RACINE — It looked much like a female gymnastics practice — although with unusual apparatus — on a recent Tuesday inside a Downtown studio.
At Metamorphosis Arts, 610 College Ave., three women dressed in exercise clothes were performing graceful moves and poses on hula hoop-size steel rings suspended from the ceiling by straps. They were practicing lyra, an art form that originated in the circus.
Whenever the women descended from their aerial hoops to the floor, they were breathing hard from exertion.
“To me, it’s my therapy,” said Marina Heck, 39, of Waukesha, an elementary school teacher and pole fitness instructor. “It makes me feel better about myself and be more fit.”
Ashley Cybula, 27, comes from Milwaukee to take lyra classes with Metamorphosis Arts owner, operator and instructor Kim Miller-Anderson.
“I first touched a lyra last December, and I first performed in April,” said Cybula, a dancer. She does her five- to 10-minute routines under the performer name Azalea Doll and twice performed with Milwaukee Community Circus.
Lyra is just one of the exotic classes Miller-Anderson teaches at Metamorphosis Arts. Others include pole fitness and pole dance, aerial silks, burlesque, circus, tribal belly dance and “acroyoga,” with two partners doing balance moves together.
Instant pole instructor
Miller-Anderson, 42, said she spent most of her adult life as a legal assistant, most recently at Abbott Laboratories.
Not long after leaving Abbott, Miller-Anderson said, she answered an ad for a pole fitness instructor at Miss Pole in Brookfield. Although she’d never even tried it previously, “I was hired on the spot.”
She’d had dance experience and had been an Arena Football League cheerleader, said Miller-Anderson — who now has plentiful large tattoos, facial rings and studs and pink dreadlocks.
Also, she said, “I was a burlesque performer from about 18 on.”
Miller-Anderson said burlesque need not — although it can — involve taking off much more than a glove or two. “It’s never full nude,” she said.
“Burlesque is the demure stripping.”
Miller-Anderson started giving private lessons about three years ago and opened Metamorphosis Arts about 18 months ago. The studio has six 2-inch-diameter metal poles affixed to floor and ceiling.
Other apparatus comes out as needed including the aerial hoops and silks that also are suspended from the ceiling and used for various spins and aerial moves. The studio even has a free-flow pole that swings and rotates.
Although pole dance and burlesque may imply adults-only, Miller-Anderson said children take her aerial arts classes and are often some of the best performers.
“Kids are amazing at the circus arts,” she said.
Men are candidates for almost all the classes also, Miller-Anderson said.
About the public perception issue, Miller-Anderson said, “I’m fully aware of the stigma that comes with pole fitness. ... pole fitness has strong roots in the stripping industry — but also strong roots in Chinese pole,” in which acrobats leap from pole to pole.
“I think (the classes) are very empowering,” Miller-Anderson said. “Some women take them to get back in touch with their sexy side. ... Some take them to get strong.”
Or for fun. Lyra student Sarah Tyyska, 24, of Germantown, who dances and does home care, said, “It’s fun — kind of like when you were a kid and getting to the park and playing.”
For more information about Metamorphosis Arts, visit www.metamorphosisarts.info, or call (262) 344-1703.