Anne Miller is flying high as founder, creative director and aerialist in her own modern circus space.
A professional dancer turned performer, Miller is also an academic with a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology. So how did these diverse identities come together to inform her practice as both a psychologist and fitness teacher?
Mental and physical health are intertwined, Miller said. “Circus is a really wonderful tool for helping people become mindful of where they are.”
After moving to Louisville from Connecticut, Miller wanted a place to practice circus-based fitness and wanted to create a place with a culture of inclusivity. That’s why she created Suspend, which teaches a variety of aerial and ground-based classes.
It’s the notion of inclusivity that makes Suspend special, Miller said. “There’s no element of a person not belonging here.”
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Suspend’s own programming is as death-defying as any circus act. The facility at 721 E Washington St., offers classes like Aerial Yoga, which takes place in hammock-like silks, and is a popular choice for first-timers, Miller said. Other classes include Lyra (or ‘aerial hoop’ or ‘cerceaux’), an aerial apparatus comprised of a suspended, large, circular, metal ring, trapeze and pole.
Skills-based elements like juggling, hula hoop and handstands are also offered. In addition, there are a variety of ground-based classes like Flexibility and Mobility Training and Suspended Meditation for students “not ready to fly yet,” according to its class descriptions.
Miller’s mission at Suspend is to meet students where they are and help them grow by sharing personal experiences or fears, like that they’re afraid of heights, and growing social connections.
“It’s the process of learning to trust yourself within challenging circumstances and knowing that you are able to do hard things even if you’re worried that you are not able to do them,” she said.
Miller’s mission of inclusivity and growth through fitness is inspired by the tradition of circus. While some circuses have historically exploited people as “oddities,” it was also a place for ostracized folks to find solace in others who had been rejected from society.
“There’s this idea that the things that are done in circuses are death-defying or somehow outside of the realm of normal human experience that I’ve always been very drawn to,” she said.
For many, being suspended may seem perilous, but it’s all about focus, Miller said.
Being in the air requires a “specific focus and awareness of where your body is and what your body is feeling and what your body is doing,” Miller said. “It automatically sucks people into the present moment.”
Even though Miller is now a pro at soaring on the silks, she’s had her own moments of fear. She recalled a “terrifying” time when she was first learning to climb where she froze 30 feet in the air and couldn’t come back down.
“It took a bit for me to breathe within myself and just think through what comes next,” Miller said.
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Helping students reach that point is what it’s all about for Miller.
“Truly, the amount of joy that I get watching somebody struggle through how to do something and then have that lightbulb moment where they’re doing something that they never thought was possible, that is that is why I do all of this,” she said.
Classes at Suspend attract all kinds of people, especially queer folks, Miller said. Diversity and inclusion is always a work in progress for the artist, whether it’s cultivating anti-ableist attitudes or providing scholarships to those from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
Instructors at Suspend work to find ways to include every kind of body at the fitness studio to combat ableist attitudes, Courtney Lantz, manager and instructor at the studio told the Courier Journal.
Lantz said it doesn’t matter how many limbs you have or if you come from a professional gymnastics background, she’ll help you find the best way to perform a specific movement.
“There’s no such thing as doing something wrong,” she said.
The space occasionally hosts student recitals as well as art shows that feature performance pieces. Miller hinted at a collaboration in the works with the Mary Shelley Electric Company, a theater collective that does puppet shows, set to perform at Suspend in late August.
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“I love working with other artists to create new and exciting kinds theatrical experiences,” Miller said.
The proceeds from the shows go to nonprofits in the area, and the money from the show in August will go to Queer Kentucky, Miller said.
Circus “as an art form” provides space for discussion about “how difference is beautiful,” Miller said. If you’re “willing and able” to put in the work, you have a place at Suspend.
Contact reporter Rae Johnson at [email protected]. Follow them on Twitter at @RaeJ_33.