Stephanie Stewart does not consider herself an adrenaline junkie. She’s a bit more deliberate in her risk taking.
“When I was a kid, I would watch the other kids before I jumped in,” she says.
But what would you call ascending 30 feet in the air, held up by nothing more than your own body’s strength, if not daring? Very few would attempt the physical feat, and ever fewer would take it up after the age of 40.
But as soon as Stewart saw the graceful aerialists seemingly float through the air on suspended silks at Cirque du Soleil, she needed to try her hand at it. She didn’t let the fact that adult classes weren’t offered stop her ambition.
“I was completely mesmerized,” says the Preston Hollow resident.
It didn’t hurt that she is a lifelong athlete who has always kept her body in peak form. She was a gymnast as a child and a competitive swimmer in her teen and adult years. She works out at least five times a week, often multiple times a day with a swim in the morning and an aerialist class at night. But as a swimmer in her 40s, she began to lose muscle mass, and sought a fun way to keep her body engaged.
“I could go lift weights at the gym but that was boring to me,” she says.
So when she saw those aerialists flipping through the air, she decided it was the perfect mixture of exercise and excitement. Her company helps get new inventions to market, so she works in Las Vegas frequently. A friend connected her with Cirque du Soleil aerialists, who agreed to teach her their craft.
“I videotaped everything, so I could watch it and recreate it at home,” she says.
The gym frequented by her son, a gymnast who narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympic Games in Brazil, allowed her to hang “silks” and she started practicing. It’s all about conditioning, so first she learned to ascend and descend. Back and forth, from the floor to the ceiling, she climbed until it felt like second nature. Then she started with the tricks. She was fixated on learning “the helicopter,” in which an aerialist climbs all the way to the top and then, with the silks wrapped just right, drops, twirling down with their arms and legs extended like a helicopter. It was not a novice move.
“That was the first trick I said, ‘Oh, I have to do that,’ ” she says. “I thought, ‘I have to be better, I have to be stronger, I have to do more.’ ”
Stewart’s love of the art led her to Fanny Kerwich, an eighth-generation circus performer who established the Lone Star Circus, which offers classes for kids in addition to teaching at the Dallas International School. Stewart knew there was a market for adult classes based on how many people approached her while she worked the silks at her son’s gym, and soon the pair were expanding the business.
Lone Star Circus bounced around but recently found a permanent home in Addison. Stewart teaches three days a week, and her students range from teenagers to people in their 70s. She also began performing all over the city, from the annual Mary Kay convention to charity events seeking unusual entertainment danced from 50 feet above. To date, she has never experienced a fall or any other heart-stopping moments, she says — remember, she’s all about calculated risk with methodical training, a strong body and a focused mind.
“I may have had the best day, or the worst day, but you put that all away because you need to be engaged to do this,” she says.
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