I first heard about The Bird’s Nest Circus Arts during a cupping session with Toni Haugen of Queen City Acupuncture. Haugen and I were talking about different types of wellness in WNY and she oh so casually mentioned that she was an aerialist, a trapeze aerialist to be more precise.
To say I was intrigued would be an understatement. Haugen said she practiced at The Bird’s Nest so I went to their website to investigate, and read, “The Bird’s Nest is a community space dedicated to creative play, movement, and connection. This facility is the first in our region to offer classes in Circus Arts that are accessible for everyone regardless of body type, age, income, or ability. Bird’s Nest aims to create a safe space that promotes health through non-conventional ways of moving and collaboration.” I knew I had to check it out.
The Bird’s Nest is located at 64 Fillmore Avenue, right off of the I190 near Larkinville. Pulling into the lot of the discreet warehouse space I could not imagine the creative energy I was about to encounter inside.
The first class I signed up for at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning was Beginner Pole Dance & Choreography, normally taught by Sarah Caputi. The Saturday I attended, substitute teacher Evan Vafai led the class. Vafai is a trained ballet dancer who studied with Neglia Ballet Artists in Buffalo.
There were five of us in class, four women and one man. We began class with a variety of warm-up basics like running around the work-out arena, abdominal crunches, and some balance work. After we got our bodies all limbered up we headed to the two poles off to the side in a separate little area. So right here, let me just say that initially I wasn’t sure what this class was going to be about. I mean, pole dancing is considered, well, rather tawdry shall we say. Or so I thought. This class was hard! But super fun.
Vafai made basic moves look simple and elegant. I can assure you that my performance was less than that, but I was able to climb up the pole (I have a bizarre natural ability to climb ropes and poles for some reason), swing around, and do some beginner lifts and hangs. I must tell you that this type of dance requires a lot of upper body and core strength, but the beginner class was very welcoming, supportive, and inclusive.
After class I asked Vafai what got him into this typically female form of movement. He said that his friend had a pole in her house and he immediately fell in love with the art form. He explained, “In other cultures it is more common for men to dance. More and more men are interested in the fitness aspects of aerial arts as well as expressing themselves in artistic ways.”
The next class I checked out was Beginner Aerial Hoop, or Lyra, taught by Samm Haney. This hour and fifteen minute class took place on a hoop, approximately 3 feet in diameter, suspended from the ceiling about six feet off the ground. Again we started with some basic warm-up exercises, then quickly moved to the hoop.
We started with the basics of learning how to get our bodies up into a seated position in the hoop. Haney says that no matter a person’s fitness level, she can always get them to sit up in the hoop their first class. Yes it takes some strength, but persistence and a swinging momentum can get any amateur up. We were placed in one of three groups according to skill level; brand spanking new (that would be yours truly), been there quite a few times, and just about ready to move on to the intermediate level.
I have to admit, it was very fun just watching others around me, but I was determined to do more than just sit on that hoop, so I put my trust in the experience of Haney and accomplished a couple moves that had me holding on with one hand while balancing on my hip – on a hoop – in the air, and other beginner poses. It was really quite thrilling.
A few days later I went back for what to me was the quintessential aerial fete, the trapeze. I mean, how many of us wanted to be one of those daring young men (and women) on the flying trapeze? The Beginner Trapeze class is taught on Monday evenings by Christina Vega-Westhoff. The night I happened to drop in, Kristen Bloom was assisting.
Once again we began with a basic warm-up routine, but soon, one by one, like fairy swings falling from the sky, three trapezes were lowered. I was so excited, the only thing that would have made this day better is if we were all wearing tutus, except for the guy taking class, but well, who knows.
Anyway, we first learned the “tear-drop”, it just sounds so delicate and fairy-like, you can’t help but feel dainty. The tear-drop has you hanging from the trapeze by your hands while your feet are on the bar and your legs are straight, butt dangling down, ideally your nose would be touching your knees. From there we learned how to “gracefully” pull ourselves up to sit on the trapeze. Again we were separated into those three groups and Bloom was with us newbies to help guide us along with progressive moves.
Then, like being served a triple decker layer cake after a sumptuous meal, we learned how to swing across the room, flying through the air. The feeling is glorious and the experience is priceless.
If all of this sounds a tad dangerous, I can assure you it is not. Safety precautions abound at The Bird’s Nest and I never once felt in any danger or that I was putting myself at risk. Abundant padding was always underneath along with professional instructors and assistants to spot and assist whenever needed. I never once felt like I was in jeopardy of being injured.
I had a chance to talk to one of the students, Barrett Impala, who was in both the Lyra Hoop and Trapeze classes with me. I asked her what attracted her to The Birds Nest and aerial arts in general. She explained, “I used to dance when I was younger. I just find this challenging in a way I never thought imaginable. Yeah, I can do a split on the ground, but it’s just so much more fun in the air.” Impala summed up how I felt after all these classes, it’s just plain fun.
Toni Haugen insists that there is a place for everyone at The Birds Nest. Whether you are new to exercise and looking for something that does not involve a treadmill, or a work-out junkie looking for the next challenging step in your routine, The Birds Nest will welcome, without judgement, one and all. I truly felt that way when I was there. I was definitely the oldest one in those classes, but did not feel out of place whatsoever. All the instructors were welcoming and happy to have all of us there.
Find out more on their website. There are lots of classes and workshops to choose from. Find out for yourself what flying is all about!