Up In The Air

Melding Acrobatics and Dance With Flair

by Cherryh Cansler, MA


If the silk hammocks suspended from the ceiling during AntiGravity® AIRbarre Fitness classes remind you of huge cocoons, then the people twisted up in them may seem like caterpillars emerging as butterflies—if those butterflies were lean, muscular and dedicated to fitness. Participants raise their own body weight into the air to perform flips, lifts and a variety of yoga and dance moves to tone and strengthen their bodies. 

AIRBarre’s Roots

Although professional dancer Christopher Harrison first established AntiGravity in 1991 as the Antigravity Theater & National Aerial Performance Training Center (in Orlando, Fla.), the practice is no longer only for professionals, says Harrison, who was “discovered” when he was in high school by Oscar nominee Herbert Ross. The famous director/producer cast him in Footloose as the first person you see dancing in the film, and he went on to star in lead roles on Broadway, including A Chorus Line, West Side Story and Cats.

AntiGravity was the first contemporary American acrobatic performance company that seamlessly integrated acrobatics and dance mediums, according to Harrison, who invented a silk hammock in order to incorporate aerial arts performances. During his second year of creative exploration using his invention, Harrison discovered that if he hung the hammock at the same height as a ballet barre, he could perform his ballet and yoga exercises. “I always knew I would expand the technique to encompass my roots. AntiGravity AIRbarre is that expression, which I am grateful to share,” says Harrison. AntiGravity Managing Director Alex Schlempp, a former principal ballet dancer from the Juilliard School, was also instrumental in developing the AIRbarre fitness routine, which is now taught at CRUNCH gyms in the U.S. as well as other locations you can find at antigravityfitness.com.

“Because of [Schlempp’s] virtuoso jumps and turns, as a choreographer I would feature him within the performance company long before he moved into management. His expertise has been invaluable in the creation of AIRbarre,” says Harrison. He also credits Lorainne Major, “a beautiful ballerina, with brilliantly creating the sequencing within the class designs.”

Who’s Up For Some Air?

Harrison says anyone can do AntiGravity Fitness, but since the technique encompasses more than 1,000 moves, it is best for people who are active. Classes range from 60 to 90 minutes and promote the flow of endorphins, leaving participants feeling joyful, empowered and uplifted.

“To do all of the exercises, it is easiest for someone who maintains a consistent fitness regimen and has a strong core,” he points out. “During the course of the practice, participants conquer basic fears and discover a new level of self-confidence while benefiting from a solid workout.”

Teaching AIRbarre Fitness

There are five levels of AntiGravity Fitness Instructors, but the most common is Level One, a four-day training course called AntiGravity Fundamentals 1 & 2. Once a trainer passes those, he or she may teach in a private (noncommercial) space or in an AntiGravity Fitness authorized and licensed facility.

The higher level trainings are held primarily at the company’s AG Advanced Training Institutes in New York City and in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Although there are no “strict requirements” to become an AG Fitness Instructor, Harrison has five recommendations.

      1. Teaching Experience
Familiarity with teaching in a group environment is very helpful. It doesn’t matter what the discipline is as long as one knows how to take charge of a room and maintain order. Although it is very helpful, teaching experience does not always need to be related to physicality.

      2. Positive Outlook
The philosophy of AG Fitness is based on having fun while getting fit. “Everyone needs to leave class feeling successful and empowered. If instructors take themselves too seriously—a typical trap for boot camp-style trainers, balletmaster-style dance instructors, etc.—they are not right for this technique. Enthusiasm is key to being an AG Fitness Instructor,” he advises. “This is not a typical workout; it is playful conditioning for body/mind/spirit.”

      3. Training Background
Although not required, some experience in preferably two of the following disciplines helps ensure success: aerial arts, dance, fitness training, gymnastics, martial arts, skating, yoga or other artistic sports. Qualifications in fitness training, physical therapy, Pilates and yoga are also helpful.

      4. Knowledge of Anatomy
“Basic understanding of anatomy, kinesiology and body mechanics is very supportive to your learning and teaching approach,” says Harrison.

      5. Physical Fitness
AG Fitness requires instructors who maintain a consistent fitness regimen and have a strong core. “It does not require that one is without body fat,” says Harrison. “Rather it requires that they are strong enough to lift their own body weight in different planes of motion.” AF

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Meet our experts

AFM-Author-Cansler Cherryh Cansler, MA, is a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Kansas City, Mo. She has a master’s in journalism and contributes to magazines, newspapers and websites all over the country.

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