In an unassuming location, across from Sequiota Park and neighboring 4 by 4 Brewing Co., is a place that defies expectations – and gravity.
Springfield Aerial Fitness LLC, owned by Daniela Torres, is a studio offering classes and training for all ages interested in aerial fitness, pole and the circus arts.
Torres says an early obstacle was deciding on a name for one of the first studios of its kind in Springfield. “There was nothing like this in Springfield,” she says. “Aerial wasn’t even a word many people knew about.”
Torres jokes that people would ask if it was like the mermaid – “No, not like the mermaid,” she says. “We settled on Springfield Aerial Fitness.”
Aerial silks is a type of circus or acrobatic performance art in which the performer climbs, wraps and maneuvers their body in and around two long pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling. The performer uses their hands, feet and body to climb and twist around the fabric, creating various poses and movements, and incorporating drops and twists. In addition to silks, students at Springfield Aerial Fitness can also learn similar maneuvers on the trapeze or lyra hoop, a circular apparatus.
When Torres began offering classes in 2016, she collaborated with Zenith Climbing Center, teaching silks and youth circus classes on Wednesdays and Fridays.
“I had to climb every time, up the arch or up the big wall to set my points for the silks. And then take them down,” Torres says. “I honor that hard work and am so incredibly grateful to Zenith for giving me the opportunity and believing in me.”
By October 2018, Torres was ready to open her own location and found a former dance studio that was a perfect fit, with rent costing $1,750 a month.
“I paid a monthly fee to Phenomenon, a former dance studio, for Monday classes, and Zenith let me do a percentage of the sales,” she says. “So, I never took out a business loan and built this whole thing from the ground up.”
Torres has spent the years transforming the studio to reflect her personality, adding sequined curtains, mood lighting and black glass chandeliers.
The studio currently offers 18 weekly classes, three to five monthly workshops, plus open gym and private lessons, with class sessions ranging $15-$60. In addition to in-studio offerings, students and instructors perform during special events across the region. In May 2023, the studio hosted a student showcase, highlighting new work from students and instructors, and in June students will perform at Ozarks Pridefest as well as travel to Arkansas to perform at musician Randall Shreve’s album release party.
“I work about 60 hours a week,” says Torres, who initially was the only instructor. The studio now has seven instructors and a contracted social media manager.
Aerial arts is a relatively new fitness and performance concept, with some credit given to Canadian gymnast André Simard, who developed aerial acrobatics routines for the Cirque du Soleil in 1987. According to Torres, aerial arts doesn’t have a regulating body, and its history is a bit hazy, with some websites saying it wasn’t until 1998 that it was formally recognized as a performing art form.
Torres initially experimented locally and in Cincinnati with a group of other curious but untrained people, but says she quickly realized “my silk on a tree was not a safe way to rig and that there was a proper form.” This led her to Boulder, Colorado, where she trained under Nancy Smith at Frequent Flyers, which started in 1988 and has influenced the aerial dance industry.
Because of the lack of regulation, Torres says Springfield Aerial Fitness has high in-house standards for its instructors and students – not only with the aspect of the art form, but also how it relates to physical therapy and proper engagement.
One of Torres’s first students, Mar Brichacek, started classes at the Zenith location in 2016. Brichacek, who has been involved in competitive dance throughout her childhood, plus softball, weight lifting and bodybuilding through adulthood, says she found a new way of training her body and mind through Springfield Aerial Fitness.
“I was drawn to it because it was completely different from any movement style I’d done,” she says via email. “Something I loved about Springfield Aerial Fitness, and Dani’s teaching style specifically, was that the movement was encouraged to be a journey, not a destination with an end goal.”
As one who deals with chronic pain, Brichacek says the philosophy of listening to her body versus pushing through the pain has been healing.
“I have learned to appreciate what my body can do, more than what it cannot do,” she says. “Aerial also doesn’t care about what type of body you have; it is for every body.”
Brichacek says in addition to the inclusive nature of the physical training, she also has found a community of family through Springfield Aerial Fitness, even meeting her spouse while taking classes.
“My closest friends at the studio are my chosen family,” she says. “They were at my wedding when my family wasn’t. They have celebrated my good times, and held me through the bad.”
Brichacek, in addition to being a student, also participated in multiple performances and taught as an instructor until last month.
In the Springfield area, more aerial fitness studios are popping up, from aerial-specific training to dance and yoga studios that incorporate aerial silks and acrobatics. Torres says she’s excited to see more opportunities but warns that learning with trained professionals is crucial for safety and success.
“It is so much more beneficial to get them some classes with professionals, with good engagement and developing good habits, or private lessons, if they want to work at a faster pace,” she said.
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