If you’ve ever read my twitter bio or the bio for this blog, you may have noticed that I bill myself, among other things, as an “aerial silks enthusiast.” What, you may ask, are aerial silks? And how exactly does one become an enthusiast of them?
Aerial silk refers to a circus act in which performers delight and amaze you on apparatus called “aerial silks”. Aerial silks (also known as tissu) are two (or generally just one looped in half) long bolts of fabric suspended from the ceiling. According to this helpful Wikipedia blurb, performers of aerial silks “use the fabric to wrap, suspend, fall, swing, and spiral their bodies into and out of various positions.” Pretty much, except that for many skills (like tumbling), the end position may not matter as much as the transition (i.e. the exciting acrobatic tumble) that precedes it. Even if you didn’t know what they were doing, you’ve probably seen aerial silks performers whizzing about in Cirque du Soleil or perhaps beatnik-ing it up in the park, rigging their silks to a tree. Remember that thing, where there was this fabric hanging, and someone climbed it, and did some awesome tricks, and it was really cool?
Yeah, that was aerial silks. Oh yeah, and I do that. THAT’S why I call myself an aerial silks enthusiast.
Now when I say “I do that”, I mean simply that I’ve been training on the aerial silks for five and a half years with the Vancouver Circus School, first at their North Vancouver location, and now at their sweet digs in the New Westminster Quay River Market. I’m certainly no pro and I very much doubt a life in the circus is in my future, but it’s the most fun “exercise” I’ve ever found, it’s great for my posture, and I’ve learned to do a lot of things I think are pretty neat.
It’s pretty neat, isn’t it?
When I tell people about my extracurricular physical activity of choice, they usually want to know two things:
- Am I secured or harnessed in any way when I’m training on the silks?
- Have I ever fallen?
The answer to Question #1 is NO, aerial silks performers are not secured or harnessed by anything. In order to perform on the silks, you need to be strong enough to climb them, and you need to know what you’re doing and how to wrap yourself (that’s really all you’re doing–climbing, wrapping, and either holding a position or tumbling/dropping out of one). If you haven’t wrapped yourself properly, you’re going to find that suddenly you’re not wrapped at all.
To answer Question #2, YES, I have fallen. Once. Halfway through my first year. It was my own damn fault (I was far too tired for the skill I was trying to attempt and my hands just let go) and I fell on my ass. I silk-burned my fingers fairly badly (yep, silks burn) and my confidence took a pretty big hit. Generally speaking, if you listen to your instructors, you will not get hurt on the aerial silks. But aerial arts are dangerous (see my answer to Question #1), so you do have to pay attention to your instructors, make sure you have enough energy and know-how for the skill you’re attempting, and, if there’s ever any doubt that you’ve wrapped properly or that you have enough energy, you’ve gotta climb back down and try again later.
My favourite thing about studying aerial silks with the Vancouver Circus School specifically is their focus on individual progress (while never sacrificing technique). I didn’t climb 20 ft to the ceiling on my first day and try to wrap myself while hanging upside down. Every student starts small with skills that can be done close to the ground (but still look pretty cool) and are a lot safer. As I became stronger and improved my technique, my instructors moved me onto more difficult skills. At this point, I’ve at least attempted everything my instructors have taught me, but now that I’ve got the basics down I’m able to pursue the skills that interest me the most and as well as create routines of my own (though I must confess I’m a little more lax on that). I also love getting a chance to watch other performers, either on the silks or on another piece of equipment (trampoline, aerial hoop, trapeze, etc.). Right now I take classes at the same time as VCS’s pre-professional “Ringmasters” group, and it’s inspiring to watch these young circus artists train. They’re light years ahead of me and it’s like getting a free little circus show every week.
Training on the aerial silks can be frustrating and exhausting–it’s hard work, it gives me silk burns and bruises, and sometimes my progress is excruciatingly slow. But no matter how crappy I might feel before I walk in, I always leave class feeling amazing. When I take breaks from training I dream about the silks. I know this is a practice that does me good, body and mind. And it’s helped my physical self be something I never thought I’d be–strong and graceful. Now I know what those long gangly arms were for–all the better to climb those silks, do something wicked, and go “ta-da” at the end. Besides, my arms aren’t gangly anymore–I’ve got pipes baby, and I know how to use them. With enthusiasm. In the air.
[P.S. Thank you TC for coming to class and taking pictures of me! You’re great!]