Dallas won the circus arts lottery when Fanny Kerwich decided to make the lone star state her home. An 8th generation French circus performer, Fanny does it all: hula hoop, aerial, clowning, you name it. She originally founded Lone Star Circus School as a kids program, but when Stephanie Stewart (pictured below) got the aerial itch, she worked with Fanny to create adult classes, and Lone Star began embracing aerialists of all ages. Today, Lone Star Circus is a vibrant school and performing group that Dallas can credit with originally bringing aerial arts to the region.
Stephanie is one impressive lady. She discovered circus later in life, after founding her own venture capital and marketing business and having kids.
“Young and old alike, I haven’t seen any age restrictions. It just goes to show that you don’t have to limit yourself by age. It’s more like the less we do the older we get. Some people have the mentality that when I’m this age I can’t do this-this and this, but that mentality is more of what makes you old than the reverse,” Stephanie says.
Stephanie had started performing professionally just a few months into her training, and now performs and teaches regularly. When asked what she likes most about performing silks, she laughs and says, “It makes me feel like a kid again! It’s fun to see people gasp and smile and clap.”
I had the pleasure of attending an intermediate advanced class with Stephanie, and let me tell you, I got my butt kicked, but I had a blast nonetheless. The former gymnast in me was giddy as we started warming up with trampoline and handstand exercises. Stephanie challenged her students beyond the traditional aerial warm-ups. After handstands and a tough but necessary ab-workout we got on the silks to do aerial strength training.
“We really push endurance here because to me, endurance is safety. I would say our aerialists have more endurance than 90 percent of the places I have visited. You can’t cheat the endurance and the conditioning. A lot of folks just want to come in and do tricks. And I get that, the tricks are exciting and fun, you get the adrenaline and your brain gets to work with your body, but its not safe to do a lot of the tricks until you have the core strength. So we try and encourage people to not skimp out on the conditioning portion because that is safety, and it’s really important.”
My endurance was sufficiently challenged as we did warm-up sequences, staying on the silks longer than my forearms would have liked, and worked on those crazy-hard no legged climbs. But I pushed through because Stephanie gave me some advice that I hope to live by from now on: “My cirque du Solei friends taught me this early on, they said if you can’t get through your routine 5 times in a training session, you shouldn’t be doing it once onstage. That was really hard for me because I tend to like lots of really big skills in my routine. So a lot of people perform that can’t even get close to getting through that. But the real deal is that if something goes wrong, and you get stuck too high for anyone to rescue you, you need that extra endurance and strength to get yourself out of that situation.”
So what’s her secret? Besides working out with her students on the silks, Stephanie swims just about everyday. “Everything sort of stops hurting after a good hard hour of swimming. It’s great because you are getting everything to work without the impact on your joints, and it’s something that gives you long lean muscles. If you are trying to be very efficient in the water, everything is lengthened, and it’s like climbing the rope. I think it translates quite well.” After talking with Stephanie, I am totally sold on swimming as the top cross-training exercise for silks. Stephanie encourages student to do “anything that is different that keeps your muscles moving in different ways,” but I am definitely planning on giving swimming a try during my travels.
With Lone Star Circus offering silks, hula hoop, juggling, contortion, rhythmic, acrobatics, trapeze, and even soon bringing in the Cyr wheel (an apparatus brand new to the US), I know that I will never be bored if my travels take me back to Dallas. And I’ll cross my fingers in the hopes that someday I can see a Lone Star Circus production.