Friday 9 December 2016

'It appears, at first, like a bodybuilders' gym but then you have the bendy freaks like me'

Contortionist and burlesque champion Kate Finegan tells our reporter how keeping her flexibility is a constant learning curve

Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30

Tribe Fitness and Dance has become something of a second home for Kate Finegan. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Tribe Fitness and Dance has become something of a second home for Kate Finegan. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Kate Finegan is doing a choreography class in aerial cirque in silks
Kate Finegan did aerial hoop classes. Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Kate's says she's not too hardcore when it comes to diet.

She may be a contortionist, but Kate Finegan (25) does not like to put herself into boxes. The Meath native, who made Dublin her home after finishing her degree in drama and Irish at Trinity College, has been on an interesting fitness journey over these past few years.

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"I graduated in 2014 and during that last year of college, when I was studying for exams, I just wanted to do anything but study," Kate laughs. "I really cannot sit still and I was always really interested in dancing and performing: I was the chairperson of Trinity TV; I was in Players. I was always really active, but when it came to studying, I just couldn't.

"It just so happened that around that time, aerial performance was really starting to take off in Dublin and there were a lot of open workshops going on, so I went to one with no experience, didn't know anybody and I took an aerial silks class," Kate explains. "I was the worst person there, I had absolutely no upper body strength and I was so disorientated when I went upside down. I was just like a floppy fish, but I loved it and it was such a workout too.

"I remember the next day, my friend called me and I couldn't keep my arm up to talk to them on the phone, it was that sore."

Now that she had been bitten by the aerial bug, Kate began to attend Tribe Fitness and Dance, which became something of a second home over the next two years.

"I did aerial hoop classes there and started to do competitions also," says Kate. "My first competition was the Pole Princess and Aerial Arts show - it was a great platform for me and a great way to force myself to get better because you can go to as many aerial classes as you want and keep up your fitness, but it is like a different language for your body and you need to keep all of your skills up. When you are using the aerial silks, then it is completely different in terms of where you put your legs and what muscles you are using, so you really need to be constantly working on everything and the competitions provided that little bit of necessary pressure."

Kate now trains at least five times a week on her own and twice a week when possible with her doubles contortion partner.

"When I graduated, I was freaking out and thought 'oh my God what am I doing with my life?' as you do when you have studied drama and Irish," Kate laughs. "Then I saw that there was a competition called Miss Burlesque Ireland; I had no experience of burlesque at all apart from writing my thesis on the empowerment of women through over sexualisation, through pole dancing and burlesque, but I really wanted to give myself that challenge."

Burlesque allowed Kate to fuse her experience in theatre and dance with her interest in aerial performance, and despite the fact it was her first time performing, Kate won the Miss Burlesque Dublin title for 2014/2015. "Burlesque opened up a world of performances for me that I didn't even know existed before and because of that, I perform with Jerry Fish now; I did the Late Late with him and I do Electric Picnic with him and corporate gigs and stuff, which is really great," Kate explains. "So through my performance work I have become really interested in flexibility as it is so important."

Last year, Kate took private coaching sessions with internationally renowned flexibility expert Emmett Louis. "Emmett is brilliant; he does mobility, strength training and also flexibility," Kate says. "He has worked as a circus artist and just has an amazing understanding of the body and how it all works, so before he moved to Berlin last year, I did sessions with him because I have always had a huge interest in flexibility and I wanted to do routines where I really showcased that. Some people think that you are just born flexible, but that's not it - it is something you need to build up and maintain, otherwise it goes and I can feel it going, even if I left it a week, I would really feel it changing."

For Kate, fitness and, most importantly, flexibility, is a constant learning curve.

"It is such a great way to keep fit because aerial training is all strength and core, and in terms of improving your flexibility, you can never stop, you can never be the best, you are always pushing yourself to do more and more. That's the great thing about doing both aerial and flexibility training, they really complement one another."

When her flexibility coach Emmett moved to Berlin, Kate set out to find another person to train with.

"I saw this girl Hannah Ryan on Instagram and my friend had actually told me about this amazing bendy girl in a class that he was teaching in Tribe too - and it turned out to be Hannah. So I looked her up on Instagram and we got in touch and started training together."

Kate trains in Raw Gym in Dublin.

"It is an amazing place. I train in Raw about three or four times a week, just training flexibility so that would be my splits, my back bends, my walkovers, my elbow stands, my needle and so on. Then I am doing a choreography class in aerial cirque in silks and I also train in Tribe Fitness and Dance, for aerial hoop. I am always moving on and looking to add to my skills.

"Hannah and I train together in Raw one or two times a week now and it's funny because it appears at first like a real bodybuilders' gym, but then you have me and Hannah, the bendy freaks with our legs behind our heads," Kate laughs. "We started looking up loads of stuff on Instagram together and trying it out and that led us to get into this niche of doubles contortion. We did our first open stage a month ago for the Dublin Circus Project and it went very well so we are hoping to build on that now.

"Training together is great - Hannah is strong in areas that I am not strong in and I am strong in areas she is not strong in. We really complement one another and it's really inspiring and motivating to have a partner to train with and create new things with."

So what does Kate eat to keep up with such an action-packed schedule?

"I am not incredibly strict when it comes to food, but I definitely know more what my body wants now," she says. "I have my eggs in the morning and protein is important throughout the day in my meals, but I wouldn't take any supplements at all - I get it through food. I don't eat bread, but I am not too hardcore - my diet would be considered 'clean eating' I suppose in the main, but I am not 100pc strict, like I will have a Mars Bar if I want one every now and then."

* Kate is represented by Bow Street Talent Agency. Photos taken at Aerial Cirque in Dublin. For information on classes, see: aerialcirque.org

Kate's day on a plate

Breakfast

Black coffee, Ryvita, hummus, two scrambled eggs and spinach.

Lunch

Butternut squash, red and green peppers fried with balsamic vinegar and brown rice with chicken.

Snacks

Banana or orange.

Dinner

I will usually have the leftover of vegetables and rice from lunch for my dinner. I have to admit that I am kind of bad at eating at night.

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