Staring at your contorted, flushed face in the mirror as you hang upside down from a trapeze bar might not sound like the world’s biggest vanity boost. But if you’ve just managed to pull yourself into a Bird’s Nest — which involves wrapping your legs around a trapeze bar’s ropes, arching your back into a C-shaped curve and lifting up your head in the opposite direction — it’s a pretty great sight. An hour before my first Aerial Arts class at Absolution in West Hollywood, I had no idea what a Bird’s Nest was. Or a Gazelle. Or a Half Angel for that matter. But after successfully executing all of these moves during my first lesson, I felt so high (excuse the pun) on self-confidence that I was ready to run away and join the circus. So as you stare down the clock while running on that treadmill or become hypnotized by the speedometer during your next spinning class, you might want to consider admitting you’re in the dreaded exercise rut. Fear not. We’re here to say there are plenty of alternative fitness options in Los Angeles where the only indicator you’re burning calories is the sweat dripping down your smiling face Here’s a sampling: I Spy Of course West Hollywood’s Absolution Workout Complex offers your run-of-the-mill Pilates, yoga and rock climbing sessions. But the real fun is found in the gym’s SpySchool class, where students put together tailor-made espionage programs and train to fight like 007. While SpySchool students never learn to diffuse a bomb, they thoroughly cover the much more practical spy skills of karate kicking, climbing and rappelling, weapons fighting and even belly dance and striptease — for those times spies have to go undercover. Along with a full-body workout, SpySchool students gain a new butt-kicking attitude, instructors say. One that improves their split-second reactions in all kinds of difficult scenarios, from tough business negotiations to bad blind dates. Soar to New Heights Besides SpySchool, Absolution’s other standout offering is Aerial Arts. Taught by Cirque de Soleil vet Aloysia Gavre, the program is a great alternative for those who may be bored with more earth-bound fare. The trapeze moves develop core and upper-body strength and also boost balance and confidence. When students see themselves gracefully hanging upside-down during class, they’ll be amazed they’re actually seeing their own reflections in the mirror. I know I was. Absolution CEO Sascha Ferguson says that “people’s brains often get in the way of their workouts. You can do trapeze! You get up there before you think you can’t do that…” Since Aerial Arts classes require the use of muscle groups most people don’t tap on a daily basis, you’ll most likely leave bruised and sore. But you’ll have had so much fun in the process, you’ll be wondering when your next class is. Take It Off Those on a quest for improved flexibility, upper-body strength and confidence might also consider a striptease class. At its branches in Los Angeles and Encino, Sheila Kelley’s S Factor has been teaching everyday women how to move like stage-worthy strippers and pole dancers. It’s near impossible to get bored during an S Factor class, which sets sensual stretching, aerobic movements and pole tricks to anything from Frank Sinatra to Dr. Dre. “Where else in the fitness world can you writhe, whirl, spin, climb, arch, seduce and fly all at the same time!? It’s mind-blowing,” says Founder Sheila Kelley. As instructors tell students to shake out their hair and slap their butts during class, it’s easy to forget that this is, in fact, exercise. Odds are you’re more preoccupied with how to nail that sultry “S walk” or that “firefly” pole trick than with how many calories you’re burning. Kelley says that S Factor “is so fun, you don’t realize that you’re working out until you start to notice the difference in the way your clothes are fitting you or how easily and quickly you pop up out of bed in the morning.” Point, Flex and Sweat Almost everyone covets that long and lithe ballerina physique, but not everyone wants to spend hours on Pilates reformers. If that’s the case, Cardio Barre is a great choice. Located in Studio City, Cardio Barre is part boot camp, part ballet class. With Britney Spears and Madonna songs thumping in the background, students complete a fast-paced routine of traditional ballet moves (plies, ronde de jambes, battements, etc?), weight training and aerobic exercises. One need not have a ballet background to attend the class, but it certainly helps when doing double-time plies at the bar. For the seemingly endless sets of crunches, a dancing background isn’t really necessary. For the most part, these alternative classes — from trapeze to strip to cardio barre — aren’t as hard as they look. And there’s no reason professional spies, strippers and the cast of Cirque du Soleil should have all the fun. I found the hardest part of trapeze isn’t pulling yourself into a pike position (though that does require a bit of upper-body strength), or dealing with the pain in your hands after gripping the bar for a good ten minutes, it’s overcoming self-doubt. I never thought I could do trapeze, but as soon as I saw myself hanging upside-down in a Gazelle — one leg and one arm anchoring me on the bar, the other leg and arm gracefully pointed though the air — I let go of my reservations. I went up on the high bar, I even attempted hoisting myself up on the tissue you see professional acrobats use at Cirque du Soleil shows. While I couldn’t lift myself up high enough to attempt any tricks on the tissue, I was pretty impressed with myself anyway, especially considering I never managed to do a pull-up in my junior high gym class. As I drove home after my first aerial arts class, I called my friends and family to bask in the pride of my accomplishment. (I doubt anyone’s ever called their mother after a spinning class.) Too bad I didn’t have my old gym teacher’s number.— Elisa Jacobs covers culture, gyms and the great outdoors for la.com. She can be reached at (818) 713-3950. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!