Whether you’ve been to one of the many Cirque du Soleil shows or just remember P!nk’s epic aerial performance to “Glitter in the Air” at the 2010 Grammy’s, the art of aerial silks is both a beautiful and intimidating ability to try out.
Suspended over a dozen feet above the ground with only two long pieces of fabric strategically wrapped around your body to keep you from careening back to the Earth sounds equally riveting as it does nerve-wracking.
But like most things, it helps to get the scoop from someone who’s already taken the plunge, or the climb in this case.
I stopped into Aerial Arts NYC on East 49th Street with my silk veteran friend Melanie for my first-ever encounter to give you a better picture of what you are in for if you attempt to soar with silks.
1. Heights shouldn’t bother you
The most basic element you need if you hope to become a silks success story is that you have to be comfortable with being a decent ways off the floor. As soon as I walked in, I saw two girls sitting in their silks almost touching the towering ceiling while chatting about the next wrap in their routine.
If the idea of climbing trees or fire escapes terrifies you, this probably isn’t for you. Even at the beginner level, my instructor Lani had me hovering way above ten feet for my first few binds, a bit more than even I anticipated for my first class.
One of the very first challenges she gave me was to climb as high as I could with the first foot bind holding me up, where I reached a whopping 30 feet off the floor before I knew it, and slowly used the silks as a sort of pulley to make my way back down to safety.
2. Wear the proper clothing
When you’re shimmying up fabric and then sliding back down with nothing but you and the silk-- not to mention being sprawled out in any given direction depending on the bind you’re working on --what you wear is extremely important, as I learned.
As my friend Melanie recommended, I wore flexible athletic pants that went down past my knee, as many times the silk gets lodged in the knee-joint sockets for stopping and control. Yoga pants, long biking shorts or tights will do just fine.
The last thing you want is a big ol’ silk burn as you slide down from an upward climb, and trust me when I say if I wasn’t wearing the right pants it would have happened. If it's past your knees and you can easily stretch out in them, you’re probably good to go.
3. You’re going to get a serious workout
It may look all pretty and graceful, but an hour playing on silks is anything but a static experience. As an active person myself, I’d say it was a combination of gymnastics with a bit of boot camp training, especially when it came to climbing. Bring your best upper body game.
And it’s not just the top part you'll be powering up.
Your legs are what allow you to maintain balance and hold a bind, engaging just about every single muscle your lower body possesses. You think an hour on a Stairmaster is killer? My muscles felt that hour of silks for three days.
4. Be fair and have patience with yourself
One thing I had to face, being the perfectionist I am, is that this is not something you get good at overnight. Many of the participants here have been training for years and use these skills as performers in their everyday jobs. So they make it look really easy.
When my instructor Lani gave an example, she did it with such precision that it was easy to just watch them but not pay attention.
Especially for your first class, get into the mindset of learning and not merely spectating. Try to mentally note-take each time you're shown something.
That way when it’s your turn to give it a try, you can do a little bit more on your own before the instructor jumps in to guide you or walk you through it again. And it’s always OK to ask for help.
5. Just have fun with it
Aside from not becoming a silks master my first class, one thing that I kept in mind to keep me motivated was that this is definitely an out-of-the-ordinary experience that the majority of New Yorkers aren’t brave enough to try, not to mention have the physical gusto to pull off.
So make sure you give yourself the proper kudos! Both Melanie and Lani made sure I gave myself a pat on the back for just showing up and jumping into the swing of things.
Overall from my silks class, not only did I have an eye-opening experience into the world of circus performing arts, but the empowerment you feel when you see how high up you are or finally get that Half-Moon Bind on point is a rush of self esteem and accomplishment I can barely describe in words.
Thanks to the Aerial Arts NYC team and my instructor Lani for giving me a kick ass first class. I’ll most certainly be back for more!
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