When my husband, Chris, and I moved to Buenos Aires in 2009 we found that it was very common to do circus classes as an alternative to the gym – there were about 50 schools in the city,” says Edel Wigan, co-founder of London flying school, Flying Fantastic. “It sounded difficult, but fun, so we gave a silks class a go and quickly became addicted. After six weeks of only doing aerial, Chris had a six pack and I had dropped a dress size. Then we started to realise there was something in it!”
When the duo moved back to London for work a year later, they wanted to continue their newfound hobby, but couldn’t find anywhere offering drop-in classes, so they decided to bring this South American pastime to the city themselves.
“We started out offering one night a week at a community centre in Battersea, which quickly grew to four nights,” says Wigan. “Then we branched out to Wimbledon, Old Street and our flagship studio in Waterloo.”
There were a few challenges along the way, the biggest being the difficulty of finding locations with open beamed ceilings high enough to be able to rig, but low enough to be accessible with a ladder. Plus, there needed to be enough storage space for all the crash mats.
Thanks to the existence of a degree course for circus professionals and performers in London, it wasn’t difficult to find instructors, but selling it to the public was initially not so straightforward.
“It was difficult to know what wording to use,” says Wigan. “If you mentioned circus, people thought of juggling, and no one knew what aerial meant.
Fortunately, it’s changed in the last two years, helped by social media – the classes are very cool and visual, so people post a lot of photos. The Greatest Showman has also really helped, and we’ve had to put on more kids classes to cope with demand. I like to call it circus for ordinary people as anyone can give it a go!”
Flying Fantastic now welcomes 600 people a week across the four sites. Although it appeals mainly to women aged between 18 and 45, a 74-year-old recently had her birthday party there. “You don’t have to be flexible or strong to do it, you achieve that with practice,” says Wigan. “It’s tough initially, but people get addicted because of the results they see and because it makes you completely switch off. You’re so busy working out your left from your right when you’re upside down that you really don’t have time to think about anything else!”
Going forward, Wigan and Chris want to take the concept far and wide. They’re currently formalising a teacher training programme, because although there’s a pool of people with the right skills in London, this isn’t the case outside the capital and creates a barrier to expansion.
Children also represent a growing market and so they’re working on growing the kids programme. “We just want to keep doing what we’re doing and doing it better,” says Wigan. “We’re always offering new concepts and the latest one is bungee fitness. An amazing full-body, cardio workout that strengthens and tones as you defy gravity, take flight and experience a workout that’s so fun, it doesn’t seem like exercise!