Spinning in a Cyr wheel at Emerald City Trapeze Arts is a great workout. But there will be falls.
I KNOW ENOUGH about the body to know when something is going to be really hard. Hello, Cyr wheel.
I heard the thunk of falling Cyr wheels when I was last at Emerald City Trapeze Arts in Sodo. I was mesmerized by the tricks they were working on, and I wanted to go back immediately to try it out.
I could tell Cyr, like most circus arts, requires both core strength and balance. Then I watched teacher Coleton Stinson play around before class, twisting his body into different forms as the wheel spun at a precarious angle, and I realized I had a long road ahead of me.
Stinson took our class through conditioning first, with shoulder strengthening on a pullup bar, a bunch of squats and lunges, plank holds and other intense core work. I hoped Cyr would be easier than the conditioning.
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Back on the main floor, he gave me the lightest wheel to start, and told me to play with spinning it with one hand. It’s like a first date, he explained: You’re getting to know each other; it’ll feel kind of awkward.
Hi, Blue (my wheel). Nice to meet you.
Stinson watched to make sure I was paying attention to how the wheel (typically 25 to 40 pounds and taller than my 5-foot-3 body) liked to move; it gathers momentum at an angle.
After I was moderately comfortable with spinning, I worked on a static balance Y hold, stepping inside on the bottom of the wheel while holding on to the top at an angle with straight arms to figure out the balance point.
It wasn’t easy; the slightest arch of my back or movement of my hips made it tip.
But Stinson decided I was close enough, and moved me on to a spin while balancing inside the wheel. He showed me how to use one foot to start the spin, step inside the wheel and spin in a circle. He made it look graceful; it was hard. After several failed attempts, Stinson took the wheel and spun me in circles to get my body used to the feel. I felt triumphant when I got one full 360-degree rotation on my own.
He moved me on to a tension drill, where I practiced putting one foot higher up on the inside of the wheel and, using the resistance of my arms, stepping the other foot inside and holding still, at least in theory. Again, the slightest tilt of my hips or accidental bend of my elbow made me fall over.
Still, the tension drill was fun, even if I got up for only one second at a time.
For my final exercise, Stinson showed me a roll-by start, combining the tension drill with momentum to get up and spin. Again, that’s what was supposed to happen, theoretically. He watched me fall, repeatedly, and told me to turn my shoulders straight forward to get into the spin. He also wanted me to use more momentum — I was like a kid on a bike who gave myself only one small push and was wobbling all over the place.
This Cyr wheel is no joke.
I managed half a spin from a roll-by start; mastery was not even close. But I was so focused, I didn’t notice how tired my arms were from holding the heavy wheel, and my core was from constantly balancing.
Stinson said the learning curve is steep, but once you understand how the wheel moves, you can pick up tricks. I want to try again. Blue, we might be going on a second date.