Vagabonds no longer own the circus. In recent decades, Latin American performers have made a concerted effort to elevate the social caste of their trade and the circus has succeeded in reinventing itself as a serious art form. Aerial silk acrobatics has emerged as one of the quintessential aesthetic elements of modern circus.
You can’t help but breathe in the subtle yet distinct air of superiority at La Instalacción. It’s the circus equivalent of a Buenos Aires’ member’s only club – no one here has just wandered in off the street. In fact, you’re more likely to do the wandering on the street, as the studio’s venue is unmarked and its address unlisted. Everyone on the inside did their homework.
If it weren’t for the trapeze, rings and jellybean-coloured cascade of silks hanging from the ceiling, La Instalacción would have the feel of a yoga studio. Mate is available in recently washed, non-disposable cups in the waiting room. Outdoor flora hugs the wall-sized windows of the workspace. The macaw-like squawking heard on the way in is almost overkill.
Classes at La Instalacción live up to the studio’s aura. Of the two-hour class, about an hour is dedicated to stretching and challenging the limitations of your muscles, with practice on your chosen skill area in between.
The classes, which range from only five to seven people, begin with an aerobic warm up and are then divided into three groups. In this instance, one man chose the trapeze, a couple worked on the floating ring and two women opted for the silks. Many stuck with the same element throughout the class, which participant Eugenia Di Fiori says helps you to improve by focusing on just one.
The instructor, Veronica Arabetti, releases one royal purple and one dandelion-coloured curtain from the ceiling’s ropes. The violet one spills onto a black cushioned mat, while its sister hangs like twin stirrups resting slightly a foot above the ground.
The most basic, fundamental task to learning the ropes is, quite literally, climbing them. The move is, of course, by no means as instinctive as the skilled would lead you to believe. While grasping the fabric of the silk above your head, you use one foot to coil the loose-hanging silk around it, creating a kind of step for your other foot to climb up on to. Using your arms to lift yourself about a foot higher you unravel the silks and repeat the process to climb the silk.
The beginner’s class administers just the right dose of achievement to entice a return visit. It allows you to feel a certain amount of accomplishment, while Veronica serves as a constant reminder of your inadequacies. There’s a nagging sense that even if you’ve completed a task, there was almost certainly an easier, prettier way of getting it done.
Veronica, like all great athletes, makes aerial acrobatics look easy. She knows which muscles to use to extend her energy most efficiently so that each move is deliberate, yet liquid. As she double-stags her legs and spins horizontally, her body rests within the silk’s tangles haphazardly and as if it was only an afterthought. The stiffness of gymnastics gives way to the fluidity of ballet as her slender limbs dance with the air.
Eugenia says La Instalacción’s focus on wellness and body awareness allows its premium status among Buenos Aires’ circus studios. “You learn to listen to everything that your body is telling you,” she says. “It helps you to be more conscious of your centre and equilibrium.”
“The circus used to be a low socioeconomic class,” adds Veronica. “But recently they started using the activities for gymnastics and body expression. It started to give the activity another point of view, an activity that could include everyone.”
Just be sure to call in advance.