If you have ever thought that floating through the air with the greatest of ease might be an activity you would like to try, a new business in Eagle River can help you make that a reality in your life.
You won’t be on a flying trapeze, yet you will be hanging from something that at first glance might seem just as perilous to the untrained eye. Rest – or um, hang upside – assured that the risk is minimal as long as you follow instructions and build your skill level.
So says Stephany Jeffers, who is the owner of Cirque Boreal – a relatively new local business housed at the Alaska Moving Arts Center.
The former Miss Alaska raised in Chugiak has come home after attending college in Eastern Washington and at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to focus on teaching locals the art of hanging from sturdy silks to perform various aerial movements and stunts.
“I cannot stand going to the gym five days a week to use an elliptical or a bike. I can’t just do that. I would have to be reading a newspaper or something,” Jeffers said. “For me, exercise has to be exciting. I want it to be an art form and that is exactly what aerial is. It is a graceful dance in the air, but it also requires strength and it will challenge you.”
Jeffers began her love affair with aerial movement in 2008 in Anchorage when a troop began at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. She was hooked. She invested in her own set of “silks” – the long materials that hang from a load-bearing ceiling used by aerialists to achieve the various positions in the air.
She began teaching in Fairbanks. But it wasn’t her own studio.
When she graduated from UAF in 2015 with a master’s degree in biology, she worked in Palmer at the U.S. Dept of Agriculture in her field.
But the longing to pursue aerial work full-time never left her. She kept mulling it over in her mind and discussing it with her boyfriend, Vijay Patil. He told her to do it.
“He told me, ‘you have been talking about this for five years. Now is the time,’” Jeffers recalls.
So she did.
She spent the bulk of 2016 working out insurance and logistics.
One doesn’t start an aerial business in just any building.
The presence of load-bearing beams on ceiling is crucial. The amount of distance between those beams and the floor is also an important element.
“I can never go into a room without looking up at the ceiling to see if it would work to hang,” Jeffers quips. “The first thing you do as an aerialist is look straight up and ask yourself, ‘can you hang from this.’”
She was doing just that in Anchorage during a First Friday event when a woman asked her what she was doing. Jeffers explained and that is how she learned about the Anchorage Community Works.
It is where Jeffers holds her Anchorage courses and its atmosphere is completely different from that in Eagle River, she said. In Anchorage, there is a group of approximately 30 highly-experienced aerialists. In Eagle River, the art form that combines agility with strength is just gaining notice among locals.
Bonnie Pineda of Eagle River was first introduced to aerial a few months ago when she came to pick her kids up a tumbling class at the AMAC and found her kids tied up in Jeffers’ silks near the ceiling of the room whose floor was covered in gymnastics mats. Pineda was intrigued and decide to start taking classes from Jeffers. It meant she could do something she would not otherwise: Hang upside.
“I have always loved being suspended. I love hanging upside down,” Pineda said. “It is something totally different. I am improving in it and I can do things I never imagined I would be able to do.”
Pineda said she had no dance or yoga background – exercise forms that can be helpful gateways to aerial – but Jeffers wasn’t bothered by that in her new student.
“She can look at each individual and pick out their strengths and teach each individual different things to do that are good for each person’s body and what their body can do at that time,” Pineda said.
It is a skill Jeffers herself self-identifies in her teaching.
She admits she has never been much of a female “jock.”
That doesn’t stop her from actively pursuing aerial.
Neither does the fact that she isn’t in what she calls “Miss America” shape any more. She readily shares that yes, she is about 50 pounds heavier now that when she wore the crown and sash. Yet she is a better and more experienced aerialist today than she was back then.
And she also can relate to and encourage others who aren’t slender but want to try aerial work.
In fact, to Jeffers, being tiny is not a prerequisite to taking her class.
It’s all about attitude and a willingness to follow instruction.
And to begin what she calls, “slow and low.”
Her students master the skills of properly wrapping the silks around one’s wrist and ankles while remaining just inches above the floor. Advancing to higher elevation comes only after demonstrating not just skill but also confidence in navigating the silks.
She’s had heavy folks and super skinny folks take her classes. She’s had the very young and the certainly older participate in her classes.
“I had these two ladies in their 60s do classes and they loved it,” she said. “And they did terrific.”
That encouraging spirit is part of what drew Julie Woldow to Jeffers’ class. She’d begun her experience with aerial in her brother’s studio a decade ago and used silks to help her physical therapy patients and she is a believer in aerial’s positive impact on joints and the spine.
“When I learned that Stephany, whose reputation precedes her, was starting classes in this area, I was thrilled to learn from her,” Woldow said. “I have been impressed with her fun style of teaching which brings joy to her classes and complements her technical competency.”
Editor’s Note: Cirque Boreal classes are held every Saturday at the Alaska Moving Arts Center. Open hang is held on Tuesday evenings. Visit the company’s website online at www.cirqueboreal.com.