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Home | Scene in Manchester

Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: It's 'art with six-pack benefits'

April 14. 2013 8:19PM

A couple weeks ago I found myself wrapped in fabric, hanging upside from the rafters in a Lake Avenue building.

I was participating in an aerial silks class at Go Ninja, where professional aerialist Heather Murphy teaches her craft in a block of the city I don't have the opportunity to visit too often. Peer into the building between Mike's Pub and Grub and the Manchester Community Resource Center, and you will see something very beautiful happening inside Bare Knuckle Murphy's boxing gym.

Think of the limber men and women you see in Cirque du Soleil who wrap themselves up and fly around in long pieces of colorful fabric suspended from the ceiling. Heather is a silks aerialist who is both self-taught and professionally trained through New England Center of Circus Arts.

Heather's journey to professional aerialism began at her mother's gym where she was raised and exposed to all kinds of martial arts, including Brazilian jiu jitsu, Muay Thai and Capoeira. Her mother, Linda Murphy, who might be the world's most beautiful boxing instructor, has clearly taught her daughters (Heather, 27, has a younger sister Shaunna) to seek out and embrace new and physically challenging opportunities.

Linda, who has operated Bare Knuckle Murphy's since 1978, says Go Ninja is the artistic side of her gym. Specifically, "art with six-pack benefits," according to Heather. "Nothing will give you the core strength like what we do here."

Go Ninja has been operating in Murphy's for about a year. The colorful silks, which hang from professionally rigged rafters in the beautiful old building, can each hold up to 2,000 pounds. Heather, who's purple-hued hair hints at her unconventional side, is all serious business when it comes to the safety of her students. The pre-class warm-up tests students' comfort with going upside down, and there are strict instructions about observing a move and waiting for help before trying it on your own.

The class I tried was a level one Aerial Circus Arts class, where we learned basic things like tying a knot that keeps you from falling out of the silks and pulling up and down on the silks for something called shoulder shrugs. But even in this basic class, physically fit students can quickly find themselves hanging upside down with their legs wrapped up in a position called a gazelle.

While I was a novice, my class also included more advanced students Crissy McQuade, owner of Chill Day Spa, and her youngest daughter, 11-year-old Dante Brown. McQuade said she has been bringing her daughters to Go Ninja since December and loves the quality time it gives them. Indeed, the gym is family-friendly. While there is no formal child care during classes, Heather's two young children are regulars at the gym and welcomed my 6-year-old to hang out with them while I hung from the ceiling.

The class was a lot of fun once I got over the disorientation of being upside down. I hope to try out some of Go Ninja's other classes like Flying Ninja Boot Camp and Circus Circuit training, as well as Aerial Yoga and Pilates. Drop-in classes are not cheap at $25 each, but discounts are available for those who purchase more than one class at a time.

For more information about Go Ninja, its classes, and schedule visit

Canvas Roadshow

I had so much fun at Muse Paint Bar, I was excited to hear about a similar business created by Debbie Ellis of Bedford. The Canvas Roadshow brings the "paint and sip" experience on the road to various restaurants, businesses and even private homes.

Ellis said she started the business in October. She hires artists to instruct attendees through a step-by-step process of painting a masterpiece, all while enjoying food, drink, and the camaraderie of friends. Everyone leaves with a beautiful canvas painting and that special feeling you get when using the creative side of your brain.

On Tuesday, April 23rd, a Canvas Roadshow artist will be teaching how to paint tulips at Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse in Bedford. The next day, you can learn to paint a Winnipesaukee sunrise at the Rouge Grille in Manchester.

Prices range from $35 to $45. And many of the events are fundraisers, where Ellis said she donates $20 per painter back to the cause.

For more information on The Canvas Roadshow, its calendar, and how to partner with them for a private event or fundraiser, visit

NH365.ORG Event of the Week

Congratulations to the honorees at this Wednesday's Manchester Historic Association Historic Preservation Awards. It's the 21st annual event that recognizes and supports the efforts of individuals, businesses and organizations who have made significant contributions to the preservation of buildings, neighborhoods, traditions and other historic resources in Manchester.

I am always impressed when individuals and businesses take extra care to preserve homes and buildings in Manchester. It is certainly not the cheapest way to make renovations and improvements. But, there is value in preserving our city's history, and Wednesday's honorees understand that. They include Saint Anselm College, Elm Grove Properties, Public Service of New Hampshire, Carter A. Beck, Amoskeag Terrace Condominium Association, attorney Cathy J. Green, Megan and Stephen Cairns, Brookside Congregational Church and retired Union Leader photographer George Naum.

John Clayton, a beloved former columnist for this newspaper, knows more about the history of the Queen City than anyone else I know. That makes him the perfect honorary chair for the event, and I know he is looking forward to seeing many people there.

"For someone who is so passionate about Manchester history, it's a real honor," Clayton said. "Speaking as a writer, I like to say that a passion for history is a little bit like a grammar lesson. It's for people who find the present tense and the past perfect, and here in Manchester, the Historic Preservation Awards are a perfect way to celebrate the legacy of those who came before us.

"We truly stand on the shoulders of our parents and grandparents who shaped this city," he added, "and the chance to be there while they honor George Naum just makes it all the more special. It's hard to believe it was 20 years ago when he took the photo for the cover of my first book. I just can't figure out why I look older and he looks younger."

Clayton was himself the recipient of a preservation award in 2003 for his many books and columns on the history of the city, and the New Hampshire Union Leader was honored at the first Historic Preservation Awards event back in 1992.

The event starts at 5 p.m. at the Radisson. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 622-7531.

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