I am suspended upside down 10 feet in the air. Two long, shimmering white sheets rigged to the ceiling are holding me up—one wrapped carefully around my left foot and the other nestled tightly underneath my right leg. I can feel the majesty and grace of an aerial acrobat whirling within me, a sentiment admittedly alien for a guy who has already fallen down the stairs twice this year.
Hanging there, upside down, an all female class of aerialist hopefuls looking back at me, I enter a state of euphoric relaxation, a fleeting moment expertly combated with a robust burst of unintentional flatulence.
Thankfully, I am told that this is the true initiation into the artistry of aerial silks.
Aerial silks (also known as aerial tissue) is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to the late ’50s in the French circus. It was then adapted in the ’70s by André Simard, an acrobatic research development specialist at the immensely popular Cirque De Soleil.
For many, this is what comes to mind when we think of aerial silks—diminutive French acrobats loftily swinging and contorting from colorful, iridescent silk ropes—something I thought to be truly unattainable for myself, a 6-foot-5 chain-smoking klutz.
Surprisingly, unlike plate spinning or juggling chainsaws, this circus act is not exclusively intended for sideshow gymnasts, and is actually growing in popularity among us normal folk as a fun and alternative form of exercise.
“Really, anybody can do it. And yes, it is hard,” said Valerie Schrader, owner of Infinity Aerial, a gym dedicated to getting people off the couch and into the air. “But, as I tell anyone: if you stick with it, you will get better. It is just having the right mindset going in and knowing that it is going to be a little bit frustrating at first. But, it is fun. It is way fun.”
She wasn’t kidding. By the end of the session I felt like my hands were on fire, but still couldn’t drop the feeling of modest accomplishment. Even in the novice class, everyone was able to do it, including the nervous 14-year-old Mimi Strohmeyer, who mastered the “Titanic” pose on the first try, her arms extended elegantly outward, aping the iconic movie scene.
“It is such a confidence boost,” boasts Schrader, who has been in the business for four years. “When you start finally feeling your body getting stronger and better, people start getting out of their shell a little bit more and expressing themselves more, and their attitude about themselves is much better than the first day they walked in.”
For Emily Standfield, who performed an aerial silks routine with the Infinity Aerial team at Trauma in 2013, the non-competitive, introspective nature of aerial silks is what drew her in.
“I love the adrenaline, I love spinning and dropping from insane heights. I like that it challenges me and that it isn’t easy. It’s like my meditation,” she says. “And it is way less boring than yoga.”
Aerial silks is classified as flow art, which describes the intersection of a variety of movement-based disciplines. This includes juggling, fire spinning, and even pole dancing.
“Aerial silks is so unique—but there are definitely elements similar to rock climbing and to traditional dance,” Schrader said. “There is just more lifting and gymnastics involved. It is really just combining all of those elements together. You are combining that cardio element with strength training, so you are working on building more range of motion, functional muscle strength, very active flexibility.”
“For me, it really got me out of my comfort zone,” said Amy Diller, who was there for her third class. “I always wanted to be active, but the treadmill is so boring. I have always wanted to do it, and I am glad that I have found the opportunity.”
Infinity Aerial offers other flow art classes as well, including pole dancing, aerial yoga, lyra, belly dancing, chair dancing, and yes—even twerking.
Exercise doesn’t always have to suck. Sometimes, it can be a pure manifestation of our mind, body, soul, and booty coming together as one in a singular poetic movement. Just whatever you do, try not to look down. •