X-Treme: The boldest swingers in town

Circus Space in Islington, home of the Brit-Circ movement, offers professional performers and beginners alike the chance to be real high- flyers

Imagine yourself, for a moment, swinging through the air on a flying trapeze. Climbing high onto a narrow platform, taking your life in your chalky hands - taking a deep breath - and swinging down and out into the wonderful and frightening world of physics, a domain where terms such as inertia, momentum and acceleration are no longer safe and abstract notions.

Now imagine the expression on your face. One of wide-eyed terror perhaps, or faint-hearted horror. Blind panic at the very least.

A barely suppressed grin would not be many people's guess, but this is the standard expression worn by students of the flying trapeze evening class at Islington's Circus Space. These fearless human pendulums pike back and forth, dismount with a graceful plop onto the mat below and scamper back up the ladder, smirking like kids at a swimming pool desperate to leap off the diving board.

Circus Space's spectacular home, in the old Shoreditch Electricity Generating Station off Hoxton Square, is the unofficial headquarters of the Brit- Circ movement. Professional performers (including members of the RSC and Cirque du Soleil, right) and part-time students come here to refine their skills and acquire new ones. It's a veritable academy of excellence for trapezists (flying and static), acrobatic tumblers and balancers, jugglers, unicyclists, stilt-walkers, tightwire-walkers and clowns. What's more, all of these exotic pursuits can be studied by complete beginners - acrobatics is taught from the forward-roll onwards, while trapeze artists are firmly secured with a safety or "lunge" rope.

Sweating lightly after a session on the trapeze, adult programme manager Rob Colbert described the range of students who come to Circus Space. "We've had artists and fashion designers through to business people from the City. The most unusual was a 63-year-old man doing static trapeze," he chuckles. "More and more dancers are coming because dance is getting increasingly acrobatic nowadays and they need a different set of skills which we can provide."

"Most beginners have mentally built themselves up to doing it and none of them seem too shocked. Some of them learn really quickly, but it depends on your spatial and bodily awareness when you are in extreme positions," he continues. This is a circus euphemism for hanging upside-down, possibly from a bar, and knowing if your feet are arched. It is something children are apparently much more aware of, while adults have reconditioned their bodies "in the wrong direction". Trapeze, especially, is popular with gymnasts who tend to retire some way short of their 65th birthday.

It would be an understatement to say that Karoline Newman and Darren Kley came to trapeze from a different angle. Karoline runs a PR communications company and uses trapeze to relax and "hang loose". Darren, 24, fell into trapeze through living in trees during various road protest campaigns, including Twyford Down and Salisbury Hill. Ordinarily, these people would be swinging from different ropes. On the surface, they have little in common apart from their vertigo.

"Before I did this I was terrified of heights and when I first started, most lessons I was in tears," Karoline admits. "I started the class because a friend had been here and I'd seen it completely revolutionise her life. Like any dangerous sport, you are challenging yourself to be that bit braver, but I don't see myself getting into a spangly suit and running away to join the circus - once you are a competent swinger, that's a skill in its own right."

Darren is one of the 32 students on Circus Space's two-year BTEC course and is starting a touring company with his partner when he finishes the course in June. "I've had a fear of heights ever since I started climbing trees during the road protests," he reveals. "This is a really spiritual thing, a modern-day yoga. I've found a way to channel my anger and feelings through performance and I'm coming to terms with my body, that it doesn't always want to do what I'm telling it to."

This wilful determination has beneficial side-effects. Circus Space is crammed with lithe, limber and fully functional bodies with wide shoulders and flat stomachs. The body beautiful ethic doesn't apply here, but you do need to be fit. Egged on by Karoline, I took a particularly graceless swing on the trapeze, supervised by tutor Pauline Palacy (a big cheese in the world of trapeze and the pioneer of the elegant Palacy technique). After doing an impression of a side of beef on a meat hook for a minute or so, I felt my stomach muscles, such as they are, strain and rip in protest. I awoke the next day feeling as if I'd done 100 sit-ups.

For the students at Circus Space, their hobby provides a purpose (other than sheer vanity) for working out at the gym and a chance to form fresh bonds which are entirely unconnected to the rest of their lives, as Karoline confirms.

"When people ask me `What do you do to relax?' and I say `Flying trapeze', they think you're taking the piss. Stuff what I do for a living. When I'm here, I'm `K'."

LOW DOWN

Learn new skills:

Circus Space is at Coronet St, N1 6HD (0171-613 4141)

The following venues also run circus-related workshops and classes:

The Albany Centre, Douglas Way SE8 (0181-692 4446)

Jackson's Lane Community Centre, 269a Archway Road, N6 (0181-340 5226)

See the professionals:

Circus of Horrors, The Roundhouse, NW1 (0171-267 0007) Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 6pm & 9pm, Sun 6pm. pounds 10-20, to 31 Jan

Circus Ronaldo, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, SE1 (0171-960 4242) Tonight, 7.45pm, tomorrow 5pm. pounds 8-14 (Sun under-16s pounds 6-8), ends tomorrow

Cirque du Soleil, W8 (0171-589 8212) Tue-Sun 7.45pm, Sat & Sun mat 2.30pm. pounds 23-pounds 45 to 8 Feb

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

    £19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage