Putting the fun into exercise

Rhiannon Edwards tries out acrobalance classes at Jackson’s Lane

Okay, I admit it. I’m not very good at exercise. I have spent most of my adult life feeling guilty that my jogs end with a chocolate bar – and the word gym makes me itch uncontrollably.

So a visit to the acrobalance class, which is every Sunday at Jackson’s Lane arts centre in Highgate, was accompanied by the hope that I may finally find something fun that’s also good for my health.

Acrobalance, a cross between acrobatics and balancing lifts is a highlight of many circus performances. “The health benefits are many,” says class co-ordinator Lauren Hendry, an award-winning acrobalance performer.

“The exercises increase flexibility and many people who do yoga enjoy acrobalance too.”

Hendry, joint director of the So and So Circus theatre company with performer Kaveh Rahnama, says acrobalance is also more accessible than many people think. “There’s stuff you can achieve in the very first class, no matter what level you are at,” she says.

We stretch and warm up before watching a demonstration by Lauren and acrobalance performer Connor Neal. Then I make my first attempt at a balance.

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Before I know it, I’m balancing on Neal’s feet, in a position known as the swan.

It’s easier than I thought it would be to get into the positions and I can hardly believe that on my first day I’m already balancing on someone’s feet. I’m a “flyer” to use the technical term from the acrobalance world.

The stretches feel like exercise, but the challenge of trying to balance in a position you think impossible provides a good distraction. After an attempt at another position as a flyer, I take the opposite position – the “base”.

I’m amazed as I lift Hendry entirely off the ground and she sits on the soles of my feet which are raised in the air. “The key to it is in the balance,” she says. If you balance in the right position then it doesn’t feel heavy to lift someone up as the floor takes the weight for you.”

All ages and abilities are welcome at the class, which runs from 4pm to 6pm.

Hendry suggests bringing along a partner to work with who is of similar ability – although this is not essential.

“We tailor the classes so that everyone will go away having learned something or tried something new,” she says.

The children’s class, which involves juggling and stilt and ball walking as well as acrobalance is like a buzzing backstage rehearsal.

Ten-year-old Francis walks across the room on a huge red ball while others circle him in a flurry of flying juggling balls, colourful hoops and stilts.

I imagine this is the product of weeks of practice at the workshop, which also runs on a Sunday from 2pm. But Francis’s mother, Joy Banfield-Nwachi, assures me otherwise.

“He’s only just started, this is his first lesson,” she says, impressed by her son’s progress: “It will be good for him because it improves his balance. He’s also a really lively child so it’s good to help him concentrate by getting some exercise whilst having a lot of fun.”

o Adult acrobalance classes cost �15 per session and children’s circus skills classes run cost �120 a term from Jacksons Lane Theatre, 269a Archway Road, Highgate. Visit www.jacksonslane.org.uk for details.