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Balance of power

The Atlas Brothers, Steve Atlas (bottom) and Sam Lewis, perform a pose recently at Atlas Training Systems in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
The Atlas Brothers, Steve Atlas (bottom) and Sam Lewis, perform a pose recently at Atlas Training Systems in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Inspired by a Las Vegas acrobatic act, Spokane’s Atlas Brothers thrive at hand-to-hand feats of strength

Steve Atlas came late to the art of hand-to-hand balancing.

He was almost 36 when he did his first handstand, only a first step to learning a performance art in which a “base” and a “flyer” work together to perform feats of strength and balance.

Sure, a one-arm handstand is impressive. In hand-to-hand balancing, the flyer might perform a one-arm handstand atop his partner’s head.

It’s a young person’s game, in general. But now, close to 40, Atlas – a personal trainer and strength coach since 1994 – is seeing his aspiration turn into reality. He and his partner, 21-year-old Sam Lewis form the Atlas Brothers, an act seen lately at Northern Quest Casino and a scattering of other venues in Spokane, the West Side and in Montana.

For Atlas, who last month opened his high-ceilinged fitness studio on the South Hill, the Body Practice, it’s only one facet of a career built around health and fitness. But it’s the part he waited the longest for.

The act is patterned on a Las Vegas-based duo called the Alexis Brothers, hand-to-hand acrobats – “arguable the greatest ever,” Atlas said – who perform in Mystere, a Cirque du Soleil show. Atlas saw them in the 1990s. He was amazed and inspired.

But, as an act, the Atlas Brothers didn’t start working together until June 2012. At the start, they practiced several hours a day.

“When you don’t have technique first, you rely on your strength,” Atlas said. “As you get stronger, you begin to find the technique, and you use less and less strength.”

Now the Las Vegas-based Alexis Brothers, Paulo and Marco Lorador, serve as coaches, with Paulo Lorador critiquing video of the duo’s work recorded on Atlas’ phone.

Atlas and Lewis have choreographed a six-minute act.

Their usual opener is a “shoulder stack,” in which Lewis balances on his shoulders upside-down on Atlas’ shoulders.

A counterbalance stunt – in which Lewis plants his feet, bends back from the knees to parallel the floor and supports a vertical and completely aloft Atlas with his thighs – is an easy one, Atlas said, “for us.” To make the stunt stand out in their act, Lewis holds Atlas’ weight.

“It’s much more impressive for a little guy to hold a big guy in that position,” Atlas said.

Lewis, a longtime client of Atlas, has studied martial arts and had a short-lived stint in cage-fighting. An Eastern Washington University student studying exercise science, he also works with clients at Atlas’ studio.

Looking for a training partner, Atlas asked Lewis one day if he could do a handstand off him. He did it and was inspired.

“When Steve asked me … if I’d do this, I said, ‘Yeah!’ ” Lewis said.

Atlas has spent most of his nearly 20-year fitness career in the Spokane area, working in health clubs and elsewhere until he opened his own business. It lived in a couple of other locations until he opened the new space at 2029 E. 29th Ave.

Some of his clients practice an exercise program he developed called the Body Practice. The program ties together elements of martial arts, yoga, dance and traditional calisthenics, he said, with a focus on “quality and intention of movement.”

Atlas teaches the program to some clients and sells DVDs online – Facebook is his main marketing venue.

The studio holds an open gym a few nights a week, where clients practice hand-balancing exercises or other elements of the Body Practice. Others take to the rings that hang from the ceiling or practice yoga or other stretching exercises.When they’re not coaching others, the Atlas Brothers work on their own act.

They planned to spend this past weekend working with a bodybuilding coach on their physiques – how well they can sell their image.

“Really, we’re going out there wearing tights,” Atlas said. “You’ve really got to have your stuff together, because if you don’t, you’re going to get laughed at. But if you can go out there and you can perform and you look good, you’re going to bring the house down.”