By Lissa Alexander. Photos by Brian Argyle and Lissa Alexander
There are two types of people, those that like to wrap things around themselves and people who like to wrap themselves around things. This is according to Glenny Davidson, owner of Circus Freaks in Parksville.
“This includes hard and soft objects,” Glenny explains. “I like the hard objects. I like things that I can wrap myself around. Hoop I absolutely adore. Pole will always be my number one love though.”
Glenny is also infatuated with hand balancing. She likes to experience the world from a different perspective, and enjoys the challenge and focus required to balance and move around on her hands and forearms. She says all the activities she and her team teach at Circus Freaks get her out of her head and into her body.
“There’s not many things that we do in life where we live in the moment. We’re fretting about the future and we’re worrying about the past. For me, especially in hand balancing, and also with pole and silks and hoop, you cannot be thinking of anything else but what you’re doing.”
March 1, 2020 marked the one-year anniversary of Circus Freaks, and although Glenny was able to host an open house and celebrate the milestone, within a couple of weeks, COVID-19 forced her to close her doors. She began offering online classes, but her income dwindled, and initially, she only brought in enough to pay her utilities. “It was pretty tight,” she remembers.
However, there was a silver lining. The forced break made Glenny look inward. It reminded her that pole changed her life, and why she was so bent on opening the business in the first place.
40 with a bang
Glenny grew up in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. Her father was an RCMP officer, so she moved around a lot, spending a big chunk of her time in the Okanagan. No matter where she lived, she always looked forward to when the circus came to town. The shows transfixed her, and she would picture herself on top of an elephant or a horse.
“I wanted to run away with the circus, just like a lot of kids do,” she explains as she sits cross legged in her Parksville studio. She has always been a free spirit, she clarifies, and the thought of travelling city-to-city was very appealing. Plus, she felt a sort of kinship with the performers. The contortionists always blew her away, she says. It was something about their drive, passion and self-discipline that mesmerized her — and the fact they too, didn’t fit into the cookie cutter mould of society. “They have to work very hard at it, it’s unique,” she points out. “You don’t see a lot of people that are able to do that, have that control over their body.”
Pole came into Glenny’s life in a big way when she turned 40. She had already been taking classes, but when she moved to Duncan, there was no pole studio, so she installed one in her home.
She had split with her partner, she wanted to lose weight, and she desired to enter her forties with a bang, she explains. So, she set a goal for herself: she would compete. “And then I started winning, so I kept competing,” she reveals.
Glenny placed second in pole fitness in the BC Pole Fitness Championships in 2013, and went on to place first in 2014, 2015 and 2016. She also competed at a national level, in the Canadian Pole Fitness Association’s Championship, and placed first in 2016.
Ages 3 to 87
To get to that level wasn’t easy. Glenny would work for eight hours and then train for two to six hours a day. She began teaching gymnastics and pole fitness in Courtenay, and once she moved there, she would train at the studio until midnight some nights.
“Pole changed my life,” she explains. “I was in a really bad place. I had no self-esteem, my relationship was really toxic at the time, I was overweight, I hated my job, and pole changed all of that. It brought out everything good in my life.”
Glenny’s relationship improved, she became an instructor which brought her great joy, and she became more flexible and stronger, physically and emotionally. It also enabled her to have better friendships with women.
Glenny loved what pole and aerial fitness did for others as well, and she knew what she needed to do.
She began seeking a space to open a studio in the central island area, and once she looked at a space with a high ceiling and a roll-up door on Stanford Avenue in Parksville, her dream was one step closer to reality. The name Circus Freaks was a natural, she explains, because it’s a common term in the circus industry for people who don’t fit in to the norms of society. To Glenny, it means her business is extremely inclusive for anyone and everyone looking to have some fun.
Judy Mayhew is one such individual. She read about Circus Freaks in the newspaper and learned that Glenny taught people of all skills and abilities, ages three to 87.
“I thought, oh my gosh, I’m in that range,” the 72-year-old explains. She says it took her about four months to get enough strength to invert and do some desired moves, and the benefits have been numerous. Her bone density test improved, she’s in better shape, and she really enjoys the camaraderie.
“Being with the women at the pole studio is so much fun,” she reveals. “Glenny is so inclusive.”
A strong community
Greta Christiansen agrees that Circus Freaks is a wonderful addition to the community. She and her daughter Lilli Rebagliati attended the Open House when the studio opened in 2019, and they’ve been there ever since. Lilli loves taking classes at the studio and has mastered many complicated moves.
Greta says she always knew her daughter was flexible, but she didn’t expect her to be able to do all the things she is now capable of doing. “And it’s all thanks to Glenny and Circus Freaks,” she concludes. She says she also loves how supportive everyone is at the studio. “It’s a little community, and it’s a strong community. It’s amazing.”
Greta adds that Glenny’s passion for aerial fitness and her business is felt by everyone who attends. When Glenny talks about Circus Freaks, she glows, she explains.
Although COVID-19 was initially negative for Glenny, it has brought many positive aspects to her business. She did some work on her website making registration and scheduling easier. The classes are now smaller but have filled up and have better attendance. In fact, this summer has actually been more successful than last summer. And Glenny was able to take some online courses to further develop her own skills. She’s now a certified contortion instructor, and she says she’s more fired up than ever to teach.
When asked to name the best part about operating Circus Freaks, Glenny chokes up. She says that when people accomplish something, and she sees the pride in their eyes and the sense of empowerment they feel, it makes her heart explode.
She says she didn’t always celebrate her own achievements, she felt like she was never good enough. But she has learned to take pleasure in her triumphs and not be so hard on herself.
“I want people to feel what I feel. To feel good about themselves and know that they can accomplish things. And to break out of the norm of what society expects of us.”
To find out more about Circus Freaks, visit the website at www.circusfreaks.ca.