From Cirque du Soleil to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, high-flying performers have had countless audiences murmuring “I could never do that” for years. But every week, students at the Detroit Flyhouse Circus School twist their own “I could never” into “I just did” as they learn to defy gravity with classes in aerial acrobatics, trapeze, and more.
Located in Eastern Market within walking distance of Shed 5 and the Wasserman Projects, the Flyhouse is nestled in what used to be a facility for produce vendors. Visitors enter a lime-green space equipped with lyras, trapeze bars, and other aerial apparatus hanging from its high ceilings.
Co-owners Micha Adams and Matthew Buss were both originally yoga instructors who stumbled upon the circus arts. Adams’ love for the circus led her to train with different teachers and schools around the country, who then encouraged her to start a studio of her own.
Adams opened Flyhouse in 2008, and a year later, Buss showed up to take one of her classes.
“After my first class I was hooked,” Buss says. “Micha and I began training together. I started teaching and performing with her shortly after, and we’ve been running the business together ever since.”
Buss says he helps students overcome their fears and perceived limitations by showing them how accessible the circus arts can be. While some people may start off thinking that they’re too weak or that it might be too hard, he enjoys watching them become stronger, both mentally and physically.
“You will be amazed by what you can do your very first class,” Buss says. “The hardest part is being brave enough to walk through the door and try it. Everything gets easier from there.”
Flyhouse caters to a wide range of ages, but their youth education and services can make the smallest acrobats feel like a big deal. Plus it may just be the one time parents actually give kids permission to join the circus.
“Parents can expect a welcoming atmosphere, clear instructions from teachers, and the chance for kids of all ability levels to learn something new and exciting,” says Flyhouse instructor Cortney Kosmala-Jackson. “And kids will definitely get exercise and burn off energy.”
Kosmala-Jackson was a student at Flyhouse for two and a half years before becoming a teacher and performer. She works frequently with both adults and children, noting that the main difference is that the latter are more likely to be found jumping up and down in line saying, “I want to do that! I want to go first!”
Special classes like circus kids camps and kids aerial samplers are offered in the summer, but regular classes from flexibility and conditioning sessions to apparatus specialization, contortionism, hoop dancing, and partner acro yoga are available to students of all levels of experience ages 7 and older.
Buss says the age limit is in place in order to ensure safety. Students need to be able to understand verbal instructions, know left from right, and have strong enough motor skills to grip fabric or a trapeze bar.
“The most important part of working with kids for us is letting them know that they are in charge of what they do,” Buss says. “There is no pressure, just support and encouragement.”
Kosmala-Jackson says she’s excited to witness the individual improvements each child is able to make.
“They build confidence, awareness of their body in space, physical strength and stability, creativity, and patience with the process of learning new skills,” she says. “They learn to trust in their abilities and are often surprised by what they can do.”
Aerial acrobatics offers children both a physical and creative outlet. Every move is accompanied by a clever moniker that’s easy to remember. For example, flipping into an upside-down split is called a star, while arching your upper torso confidently while reaching toward the sky is called the ship’s maiden.
Buss says one thing he’s learned from working with children is that play is a vehicle for creative growth. “And it shouldn’t be abandoned because you’ve ‘grown up.’
“Kids get enough pressure everywhere else in life,” Buss says. “At the Flyhouse, our only goal is to help them see that they can do great and amazing things and that doing those things can be fun.”
The fun isn’t just for kids, Buss adds. “I’m so thrilled every time a student of ours, young or old, accomplishes something they never in their wildest dreams thought they could do.”
1321 Watson St., Detroit; 313-674-6424; detroitflyhouse.com