Highlights from the Aerial Expo: The Circus Arts Come to Des Moines

Anya Shevelyuk - Pyragraph

I was recently invited to participate in the inaugural Aerial Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. The Expo was created with aerial students in the beginner and intermediate levels in mind, with workshops, showcase performances, and learning seminars, plus the highlight: the aerial competition. I was honored to be one of the many talented instructors at the Expo and enjoyed teaching four workshops and performing during one of the showcases.

After a grueling three-hour drive from Kansas City I felt immediately revitalized seeing the expansive venue space at the Science Center of Iowa. My first workshop was “Conditioning for Aerialists,” one of my personal favorites. The space soon filled with individuals ranging from absolute novices to trained athletes. Everyone divided into three groups and took turns with silks, hammock and lyra. The workout entailed a veritable treasure trove of exercises that taxed even the strongest participants.

“Intro to Inversion Balancing” was by far my largest workshop yet with students ranging from ages 12-55.

I quickly ran across the building to my next group, who gathered to learn “Basic Skills on the Lyra.” I felt a surge of excitement when I saw everyone waiting to try out my specialty; even some of the girls from the last workshop joined in. With spatial awareness being the main focus, the receptive group began striking exquisite poses in no time. We were all having so much fun and before I knew it the allotted time for the workshop had ended.

Day 1 ended with a variety show hosted by the lovely Leo LaFlash, mistress of the Misfit Cabaret. A variety of acts including singing, dancing, hula hooping (which I was the most fond of), pole and burlesque finished off an already exciting day with laughs and entertainment. I could hardly sleep from the anticipation surrounding the next day when I finally arrived at my host house. Although not ideal, I enjoyed about five hours of sleep filled with dreams about teaching the workshops ahead of me.

My first workshop of day 2 started promptly at 9am with a brave group of girls assembled to learn “Contortion Tricks and Illusions.” Unlike the other workshops, this one came with prerequisites: a solid grasp of both the splits and bridge poses. I based my curriculum on not only a strong foundation of contortion, but also what the girls wanted to learn. By the end, they left with an array of new skills and inspiration to help guide them in the future.

“Intro to Inversion Balancing” was by far my largest workshop yet with students ranging from ages 12-55 (including a recent breast cancer survivor). I developed this whole workshop on the premise that there are no tricks to balance, only technique. During the lesson everyone discovered through exploration the foundation of proper balance: alignment. The students were supporting and cheering each other on as they tried new poses. By the end, everyone had discovered their center and left ready to keep exploring the very new realm of balance.

What Felicia Coe has started here is definitely something special.

The showcase marked the end of my time at the Expo. It featured a diverse range of performers including acro balance, silks, cube, lyra, fan dance, and even some break dancing. I unveiled my newest lyra piece that allowed me to inspire, dazzle, and amaze my viewers through my flexibility and strength. Almost immediately after leaving the stage I had to rush back to Kansas City for another performance, this time with my home troupe: Voler: Thieves of Flight.

My only regret for the weekend is not being able to stay for the entire Expo. The overall experience seemed to end almost as soon as it began. I would have loved to facilitate more workshops as well as see the other performances and the competition. A talented group of performers and instructors from around the nation gathered together this last weekend in Des Moines, all of whom I hope to see in the future. The Expo may have ended, but I’m already looking forward to next year and many more after that. Everyone needs to key in on what Felicia Coe, its founder, has started here; it’s definitely something special.

Photo courtesy of Anya Shevelyuk.

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