by Jessica Carreras
When Chantal Dixon was a teenager growing up in southeast Michigan, Affirmations LGBT community center was her home away from home. So now, she gives back to the center – but not in the way you’d expect.
Some philanthropists give money, while others donate goods or man the front desk and helpline. Dixon teaches LGBT Michiganders how to dance, shape up and even fly. And starting Aug. 28, she’ll be teaching the center’s first-ever Aerial Fitness class.
Dixon began her lifelong love affair with acrobatics while traveling with her parents, both of whom were in the Air Force. Time abroad meant exposure to many different cultures – including ones that valued street performance, mimes and dance.
Dixon took many classes in dance, and eventually decided that she wanted to try out for the circus. However, her dreams were dashed when they informed her that her son was too young to go on tour with her. “So I just decided to do as much as I could around home, and that pretty much consisted of me traveling and coming back,” she explains of her alternate path. “I would go to Mexico for a month and a half and come back, or I’d go to New York for two weeks and come back. And now my son’s older so I’m traveling more.
“(Performance has) always been a passion of mine, but I wasn’t able to do it full-time until just recently.”
Her desire to spread her love of acrobatics to the LGBT community comes from her own experiences at Affirmations, where she found there were some activities to participate in, but not nearly enough.
“There was not a lot available to kids my age as far as things to do. We had our community room and we’d have little functions and stuff like that, but as far as dance classes or skateboarding groups – all these things I was interested in – I had to go outside the community to do them,” she recalls. “I felt more comfortable and I felt way more free within the community, and there wasn’t anything available. So once I started teaching classes, the first place I thought of was Affirmations, because there isn’t anything like this offered specifically to the community.”
Never heard of aerial fitness? You still may have seen it – at the latest production of Cirque du Soleil. At Detroit’s annual Dirty Show. And at the 2010 Motor City Pride festival, in Affirmations’ community room, performed by Dixon. Aerial acrobatics can feature a range of activities, all of which are performed from a hanging structure such as a hoop, trapeze or pieces of aerial silk used to wrap around the performer’s arms and legs and allow them to “dance” in the air. Dixon will be instructing participants of her class on all three, teaching them stretches and eventually hoisting them up from the silk or aerial hoops that hang from her 13-foot portable rig.
If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is. But still possible to learn, Dixon insists – especially if attendees of her six-week class at Affirmations stick with it.
“It takes a lot of courage for people to sign up because a lot of people are really intimidated by it, so that’s why I really wanted to do the event at Pride – to give people a chance to see that it’s not as hard as it looks,” she insists. “It’s something you develop; it’s not something you just jump right on and start doing, and that’s why the class is as long as it is. You have to build strength.”
Dixon has been practicing her aerial work for several years, and it wasn’t until a friend asked her to perform at a show that she ever thought of teaching it. “She asked me if I could just show the people (who attended) some things,” Dixon says. “From there I got another phone call and another phone call and another phone call and I thought to myself, ‘Well, maybe I should get some additional training, since I’m getting so much work.”
Trips to Las Vegas, New York, Miami and beyond to learn more and perfect her ability led Dixon to one conclusion: She wanted to teach aerial fitness to the LGBT community. She began by inviting them to her classes, but quickly found that the environment was not right. “I have quite a few transgender friends that wanted to participate, and so they would more likely just come to my house because they felt more comfortable there,” she explains. “So I thought, Why not just offer that at Affirmations so they can have a place where they feel comfortable to participate?”
Having already hosted her belly dancing class at the center, Affirmations was thrilled to have Dixon on board to provide another unique fitness experience to center users. And Dixon was happy to give back in the best way she knew how.
“Affirmations provided a place for me to live when I was younger and to grow, so I definitely wanted to give back,” she says, adding that she’s splitting the profits of the class with the center. “The whole point of me doing this is not necessarily so I can profit, it’s really to help the community. I try to volunteer my time and I try to give my money, but there’s only so much I can give, so if I can teach classes here and split the money, that’s another way that I can give back to the people and also give back to Affirmations.”
To learn more about the Aerial Fitness class, or to sign up, contact Affirmations at 248-398-7105, or visit http://www.goaffirmations.org. The class runs 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. every Saturday from Aug. 28-Oct. 2. The registration fee for all sessions is $85. Participants may choose to attend individual sessions, though it is recommended that they attend all six classes.