Jennifer McCarthy was one of the first people to sign up when Bumbershoot, an aerial arts studio, opened last October in the old Polar Wave Ice and Fuel Co. warehouse.

The south St. Louis studio, full of high-flying apparatus, is also home to a bakery and recording studio.

"Wait a minute," McCarthy, 37, remembers thinking. "There's actually a class where adults can do this?"

The fun inside Bumbershoot is highly visible thanks to the studio's enormous windows. Passers-by on Gravois Avenue often press against the glass, staring in wonder at the brightly colored silks, ropes, hoops and a trapeze hanging from a 26-foot-high ceiling.

For owner and instructor Joelle Pendergrass, who grew up performing circus skills with her 11 siblings, having her own studio was a dream.

"It's really been a blessing for me to find aerial arts. It's been a therapeutic influence in my life," said Pendergrass, 24, who formerly taught classes for Circus Harmony, a circus school at the City Museum and home to a youth circus troupe. "I wanted other people to experience that."

While Bumbershoot offers classes for children, the focus is on adults. Pendergrass picked the name Bumbershoot, a colloquial term for umbrella, because she imagines an umbrella program of acrobatic classes such as gymnastics and aerial fitness (focusing on cardio rather than mastering tricks) not typically offered for adults.

Classes also are offered in handstands and tumbling, and moms and their toddlers can take some classes together.

There's even a date-night class for couples.

"You can only go to dinner and a movie so many times," Pendergrass said.

Bumbershoot intrigued McCarthy. The gymnastics classes she took as a child had been replaced with aerobic classes at the gym or monotonous minutes on an elliptical machine.

"I was bored out of my mind," she said.

'Beatiful and Graceful'

McCarthy signed up for Bumbershoot's aerial silks class, which involves "dancing" while suspended from two pieces of fabric.

"It is so beautiful and graceful," McCarthy said.

At first, McCarthy's feet weren't strong enough to grip the silks; she slid down as soon as she climbed on.

"Now, I can climb to the top of the ceiling," she said. "It was a huge accomplishment. It's very exhilarating when you do it."

This combination of physical and emotional well-being is what Pendergrass loves about aerial arts. Students often tell her at the start of class that they'll never be able to do this or that: They're afraid of heights; they hate to be upside down; they are not strong enough.

But they always end up surprising themselves, she said.