Iron City Circus Arts co-founder Jenly Deiter shows kids her aerial skills. Image courtesy of Iron City Circus Arts.

Professional circus artists Jenly Deiter and Kelsey Keller spent the last few years whipping clients into shape at Fullbody Fitness Club, a Brentwood-based boutique fitness studio where their aerial arts program was offered alongside other workouts like Zumba and hip-hop aerobics. After inheriting the business from the owner, former WPXI news anchor Darieth Chisolm, the duo decided to take it in a more specific direction.

“Since our passion was always circus arts, that program just exploded,” says Keller. “The other programs kind of faded out and we realized this is where our heart is.”

The two women decided to close Fullbody and take their business to new heights with Iron City Circus Arts, the region’s first circus arts school. Along with a complete re-branding, the new venture required a move to the Brew House on the South Side. There, Deiter and Keller, along with a crew that includes two former Cirque du Soleil performers, will teach students the health benefits of the big top.

Kelsey Keller (above) and Jenly Dieter (below). Image courtesy of Iron City Circus Arts.

Keller says the new space will allow them to give clients a more authentic experience. Compared to Fullbody, where the ceiling stood at 18 feet, Brew House’s 25-foot ceilings provide a better drop for aerial exercises. There’s also more room to teach multiple classes at a time.

Besides aerial—an art form where performers execute balletic moves while hanging from silk sheets, ropes or a hoop—Iron City Circus Arts will offer classes on the static trapeze and on contortion, as well as on strength, conditioning and flexibility. Bored with your yoga routine? Take your downward dog upwards with an aerial yoga class.

They also offer nontraditional workouts like pole dancing.

“We approach it from a very artistic and athletic standpoint,” says Dieter, adding that they avoid focusing on “the more scandalous side” of the art form.

Once they find the right instructors, they plan on expanding their offerings to include tightrope walking, juggling and unicycling.

Keller believes circus arts challenge students to work both their physical and creative muscles, where they can come up with their own moves and routines while getting a full-body workout.

“It’s more of an art combined with physical activity, which for a lot of people is more rewarding than just following someone else’s instructions the whole time,” says Keller.

An aerial silk class. Image courtesy of Iron City Circus Arts.

The school welcomes people from all backgrounds and experience levels with a variety of flexible, affordable classes. They currently offer aerial classes for kids 7-12 and adults 13 and up. As the business grows, they plan on adding tot circus classes for ages 4-6, as well as classes tailored for more specific age groups, such as teens 13-18.

One class costs $25, while a six-week session costs around $120. (For a limited time, they’re offering discounted introductory rates where new students can pay $20 a class or $105 for a session).

Dieter admits that while circus arts may seem intimidating, especially to those without previous experience or strength training, students can expect to develop skills in a supportive community environment. She and Keller recall one student who took her first pole dancing class on her 50th birthday and went on to become one of their instructors. They also gush about a 73-year-old actress who came to them looking for trapeze lessons in preparation for a production of Pippin, a musical about a troupe of acrobats.

“The speed at which you gain strength and confidence is surprising to our students,” says Dieter. “It’s a very cool transformation to watch.”

Classes at Iron City Circus Arts officially begin on June 3. Sessions begin on June 19.

On June 4, the business will also host an open house featuring student demonstrations. The event is free and open to the public.

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.