VANCOUVER—Just ahead of circus artist Andralyn Zayn’s debut on the bungee trapeze, she miscommunicated with a technician in dress rehearsal and did a double-front flip straight into the bar.
Emergency room doctors didn’t diagnose a concussion, so she hauled her headache back to the venue and slathered on enough makeup to hide the cylinder-shaped bump on her forehead.
“There are no breaks, and your body isn’t your own,” said Marissa Gough, 33, one of Zayn’s circus partners.
“I have done shows where I’ve gone, vomited my guts out, got up, put my costume on, went on to stage—‘Lahhh!’ And then went back out to vomit more.”
Both performers follow the mantra that “the show must go on,” but their athletic art form and its practical application has evolved since elephants and sparkling outfits were king under the Big Top.
Gough, Zayn, and her husband, Duane Steel, run a troop called Deflying Fitness and travel across Canada and internationally training participants in circus-inspired physical feats for exercise and to improve acrobatic skills.
The team is in Vancouver until the end of February holding workshops and certification courses ranging from basic handstands and flexibility to aerial strength and acrobatic conditioning.
Zayn, 32, describes their stylized fitness classes as “the next yoga,” noting parallels with popular training methods such as CrossFit, parkour, pole dancing and bellydancing.
“It’s finding new ways that you can stay physically fit without having to do the same old regular gym stuff,” said Zayn, while stretching on the floor of a Vancouver gym.
“And once you have eaten your vegetables, then you get your dessert and you get to play with your speciality.”
Gough said training can be adapted to anyone’s abilities, but it is founded on rigour and discipline. All certification courses are recognized as continuing education credits.
“We’re fixing what the Internet has ruined in people’s handstands, or the people who learned from people who shouldn’t be teaching,” she said.
Circus-inspired fitness may appear niche, but its practitioners belong to a larger, next-level movement with established roots in Canada that has generated spinoffs.
A trend including hundreds of circus schools, troops and offshoot ventures emerged from the rising popularity of Cirque du Soleil, a world-famous entertainment company that originated in Montreal, said a spokesman for Canada’s largest circus school.
“I’d think that within the last 10 years we saw that growing slowly but surely,” said Christophe Rousseau, communications director for Ecole nationale de cirque.
“As much as the circus act and the activity of circus is popular, we are all very happy.”
Modern circus puts a premium on humans and the display of seemingly impossible acts, developing stories and characters over controversial animals stunts.
Pop culture has also vaulted the elite medium into the mainstream. The 2008 album “Circus” by Britney Spears and superstar Pink’s aerial dance at concerts have spurred recreational enthusiasts to learn the ropes.
Rousseau believes that contemporary circus is still in its infancy, with ample prospects to grow, but advised rookies to take precautions for their safety.
He said young people are as attracted as ever to joining show business, believing their efforts are worth the potentially exhilarating lifestyle.
Terrence Drake, 32, has made a name for himself as an independent fire entertainer and performance art spinner.
“It’s part of the ‘love your work, follow your dreams’ stuff that all the kids are doing,” said Drake, who recently retired after performing across Canada and the United States for years.
“I hated my office job. So I quit and started my own business and lit my face on fire for people to clap—and rode the high for most of a decade. There’s a lot packaged in that dream of running away with the circus. All those promises are actually there, for the lucky few.”
Passion was the common motivator at the gym last Saturday where Deflying Fitness was teaching a group of focused students the technique for impeccable handstands.
Participant Levi Kolodziejak, 36, said he used to lift weights, but found bodybuilding “super boring.” He discovered circus-inspired exercise was a better fit.
“I’m not going to devote my entire life to it, like they do for circus performance. But I can take pieces to enhance my physical fitness,” said Kolodziejak, before kicking both legs up against a wall in the gym he operates.
“And then for my clients, I can take certain pieces and help them achieve their goals.”