A small gaggle of giggling girls clustered around a mat at The Circus Place on a Thursday evening, as aerial instructor Melissa Marie Wilhelm smoothly lifted herself up and spun on two strands of silk fabric, performing a move you might see at a Circue Du Soleil performance.
Granted, she's one a few feet off the ground but from the expressions on the kids' faces, she may as well been 20. One by one, they line up and try to duplicate the movements—several achieve it after one or two attempts.
A couple get their feet tangled and have to start over.
It's part of the studio's aerials class, which also includes training on a lyra (a ring suspended above the mat) and the trapeze.
Co-owner Sharyn Brandman said the aerials classes were a big part of the reason the studio opened in 2011, and has proven to be one of the most popular offerings in a studio where jugglers, acrobats and others sharpen their skills.
One of the first students for the class—and the studio's first adult student—was Princeton resident Jennifer Guy, who said she loves doing the aerials, despite being a non-athletic person. She is also among the studio's oldest students—she said she feels complimented when told she looks like she could be in her 40s.
The attraction for the kids is fun—the attraction for adults is fitness.
"It is the best exercise ever," Guy said. "It hurts just about everywhere until you get used to it. You will work muscles you didn't know you had."
Imagine: the first step is to pull yourself up, like a chin up, support your body while wrapping one foot around the strands, perhaps move into a pose requiring balance while stretching your back.
Guy had been a steady yoga participant, but decided to try something different to step up her fitness efforts and the aerials appealed to her. "I wanted to be the kind of person to really spread their wings," she said, noting the unique opportunity was too much to pass up.
She added the aerials gave her a great athletic and aerobic workout that didn't also stress her knees or other joints, as most sports do.
After spending months working on some of the basics, building her strength, Guy was finally able to complete some of the basic maneuvers.
Now, she can't be stopped.
And she added, the health benefits are apparent to her in her everyday activities—such as putting up Christmas lights for the holidays. She wanted to place some in a maple tree, and had always used a ladder before—but this year, found herself easily climbing the tree like a youngster.