A widespread myth outside the circus community is that all aerialists are strong, bendy, young, and thin, and have been training in gymnastics and dance since shortly after emerging from the womb. Inside the walls of Sky Candy, we know better. Every week we see students of all backgrounds, ages, body types, and fitness levels show up to the studio and accomplish amazing things. For those who don’t get the pleasure of seeing these incredible feats on a regular basis, we wanted to break down the myth of the “perfect” aerialist, starting with the fallacy that all aerialists are young. We recently interviewed some of our students to get their thoughts on training in your 40s, 50s, and beyond. We’re sure you’ll find them as inspiring as we do!
What led you to start circus training?
“My daughter took a flying trapeze class with some of her friends. At the time I was recovering from back surgery. At my 12 week check up with the surgeon, I brought in a video of the class and asked him if he would clear me for trapeze. He said it looked like a good way to strengthen my core and back.”
Betsy, 50, training for 6 years
“I was upset with a co-worker and decided instead of being mad, I would work my frustrations out in a fun way.”
Julie, 48, training for 7 years
“It was an accident. I ran into Rudy Ramirez, a local theater director, in a bar one night and asked him when he was going to cast me in something. He told me he was trying to secure the rights to Cosmicomics so he could adapt it for stage and that if he got the rights, I was in . . . . Only later did I learn it was a Sky Candy production.”
Chris, 68, training for 4 ½ years
Have you or your instructor made any adaptations in your training?
“There have been many modifications. When I was doing trapeze, I simply could not (and still cannot) do an under the bar entrance, so I worked with a single point that could be lowered.”
Jackie, 51, training for 6 months
“Tons! I’m not very flexible and I’ve had multiple injuries. But I accept my limitations, and the instructors are very good at coming up with modifications to help me out.”
“Ha, maybe an unusual level of patience with my constant claims that ‘I’m never going to be able to do that. My (insert body part here) just cannot move that way.’”
Michael, 54, training for over 4 years
What have you enjoyed most about training at Sky Candy?
“I love being strong. I love doing things so many people my age won’t even try. I love the people – instructors & students. It’s a very welcoming and encouraging community. No one really cares about whether you are doing fancy tricks. They are just happy that you are trying and that you share a love for the circus.”
“The community, hands down. From the moment I walked in feeling like a fool for even thinking I could do this, I was made to feel welcome and accepted for who I was and what I could do. Not a single person has made me feel icky because of my age or weight, and I have been encouraged, inspired, and pushed by some amazing aerialists.”
“Sky Candy is helping me get strong in ways I have never been strong before. I’m seeing HUGE strength improvement in my upper body and core, which rocks! It also enabled me to try handstand classes and conditioning classes and helped ease me into open studio, which I wasn’t sure how to approach.”
Kat, 48, training for one year
What has been your biggest challenge as an aerialist?
“I am a slow learner. I have never been athletic in my life. I see other, younger students try something once and get it instantly while I have to figure out exactly what it is I’m trying to do. Over the years I have gotten much better, but it still takes me a long time to learn new things.”
“Body and mind. My body, in that I want to do the cool things that the twenty-somethings can do, but that’s a journey that will take some time to reach because I have twenty-something years of not being fit to overcome. And mind, in that I tend to overthink everything.”
“Lack of flexibility, the time it takes to improve sometimes, recovering more slowly from injuries, and sometimes the extra size from my leftover skin (started at nearly 400 lbs).”
Tell us about your proudest achievement.
“We were learning to do a fan hipkey in Joanna’s class. Several of the students struggled, and then it came my turn to try. She looked at me and said, ‘Michael is going to pull it off on his first try.’ I was mortified, because up to that point, I was invariably one of the slowest students in any class I’d been in. But she was right, I got the fan the first time I tried. That boost of confidence went a long way.”
“Performing on lyra at a student showcase and not dying.”
“Overall, I think maybe my biggest accomplishment is simply staying with it, pushing myself to keep learning, continuing to make progress, continuing to accomplish things I never dreamed of. Yeah, I think I’m proudest of the process and the visible change I see in myself both physically and mentally. I am so much younger now than I was when I started.”
What advice would you give an older aerialist who is just starting their journey?
“Be patient with yourself and don’t compare yourself to the young pups. Make the most of open studio and the drop-ins that deal with conditioning and flexibility. It might take us longer to see progress, but it will come.”
“I’d encourage them to come to Sky Candy and see 6-year-olds, 26-year-olds, 36-year-olds and 60+ year-olds all training side by side! THAT is amazing and encouraging to me!”
“Condition, condition, condition. Don’t rely on class as your only conditioning. Get a strong core, especially, and build up your shoulders. Start slow (I used workout bands to offset most of my weight when I first started doing pull-ups, because I couldn’t even do one), but condition regularly. Strong supporting muscles will take some of the load off your joints.”
“Age should never be a factor in trying something new.”
“Just do it. You can. YES, YOU. This is something you can do. You can be valued and loved and accomplished, just like everyone else. There is no one to compete with, just keep at it, and HAVE FUN. Also, we do heal more slowly. So keep that in mind. Rest. Seriously, rest. And it’s ok to eat. Sometimes a lot. Come seek the rest of us out if you want to talk about it.”
Finally, we asked our participants, “Are you ever too old for circus?”, to which they enthusiastically responded, “Hell no!” And there you have it. If you’ve been letting age (or any perceived limitation) keep you out of the circus, listen to those who have gone before you. They believe you can do it. This community is here for you. Let us help you get off the ground and take flight.