Suzette Springer has hung by her toes from a trapeze 20 feet in the air. She has maneuvered her legs behind her head in front of an audience 1,000 strong.
And while she said those experiences were fun and exciting, the former contortionist with Cirque du Soleil is ready to bend herself in a new direction. The Hilton Head Island resident, who has taught fitness and dance for about 30 years, just opened her own studio -- Move & Motion -- and looks forward to sharing some of her expertise with the people of the Lowcountry.
Springer said Move & Motion offers a wide variety of fitness, dance and gymnastics classes, everything from jazz and hip hop dance to zumba and pilates. But it also offers something not often taught at the average fitness facility -- aerial arts, a dramatic form of fitness involving trapezes, silk ribbons, hoops and poles.
"I wanted to bring an extra layer to this particular school so it wasn't just about gymnastics," Springer said. "Gymnastics is usually about competition. I wanted to bring this to a performance level."
Springer will put her 20 years of circus experience to use by teaching this unique form of exercise to children and adults. Students might learn to ride a unicycle, catapult off a teeterboard, dance on a trapeze, juggle plates and pins, walk on a tightrope and even do a little aerial yoga.
"It's a great way to stay in shape," Springer said. "It gives you something to go after rather than, 'Yeah, how many squats can I do in five minutes?'<2009>"
She said just as people enjoy running marathons because they have a goal of finishing the race, practicing aerial arts gives people a goal. She said it can take years to master certain moves, and once you've accomplished them you've met a goal.
Growing up in Stamford, Conn., Springer started taking dance lessons at age 10. Tap, jazz, ballet and gymnastics lessons built the foundation for her future as a professional contortionist, teacher and now entrepreneur.
In high school Ser got a scholarship to a dance studio in New York City that offered training in acrobatics. Studying there further widened her horizons and set the stage for studying circus arts later on. She was a member of the Big Apple Circus in the late 1970s and worked with Cirque du Soleil in the early 1980s.
"It was fun, very exciting," Springer said about performing with Cirque and Big Apple. "They gave me great roots and great discipline, great love and respect for all athletics but especially for the circus arts because they're not easy." Springer said circus arts include aerial arts as well as skills such as juggling and unicycling.
Springer moved to Hilton Head about 20 years ago to be closer to her parents. Now, 30 years after she started her circus career, she is putting on a different kind of show, one that involves making fitness more fun for others.
Springer is full of ideas for her new venture. She wants to put together a performance company. She wants to offer a free fitness program specifically for breast cancer survivors. And she wants to start a Clown Care program, spreading joy and laughter at hospitals and nursing homes with her colleagues and students dressed as clowns.
"I love to inspire people to move," Springer said. "I love the way that fitness makes me feel, and I hope that it makes them feel good too."