

Dr. Maria Karam is not a fan of heights.

Odd, then, that she takes weekly classes at The Circus Academy, where students use equipment like the trapeze or aerial silks, the special fabric performers use while doing aerial acrobatics.

“Initially I wouldn’t even hang on the silks,” Karam said. “I was too afraid.”

But circus classes are not all about heights. There are plenty of ways to keep fit and have fun on the ground, academy owner and director Jen Georgopoulos said.

At The Circus Academy, there are many different kinds of equipment for all types of students, she said.

“They can use any of it: the silks, the trapeze, balance balls, sometimes juggling,” Georgopoulos said. “We do a little warmup and stretch, basic floor acrobatics. Then we do circuit with circus equipment, so you can do chin-ups, but maybe on a trapeze and your feet are up on a ball.”

The classes are a great alternative to traditional exercise, said Karam, who prefers to do core-strengthening exercises.

It gives you an opportunity to swing and hang upside down and twirl and climb.

—Jen Georgopoulos

“It’s just a fantastic opportunity to work on building nice core strength in your body,” Karam said. “That translates into good posture, easier ability to recover after falling and it makes you a bit more coordinated.”

More than 1,000 people attend classes at The Circus Academy, which has two locations in Toronto and a third in Guelph, Ont.

Though a large portion of her students are children, Georgopoulos said there are plenty of adults who take her classes.

“I think adults want to play as well,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to swing and hang upside down and twirl and climb. You’re also getting fit and healthy at the same time.”

In addition to people looking for a fun way to be active, The Circus Academy is also home to professionals.

Madi Georgopoulos, Georgopoulos’ niece, is 13 years old, a professional baton twirler and a member of the Canadian National Youth Circus.

“I’ve been in the circus since I was five,” Madi said. “I got my inspiration for the circus from my aunt, who works here, and baton from my mom, who used to do baton as well.”

All professionals get their start somewhere, and for Madi that meant overcoming early jitters.

“I was nervous to do the drops but I would usually just go at it,” she said. “Whatever they throw at you, just try it. You’ll never know how fun it can be unless you try.”

Karam agreed. She never knew circus classes could be so much fun until she tried it herself. She has now been taking classes for six years and has even attempted using the aerial silks.

“With some strength building and help from the instructors,” Karam said, “I can now climb the equipment and hang upside down no problem.”