In one corner of the room at Studio Reserved, a former church turned into a photography studio, a group practiced juggling skills, while in another, people balanced on each other’s shoulders or lifted each other in the air with their feet. Nearby, hula hoopers practiced tricks, and others used long silk cloths and a hoop suspended from the ceiling to perform elaborate swings and drops.
This was the Eastern Iowa Circus Collective, a group of local enthusiasts of the ‘circus arts’ that have opened up their community to anyone who wants to learn. Once a month, the public can come to circus jams like this one, where they can learn new skills, practice and refine the ones they already have, and spend time with other practitioners. Each month, a different specialist will teach a skill, along with time for open play and practice.
This isn’t the elephants and clown cars side of the circus. Think more Cirque D’Soleil and the acrobatics and artistic expression it’s performers display. It is part showmanship, part building strength and flexibility, part pure just having fun.
One of the group’s founders, Scott Monroe, was the owner of Elevate Vertical Fitness in Cedar Rapids with his partner Joyous Fisher. After she died in January 2017, he tried to keep the studio open but this fall decided to close it. The Circus Collective is a way to keep the activities she loved going in Cedar Rapids, he said.
“She really wanted to bring this stuff to the community, so it’s just continuing it on,” he said. “Normally people have pretty good energy in an environment like this. It’s a lot of fun. We hope it keeps growing.”
Another Circus Collective founder, Lindsey Moon, said she has been active with a lot of different groups in the Corridor, from fire spinning to aerial fitness to flow arts to acro yoga, and this was a way to combine those interests, a place where people could come together to share skills and passions.
“Our philosophy is, you are never too old to play,” she said. “It’s creative expression through movement.”
She explained some of the activities for those unfamiliar with the “circus arts.” Acro yoga is a combination of acrobatics and yoga, done by partners who lift each other in the air or balance on each other. The flow arts include hula hooping, juggling and spinning bo staffs or poi — balls on the ends of ropes or chains. Aerial fitness involves silks and Lyra hoops, suspended in the air. The vaulted ceilings of Studio Reserve are ideal for the aerial equipment.
A runner, Moon said she discovered this world when she was looking for a more social way to work out. She found another benefit as well. She said after a sexual assault, it took time before she was comfortable touching people again. Acro yoga helped her get there.
The community she’s found is tightknit and supportive, she said. When you’re lifting someone in the air or spotting them as they drop from silks, trust is necessary, after all.
“Because there’s so much trust involved, you get really close doing circus arts,” she said.
In addition to providing space for those already involved in the circus arts, Moon said she wants new people to have a place to give them a try.
“I want to have space for everyone to learn. There are people here at all levels, from just hula hooping to performing with fire.”
The Eastern Iowa Circus Collective has only officially met twice for jams. Moon said she’s waiting to see what the community wants before deciding what the future holds for the group. She pictures classes for kids; possibly a circus training center. She’d like to see group members out performing at community events, like at NewBo during a Friday night concert.
Yoga teacher Ali Ozaki helped the group warm up at the circus jam last Saturday. She stressed all of these skills take time to master, but everyone starts from step one learning them. She’s currently working on her aerial skills.
“I like the exhilarating part of it, You’re flying through the air,” she said. “It takes baby steps, but when you get there, everyone celebrates with you. It’s empowering.”
Two of those taking their first steps were 11-year-old best friends Sophia White and Syriana Salehoglu came to the jam with Salehoglu’s mother Jolene. Syriana is on the Five Seasons Ski Team, and they were looking for a way to stay active and practice balance and other skills in the winter. The girls spent much of the time Saturday learning the basics of aerial fitness.
“I’ve never done anything like this before, and I think it’s really cool,” White said. “When you get up on the Lyra, you feel tall and so powerful. And when you’re spinning you just feel pretty.”
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If you go
– What: Eastern Iowa Circus Collective
– Where: Studio Reserved, 1200 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
– Upcoming events: 1 to 5 p.m. March 3: Cirque Session 3: Get Bendy!; 1 to 4 p.m. April 7: Cirque Session: Costume and Prop Swap; Noon to 5 p.m. May 5: Cirque Session 5: Learn to Fire Eat!
– Cost: $10 to $20 per session
– Details: (641) 757-1063, easterniowacircuscollective.com