Reach for the skies
The material falls from the ceiling in a manner that can only be described as intimidating.
You know in 30 minutes or so you will be asked to try and climb up it as far as you can.
It doesn’t seem natural, a human shimmying their way skywards on an (albeit thick) piece of material.
But Louise Kohn, or LuLu La Bent as she is more commonly known as a performance artist, makes it seem like the most natural manoeuvre in the world.
Her body moves with breathtaking grace as she performs intricate routines with ease on the tissues.
You let out a gasp, thinking she must surely be close to falling, but then you realise the diminutive woman with the dancer’s body has wound the material in such a clever way that would make it impossible.
And then you realise you are going to look like a hippopotamus flailing about in a tutu at the circus.
Well, that was my thought.
My gymnastics career ended at the tender age of seven when I realised I couldn’t do backward rolls along the mat without getting motion sickness.
My yoga career has probably reached its pinnacle and I can’t even master the downward dog.
So my hopes for becoming a guru in the art of aerial circus after one session were not high.
Luckily, Louise is a wonderful teacher and does not expect too much of her students on their first go.
The first step is to take your first steps on the tissue.
For the uninitiated, the tissue is two pieces of material draping down from the ceiling.
Louise and her more experienced students make it look easy.
But, for someone whose problem areas are core and upper-body strength, it can be quite hard.
The concept is simple enough; one foot after the other, flinging the material on to your feet as you go to make a “step”.
And some new students take to it like a duck to water. In fact, most do.
Some of the girls reach close to the top almost immediately and the proud looks on their faces are inspiring.
I take a little longer to get the hang of it.
But what is the most amazing thing about this class is the camaraderie you form with your fellow participants.
Because we are all in the same boat, we enthusiastically urge each other to literally reach new heights.
Then we move on to some upside-down work.
I have to admit, I am strangely more comfortable with this.
It may be due to many years spent on schoolyard monkey bars, coming up with daring (and by that, I mean extremely mediocre) new tricks to show my friends.
Louise has to give me a push to get over, but once I am upside down I am in my element.
From there, I move into a pike position, envisioning myself as a small, very muscular man in Lycra going for gold on the rings at the Olympics.
In reality, I resemble Milo Kerrigan.
But I digress; it is fun, and while it looks extremely difficult, the base moves are not that hard to pull off.
As Louise says, practice makes perfect and your muscle memory improves over just a few lessons.
“I’ve had people nearly pull out (of the class),” she admits.
“But it’s amazing what you can achieve.
“It comes down to willpower in the end; some things you have to work hard for.”
And working hard is something Louise knows a lot about.
The staunch Far Northerner has been teaching aerial circus for two years, following four years of intense, full-time training.
She has a background in gymnastics and yoga (and is a contortionist on the side), but turned to aerial circus for a challenge.
“It was so much more diverse than anything I had done,” she says.
“I have been totally inspired by this and what it has brought into my life.
“My aim is to inspire others and break through boundaries you never thought possible.”
And the look on people’s faces when they reach the top keeps her teaching.
“When you finally get there, it is the most rewarding feeling,” Louise says.
“That’s why people come here – it’s challenging.
“It is very good for their self-confidence and working in teams in a non-competitive environment.
“Students gain strength and flexibility while learning cool tricks.”
Cool is definitely the word for it.
During our beginners’ class, more advanced students are performing tricks on the tissues next to us.
It is motivation to keep going as they glide through the air mastering their art.
Louise assures us they too started out as beginners who thought the climb to the top was impossible.
But if there is one thing Louise’s classes prove, it is that impossible is just a word.
In fact, Louise’s students range from six years old to mid 50s, so age is no barrier.
As the class winds up, I can see the minds of my fellow beginner participants ticking over, envisioning their eventual climb to the top and the mind-boggling tricks they will one day perform.
One step towards the sky at a time.
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Aerial circus class participants such as Evie Clinton warm up and learn the ropes of the art. photo // Tom Lee