Topsy-turvy Tahoe: Promoting mental, physical strength and wellbeing at North Shore flow arts studio
June 22, 2015
TAHOE VISTA, Calif. — Climbing up two long pieces of silk fabric suspended from a high ceiling, Kelly Smiley wraps, flips, falls and catches herself in a series of gravity-defying aerial moves.
The aerial fabric artist of six years is reaching new heights at Tahoe Flow Arts Studio in Tahoe Vista, utilizing a holistic approach in combination with yoga, aerial fitness, Pilates fusion and meditation classes to achieve optimal health.
"I wanted to open a studio where I could teach yoga and fabrics in a way that would help people heal from things like back injury, depression and chronic pain," said Smiley, who opened the studio just a little more than two years ago. "I came into this space not knowing how it was going to grow, but it keeps getting bigger, and I'm loving every minute of it."
LIFE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
A performer by nature and adrenaline junkie by trade, Smiley was raised in the acrobatic-arts mecca of Las Vegas, where she was introduced to the theatrics of Cirque du Soleil at a young age.
"My mom has been a 21 dealer at Circus Circus since I was little, and growing up, I was able to watch all the shows," Smiley said. "I always dreamt of becoming a performer someday."
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While attending UNR for a degree in teaching, Smiley was introduced to North Lake Tahoe, and to the world of professional snowboard coaching.
"I was more interested in fitness education rather than teaching in a classroom setting," said the born-and-bred athlete. "I loved everything about the ski and snowboard industry, and I thought coaching was something I would do for the rest of my life."
But life had other plans in store.
Around her tenth year of coaching at Northstar, Smiley was taking a few laps in the park when she flipped over a C-box, falling in a "scorpion" position that ultimately left her in severe chronic back pain.
"I had been riding under the chairlift, and people who saw the fall said the back of my head touched my calves," Smiley said.
ROCKY ROAD TO RECOVERY
Already dealing with a torn meniscus from a prior snowboarding injury, Smiley was forced out of the professional coaching world to focus on her recovery, which proved to be a rockier road than expected.
"Over time, my knee started getting better, but my back pain was awful and the doctors kept pushing for me to have back surgery," Smiley said. "There was no way I was going to do that, so I started looking into holistic care like acupuncture and chiropractic, and I also became deeply involved in yoga."
After suffering through back pain and the depression chronic pain can bring, Smiley noticed immediate relief through yoga, and within six months, much to her surprise and overall wellbeing, her back pain disappeared.
"After two knee surgeries and a back injury, I was very misaligned, and when you're in that much pain, the doctors want to give you pain pills which only forces you into a deeper slump," Smiley said. "I was in that dark hole for a long time until I started doing yoga and then aerials, and then everything just clicked."
REACHING NEW HEIGHTS
Combining her passion for rock climbing with her affinity for yoga, plus her innate knack for performance-based art, Smiley regained her strength and spirit by climbing the fabric ropes of the aerial art world.
After completing her yoga teacher certification, she progressed to aerial acrobatics through an 8-week intensive course at Dragonfly Aerial Arts Studio in Reno.
"That's where I realized how much strength and flexibility you need in aerials, and I saw how beneficial my yoga training was," Smiley said.
Her newfound passion for twisting and turning around suspended fabric was steadily climbing, but it would take a few years of trial and error before successfully launching her studio on Tahoe's north shore.
"I left Tahoe twice to find what I was looking for, but I kept missing the mountains, so I decided if I wanted to be here, I had to bring my passion back to the mountains with me," Smiley said. "The last two years have definitely been a roller coaster ride, but I'm loving every minute of it."
SKY'S THE LIMIT
Since the launch of her studio in May 2013, Smiley has seen countless clients benefit from her holistic approach through the array of classes that are designed to promote mental and physical strength and wellbeing.
"You can see how someone might be struggling with something when they walk in the door, but over time, it's amazing to watch them come out of their shell and shine with confidence," Smiley said. "We're all working as a team and encouraging one another in here, and it's important no one feels intimidated whether you're here for the first time or the hundredth."
Setting her heights high, Smiley hopes to boost business by increasing performance opportunities around Lake Tahoe, adding more acrobatic equipment to the studio, and by establishing Tahoe Flow Arts Studio as a destination training facility for aerial artists nationwide.
"I never thought I would do anything but coach snowboarding, and when that abruptly ended, I didn't know anything else," Smiley said. "Now I feel like I've found this whole new life with an amazing unit of friends and an incredible support system, and I can't imagine it any other way.
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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