When was the last time you hung upside down like a child — and laughed like one?
That's the question Doug Schulein poses to those curious enough to ask about what it's like to try aerial arts — those gravity-defying acts of grace and strength involving equipment such as hoops and long bands of heavy fabric, or "silks."
"As hard as the training is, people always finish with a smile," said Schulein, who founded Aerial Fitness Orange County a year ago. "You don't see guys lifting weights for two hours and leaving like that."
Schulein is hosting the company's first-anniversary celebration Sunday with aerial demonstrations, free trials and a showcase performed by his acrobatic students.
The event will take place from noon to 9 p.m. at Back Bay Fitness in Costa Mesa, which was recently remodeled by Schulein, who is president of Schulein Fit Enterprises. The company also operates the Athletic Club for Women in Newport Beach and the Laguna Health Club.
The art, sometimes known as aerial ballet, is a powerful fitness technique and a hot trend in Los Angeles health clubs that is quickly making its way to Orange County.
"The idea is that it's a women's sport, but from a fitness standpoint, it is one of the most demanding things you'll do physically and mentally," Schulein said.
Classes are $35 and are offered at Back Bay Fitness, the Athletic Club and at Rukkus Training in Garden Grove, where the company rents space.
The art requires total body fitness, especially in the upper body and core. It also requires coordination and balance, said aerial specialist Isabela Maia.
"It is an amazing workout. It shapes the body in a very short amount of time," she said, while demonstrating a technique that suspended her upside down about 6 feet off the ground.
Spreading the silk bands so that they appeared like wings, Maia showed off the "Angel" pose, which required her to support her body weight using leg and abdominal muscles.
Although the poses look complicated, she said her students range from 9 years old to the mid-40s. During lessons, Maia likes to remind them to point their toes and "Make it pretty!"
And while the nature of the art is progressive, with aerial artists constantly pushing themselves to greater heights, new students need not be intimidated by the long silk bands anchored as much as three stories high, she said.
"Most students are learning their first trick in the first 10 minutes," she said, "and they leave their first class with at least two tricks. It's very encouraging."
If You Go
What: First anniversary of Aerial Fitness Orange County, with free demonstrations and an aerial arts showcase
When: Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Where: Back Bay Fitness, 2675 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa
Information: (949) 331-6288 or backbayfitness.com