Circus Runaway

Unique exercise class that shapes your body and your soul.

It has been a strange couple of months, a time of awakening, per se. In February, I joined the circus and every Monday night, I run away with them for 2 blissful hours.

What started as an attempt at finding ‘fun’ exercise has ended up being the saviour of my sanity and a beautiful insight into the notion of ‘community’.

To paint the (not so pretty) picture, prior to joining the circus class, I had turned into an overweight agoraphobic bore – ok I was already overweight, but the dislike of leaving the house was new.

Mr Mac made me realise how withdrawn I had become and despite my withdrawal I still had this nagging desire to get active again, I just lacked the motivation to start.

Sick of the monotony of the gym, with its robotic set up and tinny dance tunes on repeat, I began searching for something different. Lo and behold, the Womens Circus was in full swing not far from our street.

Trust building exercises are a vital part of circus training and benefits personal and social development. Find out how this fun class is changing exercise
Photo by Marie Watt


Without hesitation I signed up to their ‘New Women’ course – a beginners course that teaches a range of circus disciplines such as acrobalance (think human towers), aerials (such as silk tissu and trapeze) and even juggling!

Running over 9 weeks, each class structure is different and you are constantly learning new skills, whilst refining techniques learned in previous classes. The room set up is incredible – full aerial apparatus weaves around the ceiling, ladders are hooked into place, trapeze swings are anchored but ready to glide through the air.

The two trainers on this particular course, Sal and Emily, are an absolute blast – they work with you paying close attention to your needs and importantly to your limits, never forcing you to do something you are not comfortable with and yet they offer the right amount of gentle encouragement within a safe environment, so that you find yourself striving to push your own boundaries each week.

Circus class - a fun alternative to the gym
Photo by Meryl Slater

The most amazing thing of all, though, is the people – the ‘community’. By nature I am a raging cynic, sometimes harshly so and previously I would never buy into this ‘bullshit’ of community.

To me the word community always sounded like something a council had created to try and group people together, so that they can be easily managed. Yes, cynical indeed.

Then there is the ‘community’ in exercise classes, you know where everyone is ‘just so friendly’ and yet when you go to a class you feel that everyone is staring at the newbie, sizing every lump and bump on your body. I always convince myself that an exercise group I join will always have one ‘bitch’ that likes to stare at me as my top flies up whilst I’m jumping around in the middle of some combat class – just another excuse not to go.

I am proud to say, though, with the Women’s Circus I stand completely and utterly corrected. The energy of the people in that room, week-in-week-out, is electric. It is ridiculously warm and fuzzy, genuinely supportive and I abso-bloody-lutely love it.

I laugh every week, I learn something new about a total stranger and together we learn to trust each other – after all, if you cant trust the person you are about to stand and balance on you may have a slight problem!

Bored at the gym? Run away with the circus!
Photo by Marie Watt

During my first class I was so unsure and shy, I resorted to my usual defence mechanism: humour – and apparently I’m not always funny (of course I think I’m hilarious!). I hate icebreakers and name games, but here I understood how important it was to bond with these women, given the things we would be doing during the course. The trainers handle the awkwardness incredibly well, using humour too and they’re pretty darn funny.

The real magic, though, is hidden in these ice breaker and cool-down sessions. You see, not only are they teaching you circus tricks, they are also teaching you to love not only one another, but crucially to love yourself.

For example, at the end of each class the trainers ask you to think about what you did well and share it with the group. In the first few classes, the majority of us used the same expression: ‘I think I did xyz well’. The trainers explained that using passive language, specifically the phrase I think’, actually belittles your achievements and ultimately undermines your confidence. Soon we were able to proudly say ‘I am good at…’ without feeling egotistical.

Isn’t it sad that we are too embarrassed to voice our accomplishments, mostly in fear of being unfairly judged by others?

During one such discussion, I had a little awakening. As I listened to everyone’s answers, I thought of what I had done well and, cartwheels aside,  I realised that my biggest accomplishment was that I had made it to class every single week.

Something so small had previously been so daunting; I had been helplessly trapped in a rut of sadness, boredom and was totally demotivated, following the death of my father. Making class each week was a huge deal for me. No one here knows my sadness or strife but they are so welcoming and supportive, you would be forgiven in thinking that they do.

As this epiphany buzzed through me, I drifted back to the group in time to hear one girl declare that she was proud of how well she was managing social interaction in each class, as it is something that she struggles with. My heart swelled with pride for her, I barely knew her and yet I wanted to give her the biggest hug and congratulate her. I thought ‘if only you knew how important you are to us all’ – her kindness, along with everyone else’s, has helped me get back on my feet and has literally sent me soaring through the air (ok, bad pun!)

At the circus I learned the importance of kindness.

In the words of Amy Leigh Mercree:

‘Kindness can transform someone’s dark moment with a blaze of light. You’ll never know how much your caring matters. Make a difference for another today’.

In the days following my ‘moment’, I seemed to find reinforcement of this message everywhere I went. For example, I stumbled across this image on Instagram:

Inspirational Anti-Bullying Campaign Started on Instagram

The caption read:

‘Right now this image knows no time zones or borders, as it crosses continents to circle the globe. We have invited 100 friends to spread this message with us. Why? #BASLTW – Because Actions Speak Louder Than Words. In this moment WE.ARE.ONE. One Love; One Heart’

I was blown away by the simplicity of this message and the power that it radiates. It was started by a group of people wanting to try and make a difference to someone else’s life. A total stranger. I remember how it feels to be bullied; to be shy; to be the last one in the room looking for a place to sit.

Yes, you can totally sit with me.

The Women’s Circus captured my heart and gave me the motivation to get up and get out. I have the leanest body I have ever had and buckets of confidence to boot. They warmed me with their energy and kept me with their kindness.

The message on Instagram above inspires me to pay it forward and help someone else, which was one of the reasons why I shared my recent hardships in this post last week. Remember: You never know what battles or demons people are fighting, that is why you should never judge.

In one of my all time favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee offers her take on this age old advice through the character Atticus Finch:

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’


For those of you in Melbourne I highly recommend that you try the Women’s Circus. They are a highly skilled and highly professional, not-for-profit arts organisation, that offer year round circus training, as well as producing shows and projects for women and their communities. You can find all the details on their website. Or head over to their Facebook Page.

Insight into how the Women's Circus in Melbourne are teaching kindness and community spirit whilst challenging your body with traditional performance skills.

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