Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: Take the silk road

Each week Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown

Be like pop star Pink in her music video and perform acrobatics in silks at The Dust Palace. Photo / Doug Sherring
Be like pop star Pink in her music video and perform acrobatics in silks at The Dust Palace. Photo / Doug Sherring

Silks lesson

What is it? The Dust Palace is a circus theatre company. They also take classes for adults and kids.

What's needed? Tights and snug top (so it doesn't get in the way), long-sleeve top, no shoes, water.

The experience: If you've ever seen the singer Pink belting out songs while performing acrobatics in silks high in the air and thought her circus-style tricks rock, then you should see Aucklander Eve Gordon.

I'm at The Dust Palace, getting a silks lesson from Eve, a co-director of the circus theatre company. She's a highly trained and specialised silk aerialist and circus artist, who learned her tricks at Unitec. She's also an actress - you might recognise her as Stacey from The Almighty Johnsons.

Before learning some tricks, I ask her to show off a bit. She uses the fabric to climb to the height of, let's say, a house, and wrap, suspend, swing and spiral her body into and out of poses like a ballerina in flight.

It appears seamless, but this takes super-human strength. Heck, the chick can fly.

She then pulls off a trick called "Chagall Rolls" where she twists and folds her ripped torso up the silks. She's the only woman in New Zealand who can do this; a foreign fella taught her how.

The hairs spring up on the back of my neck while watching this because if she makes a mistake, she could drop to the hard, cold, unforgiving floor.

But she's soon got her feet back safely on the ground, smiling and all aglow with sweat. She's keen to share her passion.

They have a grade system (1-10), where each student works at their own pace. Eve says she's a 9 "because there's always more you can learn to do" and, besides, "grade 10 is just silly hard!" She reckons Pink is about a grade 5-6, but adds that this is still amazing because Pink sings while on the silks.

Before I get high, Eve sends me to warm up with her partner Mike Edward, who's the villain Zac Smith off Shorty Street and co-director of the company. The muscle-bound actor gets me doing stretching, core and aerobic conditioning drills.

I then copy Eve on the silks by climbing them like they're a rope and then trying what she calls split rolls and foot locks: I wrap my feet in the silks, drop into the splits and then roll around and around in mid-air, defying gravity. I'm not that far off the ground because I'm a beginner; it's takes a lot of experience to do this at crazy heights. It takes strength, flexibility and my core is screaming "this hurts". But it's a buzz.

Lastly, Eve lets me have a play and clown around. She shows me how to wrap the silks over my shoulders and so I'm just touching my toes on the floor. I run on the ground and swing through the air and I giggle.

When I finish, I look at The Dust Palace performers practising for an up-coming show. A guy spins at speed while hanging onto a rope; a girl hangs by her toes from a hoop high off the ground, going fast through the air; and Mike balances his young son atop his shoulders.

How much? Silks and aerial classes cost $25 an adult (kids $20), or hand and acro balance classes are $15. One free session with every 10-pack of classes.

Worth it? Find your inner-cirque star - it's fun fitness.

Try it: The Dust Palace, 1/739 Great South Rd, Penrose, Auckland, ph (09) 579 8373, email classes@thedustpalace.co.nz or see the company's next show called ...With a Stranger ... at Tapac Theatre, June 7-22.

Rating: 10/10

- Herald on Sunday

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