Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Circus! Prepare to laugh at the clowns and be amazed by the death-defying stunts. Now in the center ring; Karissa the amazing Low Hovering Acrobat. See how she performs her stunts inches above the ground with no safety net. Ohhh Ahhh. The crowd goes wild!
At least that’s how it plays out in my head. In reality, I’m in a gymnastics center with middle and high school-aged kids. Parents sit on the bleachers hollering, “‘I see you, sweetie, you’re doing great!”’ As their kids jump into foam pits and balance on the balance beams. My class is made up of two 9th graders, a college-aged girl, myself, and my roommate. We stretch in the center of the gym, chaos swirling around us, as my excitement for this class continues to build. I remember taking gymnastics classes as a kid; I could climb the rope and ring the bell at the roof before every class. “I’m sure I can still do that! It’s just muscle memory, right?” I think, as the instructor is assigning which silk each person will be using. My roommate and I end up sharing silks, while the others have their own. This ends up being ideal since we can help each other while the instructor is working with the other students.
The first task is to climb to the top of the silks. The instructor gives us a quick demonstration of foot placement and locking the silk between our feet. She makes it look easy. Okay, “I’ll go first.” My hands high above my head, I jump, latch on to the silks, and lock my legs into place. So far so good. Now, to move upwards, I must reposition my legs and push myself up. I loosen my feet and only move them up two inches before my hands start to slip. I let go of the silk and land softly on the mat below. During this time, the other students have completed one full climb to the top and back down. My roommate’s turn is less successful than my attempt. She jumps, clings to the silk, and dangles like a cat stuck in the living room curtains. Frozen, she waits until her arms give out, and then comes crashing down.
Seeing this calamity, our instructor is unphased. She quickly explains climbing the silks takes time to master, but not to worry, we can still learn valuable techniques to live out our dreams of performing in Cirque du Soleil. She starts by showing us how to wrap our feet to support and hold ourselves on the silks. This again looks easy. Now it’s my turn to execute the wrap on my foot, and it isn’t as effortless as the instructor made it look. I have a death grip on the top of the silk with one hand while balancing on my right leg. At the same time, my left leg is lifted at waist level and my free hand is wrapping the end of the silk around my left foot. Once it is secure, I lean through the silks in a superwoman pose. Becoming more confident, I lean over bringing my body parallel to the floor. Success! My roommate and I switch back and forth, watching each other fumble through wrapping and unwrapping the silks. By far, the best ab workout of the night was hysterically laughing at one another.
The class ends on a high note as we move over to the trapeze and ring station. Both were only six feet off the ground and I didn’t have to jump and catch anything (thank god). The first skill we practice, all kids have done on their backyard swing set. I grip the trapeze bar and swing my legs forward until they’re over my head. I then lock the back of my knees over the bar and pull myself up. This is the easiest thing I did all night. The ring is the same concept, however, it’s wider and requires more shoulder muscles. Eventually, I got up, but couldn’t pull myself up more than a couple of times before my arms were burning.
At the end of the class, I felt like I worked out. My arms felt like jello and my stomach hurt from all the laughing. I left having a greater appreciation for silk acrobatics. Not only do you have to be incredibly strong, but you also have to know what you’re doing when wrapping the silks around your body. Nobody wants to watch a performer tangle themselves up, fall to the ground, and limp off the stage. But… If Cirque du Soleil needs someone to perform a mere foot off the ground with a one-foot wrapping technique, call me. I’ll be happy to put on the full-body leotard and prance around the stage.
Want to try aerial silks at home? Order HERE.