Boldly colored strips of fabric cascade from the 20-foot ceiling of Gymnastics Zone in Napa, waiting to be climbed. Students take hold of several strips and begin to ascend by wrapping them alternately around wrists, ankles and limbs. As they methodically climb high above the mats, they stretch their arms and legs in graceful expression.
As they reach the ceiling, the students speed up and slow down, twisting and turning their bodies, the silks locking them in place as they spin and hang upside down, sometimes simultaneously.
The students are practicing a form of aerial acrobatics called CirqueFly, which was developed by former circus performer Cypher Zero.
“It is inspired by aerial acrobatics,” Zero said, “but it is its own art form.”
The dramatic, often breathtaking visual nature of CirqueFly is made possible only by the strength and agility that develops out of body awareness, performers said.
“The strength will come, but it’s about having fun,” Zero said. “It’s fun to be airborne and I want others to experience that joy while also getting the benefits of aerial acrobatics.”
Zero, who was born in Illinois as Michael Woldow, said he was recruited 15 years ago by an Australian circus and trained as an aerial acrobat. He had been working as a rock climbing instructor, with a background in ballet and theater.
This gave him “an understanding of stage presence, extreme upper body strength, good body control in the air and a willingness to undergo the rigors of life on the road,” he said.
While performing with different troupes, Zero developed his own style and in 2003 opened the New York Circus Arts Academy in New York City. Diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 2008, Zero said he sold the business to focus on his health and began undergoing chemotherapy.
After his cancer went into remission, Zero said he took a job as a coach for Cirque du Soleil in Montreal in 2010.
A circus performer’s career is short, said Zero, noting that he retired at 32. “After they retire, there are no other options for them.”
He describes developing CirqueFly as a way of reclaiming the joy he experienced as a performer.
Zero began teaching classes in Napa in October 2011, while also teaching in San Rafael and Petaluma. He has 100 students locally who are at all levels of fitness and range in age from 7 to 62, he said.
“It’s a class for everybody — and every body,” Zero said.
Margaret Van Zandt, general manager and partner at Gymnastics Zone, said Zero will be leaving her facility in March. “We need our space,” she said.
“We may be moving to a larger facility in the spring,” Zero said.
To learn more, visit CirqueFly.com or call 1-800-823-6020.