Aerial arts provide life-changing outlet for Shelby resident

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 5, 2013

 Miranda Irwin, 21, of Shelby Township, shows the strength and flexibility she’s mastered studying aerial arts at FlipSpot Gymnastics and Cheer in Lake Orion Aug. 2.

Miranda Irwin, 21, of Shelby Township, shows the strength and flexibility she’s mastered studying aerial arts at FlipSpot Gymnastics and Cheer in Lake Orion Aug. 2.

Photo by Deb Jacques

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Hang silks from a high ceiling, climb up, twist your body in and work on shapes and flips — this is aerial art, and it is a blossoming art form.

Miranda Irwin, 21, of Shelby Township, first became exposed to aerial arts about two years ago when her current instructor, Cheryl Willard, 31, of Ferndale, inquired at her uncle’s business, FlipSpot Gymnastics and Cheer in Lake Orion, to see if she could use his high ceilings to practice.

Now, Irwin is an instructor of aerial arts, as well as a member of an aerial arts performing troop called The Weird Sisters Circus.

“The first time I saw (Cheryl) perform was the moment I said, ‘I have got to perform this,’” Irwin said.

She had been working at FlipSpot Gymnastics and Cheer as an instructor for young children’s gymnastic classes for about six months at the time.

“When I was a kid and my uncle worked at his previous gym, my mom signed me up for two years and I didn’t have much skill from it,” she said. “I was not very comfortable teaching gymnastics.”

Irwin said her uncle, Shawn Clemen, asked Willard to teach at his gym. She was right there for Willard’s first class and continued taking more classes — from once per week to two or three times per week.

“It’s actually just completely changed my life,” Irwin said. “Not only have I become more active and athletic, but it’s an outlet for me if I’m having just an absolutely terrible day. By the end of the time you’re up there, you forget about everything.”

She said she believes aerial arts is more gratifying than going to the gym, and she works out all of her muscles without thinking about it by getting in position to do a flip.

“She has just blossomed into an amazing aerialist from an eager student coming to every class she could and dedicating herself to learning as much as she can about aerial arts,” Willard said.

Not even a year after her first class, Willard’s three-person troop — The Weird Sisters Circus — was looking for a fourth to perform at the Detroit Pistons’ 2012 Halloween halftime show and asked Irwin to join.

Irwin said performing at the halftime show was the highlight of her aerial arts experience thus far.

“I was just working really hard and practicing a lot,” she said. “My first show was in front of 30-something-thousand people. That was definitely exciting.”

The great thing about aerial arts, Irwin said, is that you don’t need a gymnastics background for it — just the determination and desire to work on strength and flexibility.

“I never really knew that I could become this strong, physically and mentally,” she said. “I never liked being in front of people. I never would have done a talent show. Now, I can completely put myself out there and be the center of attention.”

Irwin teaches several different levels of classes using several types of aerial equipment besides silks, including an aerial hoop called a lyra, and a trapeze.

During her classes, she said, it is a wonderful thing to see progression in her students and she said it happens extremely quickly.

Irwin is a student at Oakland University, bound to graduate next April with degrees in Japanese and biology. She said she ideally plans to go into forensic biology.

“I don’t know how long I’ll be involved with the Weird Sisters … but I sort of need (aerial arts) in my life for as long as my body lets me,” Irwin said. “It’s that outlet for me.”