Did you know there’s a circus school perching precariously on the peripheries of our area?
My Aerial Home, founded in February 2009, occupies a large hall in the Harris Aspire learning centre on Lennard Road, just opposite Cator Park. It’s run by former professional dancer and trapeze artist Amanda Miles, who teaches along with five other instructors, each of whom specialises in skills like tumbling, contortion, rope and silk work as well as the static trapeze itself. The emphasis is mostly on aerial dance skills, and students who sign up can expect to get stronger, fitter and more confident – fast.
Classes are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with many of the students working towards an annual show at Christmas time.
We got in touch with Amanda to find out how she helps wannabe trapeze artists find a new balance…
How did it all start?
I’d been commuting in my normal job for years, driving across London, going all round the world, and I thought, ‘What I want is a nice local job’. When I decided to do aerial training, I started to look round the area. The Harris learning centre came up, I went down there and said, ‘Can I hang some trapezes up?’ and they said yes!
What’s your background?
I went to stage school as a child and I was a professional dancer for a while. I worked my way through different theatrical things, worked in TV for 20 years, then the recession hit, and a lot of my work dried up. Then I started doing trapeze as a hobby. I was awful at it at first, but I loved it. It brought together all the things I liked about keeping fit: you were using your muscles, you were getting stronger, yet you could be very artistic. At My Aerial Home we’re much more about aerial dance. It’s not about big Cirque de Soleil circus tricks, it’s more about the aesthetic of the movement and how it all links together with the music.
Tell us about your team of instructors.
We’ve got people who were teaching for 15 years at quite high levels at the Circus Space (now the National Centre) which is where most of us trained. We’ve got handstand teachers. We’ve got some people who were in the Millennium Show who now teach with us regularly. We’ve got Pixie Le Knot, who’s one of the country’s top contortionists; she can bend herself in half. She’s in Game of Thrones as well! Last year we had 22 different trainers and we do specialist courses. So when you come to My Aerial Home, you might be an amateur but you’re going to get top class training.
What kind of people do you get signing up?
It’s a real cross section. There’s a local funeral director, a vet’s assistant, people who work in accounting. We’ve got a local sculptor, artists, photographers. And people who just work in normal offices. But it’s very odd: you start to talk to people about their background, and they nearly always come out with something much more arty; they might have done a drama degree, but they happen to work in mental health or something. It appeals to people who are a little bit maverick: by day they might be an accountant, but at night, they put on a sparkly leotard and come and show off.
Do you find some people are naturally good? Or is it just a matter of working at it?
It’s a bit of both. Sometimes people come and they’re awful, and I come home to my husband and I go, ‘I don’t know what I’m gonna do, they just don’t get it’. But they stick with it and, usually about three months in, something clicks. They just suddenly get really good really quickly. You can’t always tell who’s going to be good. Often, for the people who find it hard, it means more to them.
What do you think people get out of the classes?
On a very basic level it’s a really fun way to get fit and strong: it’s better than the gym. You have to be able to lift your own body weight, so that takes quite a lot of work. You start to notice you’ve got a bit of muscle tone, and even if you don’t get thinner, you’re more toned. And when people start to feel physically strong, they start to feel mentally strong. People get a bit braver, and it kind of starts to bleed into everyday life.
Lastly, how do you feel about Penge?
I like that fact that it’s one of these places that’s really getting arty in the best way. When I first heard about the Penge Tourist Board, I thought, ‘Yes, this is what Penge needs’. There’s a real community spirit. When you go into Penge there’s a feeling, there’s something there: it’s bubbling, it’s tangible. About six or seven years ago it wasn’t. But now it’s like, ‘Let’s go into Penge and see what’s going on’.
Interview by Ben Murphy