We Tried It: Circus School of Arizona

Leah LeMoineDecember 2015
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This time, we got a little bolder – and a little kookier. Rachel Stegman and Michelle Jacobsen of the Circus School of Arizona invited us to take a class at their Scottsdale studio. Initially we thought we’d be taking one of their aerial asana yoga classes – yoga done while suspended in a silky aerial hammock. Stegman, founder of the school and a circus artist since age 8, decided to broaden our experience by leading us through the Adult Circus Taster class, a sampler of the school’s acrobatic offerings “for the newbie/apprehensive student,” according to the school’s website.

Art director Mirelle Inglefield and I were definitely apprehensive newbies when we got to the Circus School of Arizona last weekend, with visions of Cirque du Soleil pros flipping and swinging through the air around us as we struggled to keep up. Luckily, our fears were unfounded: Stegman and our co-newbie Wendy were supportive and encouraging. Read on for our thoughts about the experience and tips for would-be circus students in our chat below, which we had a few days after the class.

Leah LeMoine: Ok, so let’s talk about our experience at the Circus School of Arizona. What were your thoughts when you got the email invitation for the class from me and Rachel and her office?

Mirelle Inglefield: It’s always exciting to try new ways to stay fit, so I was all in! But, for some reason I thought it was going to be an aerial yoga class and because I am clumsy in regular yoga class, I thought this was going to be an even bigger challenge/shit show. What were YOUR thoughts about taking this class?

LL: [Laughs] I love you. Well, I do not work out as regularly as you do and am generally an uncoordinated hot mess when it comes to physical activity of any kind, so I was really nervous. But I believe in pushing yourself and trying new things, so I said, “Why not?”

MI: It was fun to see all the colorful circus apparatuses when we walked in. That was very different than anything I had ever seen in a yoga class. This was brand new territory for me! Rachel was an excellent teacher and I appreciated how she observed our individual comfort and skill levels and taught us based on those.

Mirelle posing in the silks.Leah doing her best "namaste" in the silks.

LL: Definitely! You were pretty great at everything right away, as was the other gal in our class, Wendy. She was like a circus pro right from the start! At first I felt even worse about my below-average performance, but then Rachel said Wendy was an anomaly and I felt better. And she said that I did better than a lot of first-timers who don’t even try things, so that also made me feel better. You’re right – she was really sensitive to our individual needs and helped each of us conquer our personal goals. I really loved her as a teacher. Did you have a favorite activity/new experience? One you didn’t enjoy as much?

MI: Yes, Wendy was on fire. I loved the trapeze! If I could take the class again, I’d try to do more poses on that, now that we two have become acquainted [laughs]. The cat walk in the hoop had a provocative look and made me feel very sexy [laughs]. We all nailed that one! Didn’t like the silks as much as everything else – they were hard on my feet and armpits, but I think that’s just a matter of getting used to. Still, even those were fun. Rachel had a way of making each of the routines seem accessible, even though I had never imagined myself doing “circus acts” before. What about you? Your favorite and least fave? Where on your bod are you sore?

LL: You looked super sexy doing that cat walk, girl! By that point in the class, I was just happy that I got on the hoop and was able to do any kind of pose at all [laughs]. The trapeze was the scariest for me because I don’t like heights. I was proud that I even sat on it (with help from Rachel, of course). The silks were my favorite! I’ve done yoga and meditations with silks before, so I was more familiar with them than the other things we did. I also think they were the most beautiful, visually. The fabric is so gauzy and ethereal-looking, but it was also so strong, to be able to support us. You and Wendy looked like little ballerina butterflies twirling in the air! I am majorly sore in my arms and legs. What about you?

MI: [Laughs] Well, for what it’s worth, you remained gorgeous through each lesson. I think that’s a bonus with this class, each move is romantic and sculptural in its appearance. And I agree, there is a majestic appeal to the silks. I’m still sore behind my knees, hamstrings and back/shoulder area. I love this feeling! Did you see anything there in Rachel’s studio that you would’ve liked to try that we didn’t?

Mirelle sitting pretty on the trapeze.Mirelle on the trapeze.

LL: I was curious about the knotted rope-looking things that were suspended from the ceiling. What about you?

MI: Yes! I noticed those, too. Wonder what those are for. I would’ve like to test my agility on the little kids’ course the Merle was setting up for the birthday party for that afternoon! [laughs] Would you go again?

LL: That did look fun! You know, I would go again. I’d make sure it was a beginners’ course and bring some friends on my level and who like to have fun and try new things. What about you? And is there anything you think our readers should know about the class in general or our experience?

MI: Yes, I’d definitely go again! I’d want to challenge myself a bit more on the next round – for instance, try walking across the beam without holding onto Rachel or doing the twisty rotate-the-bod out-of-the-hoop-and-dangle-down bit. [laughs] For new people, I think wearing thick sleeves for under-arm comfort would be a helpful tip. And lose any inhibitions! I was afraid I’d look like a, ahem, clown, so I held back on a few things I wish I had tried. I will just need to go back and try and if I “fail,” well, at least it will be a fun fail! Do you have any pointers for beginners?

LL: Totally agree with your pointers! I think a tighter fitting top with long sleeves would have been preferable. I wore a loose top over a tank top and I had to keep adjusting myself during poses, which was uncomfortable and took me out of the moment, when I should have been being more adventurous and not so self-conscious. My other advice would be to stretch! Our warm-up was great, but extra stretching never hurts.

MI: I concur on the stretching! And drink lots of water, too!

LL: Yes, always a good tip. Thanks for going on this adventure with me, Mirelle! It was a fun class, but even more fun because I was with you.

MI: Thanks for extending Rachel’s invite! I’m so glad I got to go, and with you, which makes every experience more exciting!


Frightened Leah on the trapeze.Leah holding on for dear life in the lyra aerial hoop.


For more information and to try a class, visit circusschoolofarizona.com.

To learn more about school founder Rachel Stegman, pick up a copy of our February issue, on newsstands in late January.

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