January 2021

Aerial Elements: Fitness takes flight

Author: Cheryl Alexander | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Twenty years ago, if you had told Lorrie Lancaster, owner of Aerial Elements in Bluffton, that she would be teaching aerial silks and performing aerial arts with skills like those she’d seen in Cirque du Soleil, she’d have told you that you were crazy.

“I’ve never been big into exercising,” Lancaster said. “I love doing fun things that are physical, but I’ve always avoided general fitness classes and working out. Unless someone is pushing me or training me one-on-one, I’ll do it, but I don’t like it.”

Lancaster already had a career in medical aesthetics. She started as a makeup artist, then moved into the salon/spa industry, obtaining a teaching license and training other aestheticians for a medical instruments company. Now, Lancaster owns Envision Med Spa Services and works with Dr. David Remigio, oculoplastic surgeon.

So how did this aesthetician begin to fly on silks and dance on trapezes?

“I’ve always loved the aerial silks in Cirque du Soleil,” Lancaster explained, “but never in a million years did I ever think it was something I could do because I’m naturally pretty weak and inflexible, not to mention a bit clumsy.”

Lancaster’s med spa was participating in a diabetes fundraising event, and her table was next to a hospital nutritionist who invited Lancaster to an aerial silks class at a place called Move and Motion. Lancaster did not hesitate—though she had never imagined doing anything of the sort—and her life was literally turned upside down.

At Move and Motion, Lancaster met owner Suzette Springer, a former Big Apple Circus and Cirque performer. “I was like, sign me up,” Lancaster said. “In my first class, my strength and flexibility were pathetic; my splits looked like cartwheels, and I couldn’t climb at all, let alone do a pull up. But I loved the inversions and spinning.”

As a child, she loved hanging upside down and spinning on anything, and with the aerial silks, she discovered it was so much fun that it did not seem like exercise at all. Suddenly, she was getting fit simply by practicing all the new things she was learning to do. She credits Springer for instilling within her a desire to keep at it and for her success as a performer.

“Suzette was an amazing coach who never gave up on me, even with my lack of skill and clumsiness,” Lancaster said. “And after about a year of hard work, to my complete surprise, she asked me to perform, which previously I had no desire to do.”

Lancaster reluctantly agreed, feeling like she owed it to her coach. What she learned was that the reward for her perseverance and practice to step outside her comfort zone had a two-fold payoff: “Not only was performing fun, but I actually began to work harder so I wouldn’t embarrass myself!”

Lancaster soon began assisting Springer with classes, progressing to becoming an assistant coach, and eventually teaching and coaching private sessions and group classes on her own using Springer’s techniques, progressions, and methodology.

In 2016, Springer relocated to Atlanta and closed Move and Motion. The closest aerial silks studios were Charleston or Jacksonville. “My fellow student and performer (and now business partner) Michelle Boniface and I were faced with either stopping doing what we loved or opening our own place,” Lancaster said. “We decided to sublet space, start a small studio, and keep our local aerial community alive.”

Finding a suitable space with matted floors and high ceilings and the appropriate beams for rigging was a challenge since most of those spaces are large warehouse spaces. The duo got lucky when John Juarez, owner of Riptide MMA, had some extra space and available time that worked for the aerial classes and performance troupe rehearsals. And so Aerial Elements was born. (Shout-out to Juarez for his flexibility and continued support during the pandemic.)

Nowadays, Lancaster says aerial silks is her hobby and passion more than a business. “The business came out of the necessity to pay the overhead in the space so that we can continue to do what we love,” she explained.
Though she did not discover circus and aerial arts until her 40s, Lancaster said her body feels younger now (10 years into her practice) than when she started. She encourages anyone who is interested in learning new skills and experiencing their body in new ways to try it.

“Those who have a natural physical playfulness about them will really enjoy the practice even if it’s challenging. You’ll step outside your comfort zone,” Lancaster said, “but sometimes that’s exactly what we need.”

Aerial silks and aerial yoga are different, Lancaster explained. Aerial yoga is yoga with the assistance of the hammock. Aerial silks are a circus art form where the student progressively learns skills, tricks, and movements that can be done alone, sequentially or in choreography—eventually off the ground and up in the air. With time, the practice of aerial silks will make the student more flexible and stronger. Some of the movements in aerial yoga are also practiced in aerial silks class to warm up or increase flexibility, but the similarity ends there.

Lancaster also believes that working on aerial silks is a great confidence builder because the student is constantly doing things they never thought they could do. It also speeds up the journey to flexibility due to the support of the silks. Core and upper body strength are enhanced, and circus arts have been found to be healthy for brain function.

“It’s like learning to play an instrument or speak a new language,” she said. “Learning fabric theory—the ins and outs of weaving the body into intricate patterns and hitching safely to get to the desired endpoint—is a mind and body exercise.”

Additionally, learning aerial silks is not affected by weather, requires no expensive equipment, and there is no need to drive out of the area. And for some, it can become a creative outlet and art form.

“Our performance troupe performs at community events, fundraisers and private events,” Lancaster said. They also offer fire performances, stilt-walking, juggling, LED props, flow props, and Polynesian dance.

“My goal is to motivate my students in the way that my coach motivated me—to keep learning, and have fun, and to inspire a desire to perform. I hope as well that those who watch our performances find us interesting, enjoyable, and entertaining and that we connect with them in some way.”

Aerial Elements group classes are for kids 12 and up on Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 p.m. Adult classes are on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. Polynesian Dance class is on Sundays at 4 p.m. As things normalize with COVID-19, Lancaster hopes to add more classes to the schedule.

Private lessons are available for all ages, booked by appointment, weekdays and weekends. Private group classes (fun for birthdays, bachelorette groups and team building) are also available. Children under 12 can learn in private lessons and possibly progress to group classes, depending on the skills they attain and their ability to follow through with safety instructions without constant one-on-one coaching.

Single aerial classes are $25 or purchase five for $100. Single Polynesian Dance classes are $15 or get 10 for $100. Private lessons (immensely popular during COVID) are $60 an hour and can be split with a friend for $30 per person or get six one-hour private sessions for $300.

Aerial Elements is located at 36 Persimmon St., # 303B, in Bluffton. For more information about Aerial Elements or to book a performance, call (617) 775-3320, email aerialelements@yahoo.com or visit aerialelementsbluffton.com. Lancaster is also available for private lessons and seasonal classes at SEGA gymnastics on Hilton Head Island.

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