photos by L.G. Patterson
The setup for an aerial arts class looks more like a circus performance than a gym scene. No weights, no equipment, just long streams of silk fabric cascading from the ceiling. But it would be wrong to say that it’s one or the other, says CoMO aerial arts member Hannah Henze. “It doesn’t have to be performance, but it’s more of an art form,” she says.
Aerial arts is a genre of circus art, during which the acrobat uses silk fabrics to perform a series of acrobatic moves off of the ground: a convergence of athleticism and art. CoMO aerial arts, a group of local aerial artists, uses Wilson’s gym as their studio and teaching space.
Hannah Henze has been a CoMO aerial arts member since 2014, and has been teaching aerial arts classes at Wilson’s fitness for just under two years. She’s no stranger to an active lifestyle, or to performance arts. When Henze first moved to Columbia, she participated in classes at Muse Pole Fitness, where she gained skills that would later prove useful in aerial, such as strength and flexibility.
She came across an aerial arts performance on YouTube and knew it was something she had to try. Almost immediately after connecting with CoMO aerial arts, Henze was hooked.
“I’ve found that I like aerial more,” she says. “With pole, you have to use your skin to grip, so there’s a lot of skin pain. In aerial, you aren’t using so much skin as you are pressure.”
Wilson’s offers aerial classes for all levels, from beginner to advanced. Everyone, though, must start out in the aerial basics class.
“It introduces you to how the fabric feels, how it’s going to move and how you’re going to work with it. Then we have a test out; you have to be able to do certain skills to move into level one.” Students usually pass the test quickly. The level one classes are a medley of new students and those who are perfecting their skills before they move to level two. “There’s a lot of strength training at that point; the thing that most people struggle with especially is upper body strength, because you have to be able to start doing pull ups,” she says. “So, we have a lot more level one students than we do level two students.”
Students who are ready for performance can participate, along with instructors, in showcases throughout the year. The most recent was held in April at Bur Oak Brewery and featured several upper-level students and instructors. For those interested in something a bit closer to earth, aerial yoga might be a fitting alternative option.
“Aerial yoga is taking a yoga class and adapting it to a hammock,” Henze says. “It’s taking your breathing, strength training and everything you’re learning in yoga and elevating it.” Taking yoga off the ground doesn’t necessarily equate to upping the difficulty level. “You can use the hammock to make an exercise more difficult or you can use it for support,” she says. “This can be really supportive for your back and your hips.”
Members and non-members can sign up for an aerial arts class or an aerial yoga class by visiting wilsonsfitness.com.
The CoMo Derby Dames, Columbia’s roller derby team, move first to make hits, second to get fit. But when you’re skating around a flat track at high speed, these things seem to happen simultaneously. The Dames spend three hours on endurance training and another three hours on scrimmage play each week. Kelsey Mescher, “Mesch’er Up,” has been part of the Dames for four years. At just six hours a week, that’s over 1,200 hours on skates. Kelsey began her roller derby career in June of 2013, after finding out a few of her grad school classmates were Derby Dames. “I was like, ‘roller derby — what?’” Mescher says. “I saw ‘Whip It’ once, maybe, but I didn’t really think it was a real thing.”
Once Mescher attended her first bout, she was hooked. She started the beginner’s program that summer, and by the first of the year she was a member of the team. Four years later, she’s a on the coaching committee, and a solid member of the team and a big proponent of the sport. “Anyone can play roller derby,” she says. “Our motto is, ‘you can be a derby girl, you just have to want to be one.’ There are no limitations on body size; frankly, we’re women trying to take up designated space, so the bigger the better.” All ages can participate, too; there have been skating members well into their 60s.
Mescher says that though the athletic advantage is beneficial, it’s the second best thing roller derby has given her. The real prize, she says, is the community. “I joined the league and got 30 new best friends,” she says. “Even when you’re depressed or just feel crappy, you can come here and always feel better.”
Anyone interested in becoming part of the Derby Dames must start out in the beginners program. This 12-week session, which covers basics like how to skate, rules of roller derby, and more, is essential, Mescher says. “We want our girls as safe as possible when they come skate with the more experienced skaters. You have to pass a minimum skills requirement, which is judged by our coaching committee, and once you clear that, you get to come to endurance on Thursdays. Once you pass your hitting portion of the test you get to come Sundays to scrimmage with us.”
If putting on a pair of skates — and pads and a helmet — seems too daunting, never fear. There’re plenty of ways to be part of the team as a non-skater. There are around 20-30 skating members of the Derby Dames, but with volunteers and officials, that number rises to 50-75 members.
If you want to become part of the Derby Dames family, find them on Facebook.
Hop off the treadmill and onto Columbia’s network of gravel trails, which pave a scenic route to health and fitness for bikers, walkers and runners alike. Janette Keller is just one Columbian who has made a run on the MKT trail part of her weekly routine for the last decade.
“Some ladies at the gym talked about running a half marathon, so we started meeting outside of the gym and trained together,” she says. “That just kind of got me hooked on running and I’ve been a runner consistently since then.”
Keller has participated in several competitive events since she began running, including the Boston Marathon. Trail running helps her train for these events, giving her legs a break from the hard city pavement. “It’s really great for joints,” she says. “It’s really soft, and much more gentle than concrete or pavement.” Keller also takes her beginning runner groups on the trail to get started. “Columbia is so hilly; you don’t want to start someone off on their first time running on Forum hill or on anything huge like that,” she says. “That would feel very defeating.”
As an instructor at Wilson’s gym and a stay-at-home mom, Keller’s schedule is often packed, but the runs prove a worthy reason to clear her schedule and a great way to clear her head. And for Keller, it’s more than just exercise. “Since I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, the times I’ve met to run with friends have been really significant for my social interaction, because I don’t get that all day long,” Keller says. “So it’s been physical, but it’s been much more than just an exercise for me — it’s been very completing for me.”
And, Keller says, running with a group can make the experience feel less like work, and more like fun. “If you have a running buddy — somebody to talk to, somebody to run with — you’re much more likely to succeed than if you’re trying to do it on your own.” she says. “If you’re able to chit chat and talk with somebody, have a conversation while you’re running, then suddenly the miles have gone by and you feel like you’ve barely even worked out. Instead you feel like you met a friend.”
Though it’s a good outlet for many people, it’s best to start out at a slow pace, or check with health professionals to see if running is a good fit for your routine, Keller says. “Not every body is made for running, and it’s not healthy for every body, depending on how their joints are and such,” she says. “But a lot of people who do get out there find that it’s sort of their missing piece to their fitness routine.”
And, like it did for Keller, trail running might turn into a passion. “When I first started running, it used to be more about the physical goals that I wanted to attain,” she says. “But now it’s evolved to a love of being out there, and just enjoying the beauty of the trail and also loving the time that I get to spend with my fellow runner friends. I’d say right now I don’t even care about my pace, or my distance, it’s more about the people.”
Groups from Wilson’s Fitness run together regularly each week, and the Columbia Track Club also meets weekly for runs. To see how you can get moving, visit wilsonsfitness.com or columbiatrackclub.com.
A bag, a pair of gloves and 60 minutes of sweat make up one session of kickboxing at the MAC, a Wilson’s gym. A 15-minute high intensity interval session gets things started — a combination of anything from running laps, pushing sleds, to shooting hoops and more. The class continues with another 45 minutes of bag and core work. Instructor Nikki Wilson, who has been teaching kickboxing for five years at Wilson’s, likes to keep things fresh. “With group fitness classes, you get stuck in the same ol’ routines…you know exactly what’s going to happen, you can memorize it,” she says. “Whereas with my class, your body never gets to know it, your mind will never know exactly what you’re in for because every day I switch the workout.”
This keeps the mind and body working toward wellness, Wilson says. “One of the biggest things that people have learned in the fitness industry is that when you don’t start to see changes in your body, it’s generally because you’re just stuck in a rut,” she says. “So I try to get people out of that rut, show them new things.”
These new things include some classics: the jab, cross, hook and roundhouse. These well-known bag combos are mixed in with cardio and ab work. During these short intervals it’s 100 percent go, and that can get pretty intense, she says. But she always reminds her students, “You can do anything for 20 seconds.”
Megan McCullah is another kickboxing instructor at Wilson’s, and says that in one 60-minute class, participants can expect to burn up to 800 calories. Burning those calories happens numerous ways during this total body workout. “It’s a really great workout because of the high intensity intervals, you can really get in shape quick,” she says. McCullah’s background in martial arts sparked her interest in kickboxing, and she’s been teaching the class for about a year. There are many advantages to adding this type of workout to any level of fitness routine, she says. “We call it boxing/kickboxing, because we can modify any of the actual kickboxing components,” she says. “No matter how in or out of shape you are you can modify the workout with pace or intensity. Or, you can push yourself as hard as you want to and really burn a lot of calories.”
Wilson is a proponent of kickboxing’s mental benefits, too. “It’s a healthy way for a lot of people to relieve aggression while getting a great workout, and relieve tons of stress,” she says. “And it lifts these people’s sense of confidence,” she says. “And if you can learn some self defense, you can walk a little taller at the end of the day.”
The interest in kickboxing at Wilson’s has been strong. Post-remodel, the MAC is now open to women and men during the day, a welcome change that keeps classes full. “Some of my classes are mostly men now,” McCullah says. “It’s a good mix for everybody.”
Kickboxing classes at the MAC are open to both members and non-members, and the first class is free. For more information, visit wilsonsfitness.com.