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Depending on the time of day, passers-by on West Hargett Street downtown might see acrobats hanging from a trapeze, elaborate hula hoop routines or even dancers spinning fire.
It looks like the circus has come to town – permanently. And while there will be no big tents or elephants, Cirque de Vol Studios is Raleigh’s first center for circus arts and creative movement.
“There was a really big circus community and we didn’t have a home,” said Sara Phoenix-Howell, who owns the studio. “We needed a place where we could rehearse and practice.”
Cirque de Vol Studios
Classes offered: About 40 each week for kids and adults, including aerial silks, hooping, belly dancing, NIA, trapeze and lyra acrobatics, zumba, as well as traditional, hoop and aerial swing yoga.
Cost: $10 to $30 per session
Where: 300 W. Hargett St., Raleigh
For more information: cirquedevol.com or 919-615-2484
Acrobats, fire dancers and other groups in the Triangle have been as nomadic as a traveling circus, practicing in empty warehouses and homes and performing in street festivals. The groups are perhaps best known for street shows during the circusSPARK portion of the downtown Raleigh SPARKcon festival. September’s event had fire dancing in the middle of Fayetteville Street as a modified school bus spat flames.
But most people who hang out at Cirque de Vol aren’t training for a career with Barnum and Bailey. Many of the studio’s 40 classes a week cater to beginners looking for a fun alternative to taking aerobics.
“It’s incredible as a fitness form, because it’s so mentally stimulating, you don’t even realize how hard you’re working your body,” Phoenix-Howell said.
It’s hard to go back to a treadmill after six weeks of trapeze workouts. Raleigh resident Hannah Grady – who has taken aerial silks, trapeze and yoga classes at Cirque de Vol – said she has taken fitness classes before but never really enjoyed the process.
“I’m actually having fun, enjoying what I’m doing,” Grady said. “I thought it was a good way to work out and get in shape without going to the gym.”
For those with a bit of pyromania, the studio also has fire safety certification classes for aspiring fire dancers. The dances typically involve flaming hula hoops, lit balls at the end of ropes and candelabras.
Half of Cirque de Vol’s space in the Hue building is devoted to aerial silks, a movement that has become popular in other cities. The room has strong, colorful fabrics hanging from the ceiling, allowing participants to climb and wrap their limbs in the fabric for support.
Grady said the silks classes have been her favorite so far.
“It’s been the hardest thing to do, but that’s what I like about it,” she said. “To advance, it takes a lot of strength and endurance.”
The silks are used in Cirque de Vol’s most unique course offering, a class for new mothers suffering from postpartum depression. The mothers will form a cocoon in the fabric and hang with their newborn. “It’s like a bonding, relaxation class,” Phoenix-Howell said.
How to choose between the many circus arts? “A lot of it depends on whether you want to go upside-down,” Phoenix-Howell said.
While Cirque de Vol could have opted for cheaper space elsewhere, Phoenix-Howell said she wanted to be downtown near artists’ studios. Cirque de Vol will have art openings during First Friday as well as a monthly performance.
“I’m interested in seeing the Warehouse District’s revitalization,” she said. “This is really where the art scene of Raleigh is developing.”