“I keep referring back to that cheesy quote that if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” says Felicia Coe, the aerialist behind Iowa Fly Girl. (We’ll get to her biggest dream in a couple questions. Do you agree with that quote?)
First, some basics: Felicia runs Des Moines’ first aerial fitness/aerial art business, and it just keeps growing. She’s been doing her aerial magic for four years now, but her greatest passion is teaching it. Felicia and her students use aerial silks (silky columns of loose fabric that hang from the ceiling) as well as similar, silky hammocks to move up and down and through the air, using their entire bodies for beautiful choreography—and having a blast.
People with Panache: This is such a cool practice! Can you describe it for us?
Felicia Coe: Aerial fitness, aerial art—it’s kind of two separate things, and I lean toward aerial fitness. Aerial is still very undefined, but it’s starting to separate. It used to be unreachable for the average person, just something they saw at Cirque du Soleil. Most of my students aren’t looking to be performers, it’s just really fun.
PWP: How did you connect with this community?
FC: I trained in aerial in Salt Lake City—it’s huge out there. Pole fitness is actually huge, too.
But when I moved back here, there was nothing. I was at The Girls Room Fitness for pole, and when they got wind of what I was doing with aerial, I started doing workshops. Now we have this huge group of aerialists! One of our girls actually just carved an aerialist into her Halloween pumpkin. It’s kind of my warm and fuzzy seeing people have that passion for it.
PWP: So you teach classes? Is there a group you perform with?
FC: Yes, and this studio has a performing group called the Goddesses. We’ve done performances at 515 Alive, Iowa State Fair and 80/35 music festival.
It’s a different feel, having women just hanging around in the ceiling performing. Students come in because they always thought it was cool and wanted to try it. Some never thought they wanted to perform and caught the bug.
I was terrible and so out of shape when I first started training. I couldn’t even lift myself up. I was 30 pounds heavier and just tried it on a fluke and loved it. It was much better than running on a treadmill.
PWP: Oh my gosh, yes! It looks so hard but seems like such a blast.
FC: Most of my students don’t start out fit. Most come in and can’t do anything, can’t lift themselves up. Half the class I’d say we work on the basics, which is climbing, working on a foot lock. The second half is the easier fun stuff so they’re having fun and not getting discouraged.
People are like “I just…I just got up!” and everyone will cheer; it’s a great atmosphere. I remember the first time I did a foot lock: “YES!” Now, as a teacher, I love seeing that over and over again.
PWP: Do you see your business being more than a side job?
FC: I love it but I don’t want to have to rely on it and take away the joy—but I haven’t decided on that. While I teach, I’m taking on more projects and doing different things, like a cirque-style show called “Pandora’s Circus.”
PWP: How many students do you have?
FC: I have about 20 regulars/die-hard students, and 60 students total. Many people come in by themselves, but it’s neat to see that quiet girl in the corner hanging out and laughing with the other girls a month later. I’ve made a lot of friendships through it.
PWP: Is it challenging to always teach your students something new?
FC: I had a private lesson yesterday and was showing her a gemini move, trying to explain how to get out of it. She was just trying it for the first time and did something else to get out of it. At first I was thinking that’s not how you do it—but that was a new way! They push me and challenge me, and they have big ideas.
PWP: Do people ever fall off the fabric?
FC: No. Once you start going into advanced, there are moments of hang time when you’re transitioning, but once you get to that point you’re pretty strong in your moves.
For me, safety’s huge—the most important. Aerial is very fun but extremely dangerous. I am careful not to just let students go try anything they see on YouTube. And in the beginning I work with them a lot on the hammock. They start to trust it, to understand their body weight in relation to the fabric.
PWP: It’s nice you’re finding places to teach so you don’t have to worry about the overhead.
FC: Yes, and I’m working on a new aerial project: the Des Moines Social Club just got this firehouse that they’re turning into a restaurant, coffee house, bars, a theater, culinary art space, classrooms and an aerial studio they’re converting from a racquetball court.
My husband and I originally left Des Moines ’cause there was nothing here, but you just have to open your eyes—there’s a ton going on. And I love the collaboration. I’ve talked to aerialists in other places, and it’s just not there. It’s really nice to have that support here. Everyone’s interested!
PWP: We would be if we still lived here!
FC: The other big thing I’m working on now, which still hasn’t rolled out, has been my biggest, scariest project. Aerial is lacking an association, one spot to bring all forms of aerialists together. Safety is hugely important, and there isn’t one place online to understand it or look up questions. I want there to be a centralized spot to do that, have profiles, create forums, read what people are experiencing, dealing with, troubleshooting, hosting.
So this summer, we’re holding a national convention at the firehouse! It’s a great venue, and there aren’t a lot of places where you can work with other aerialists on safety, new routines, everything. For a solo performer, a business owner, it’s a perfect atmosphere.
PWP: That is brilliant! It kind of ties in with one of our goals for 2014: Bring together these amazing women we keep meeting to develop a vibrant network of women entrepreneurs and dream followers in the Midwest. We’ll certainly share when we do—’cause we bet a ton would also love to learn about aerial!
So, it sounds like one of the most fun things we can imagine—flying, basically!—but what are some challenges of doing what you do?
FC: I’ve had to get more organized, which has never been my huge strong area. I was always like, this is fun! But I have this year’s planner, next year’s planner, and the weirdest thing is balancing my friends, my life. I’m working really hard to make it all balance.
PWP: What makes you happiest?
FC: Having that balance. If this was to go away, like if I was to get injured or something, I can’t have this be all me and then one day walk away from it. I have a nephew, about to be 2, the first baby in our family. He just has me around his finger. I also love real downtime with my husband—just doing nothing.
And with the aerial part of my life, I’m my happiest with my beginners and seeing those little victories.
[Photos by Alysse.]