So you just saw The Greatest Showman for the 100th time and replayed the “Rewrite the Stars” scene like ten times with your girlfriends thinking, “Omg I want to be like Zendaya, but I don’t think I can ever do all the stuff she does in that scene.” Or maybe you went to a Cirque du Soleil show and felt yourself wishing you, too, could fly like them. As an Aerial Instructor, I can tell you that the aerial arts are a lot more attainable than you think. They’re growing as a fun and creative workout alternative that can help you gain confidence, overcome a fear of heights, and let you play. Building strength and stamina are just bonuses. If you’ve ever considered wanting to try to fly, here are eight things to know before your first aerial class.
1. There’s more than one “aerial” class.
Be sure to check what kind of class you signed up for! There are several different types of apparatus that you can learn, but check to see exactly which one you’re going to be working with. Here’s a quick reference:
i. Aerial Silks: AKA tissu, AKA fabric: This is the one with the two long
fabrics that look like drapes. Things you can do with it: Climbs, poses, drops, partner stuff.
ii. Aerial Hammock: One fabric that has a loop in it. Usually, studios with
lower ceilings will offer hammock because it does not require a lot of climbing. Things you can do with it: Climbs, poses, drops. Aerial Hammock is also used in Aerial Yoga. Please know that these are not the same thing. Aerial Yoga is meant for spine realignment and relaxing poses. Hammock is meant for tricks and poses.
iii. Aerial Hoop, AKA Lyra: This is the big ole hula hoop that spins. Things
you can do with it: poses, drops, partner stuff
iv. Spanish Web, AKA Rope: Imagine the rope that you see in movies about military training. Now imagine it skinnier, more flexible, and made of a slightly softer material. That’s Spanish Web. Things you can do with it: Climbs, poses, drops, partner stuff
v. Static Trapeze: You know the classic circus act where people swing on a trapeze, fling themselves into the air and someone catches them? This is not that (phew). Static Trapeze is very similar to hoop/lyra, only it’s a trapeze. It’s not meant to swing; however, if you really want to try swinging trapeze, this is a good way to start.
If you’re not sure about what class you want to take, take a peek on YouTube or Instagram and do your research. Which one blows you away? That’s the one you should try. Keep in mind that some apparatuses are more popular than others and therefore will have more beginner options available. You have a higher chance of finding an intro to silks, hammock, or lyra than you do static trapeze. Aerial Silks is one of the more popular options, so that’s the one we’ll be focusing on today.
2. You don’t need to be strong already!
A lot of people think that they already need to have good upper body strength or be super ripped to try aerial silks. That’s far from the case. The whole point of taking a class is to build up the strength. No one expects you to be able to climb to the top on your first go. It’s going to take time to build up the strength. Don’t get discouraged if you can only climb once or twice before you get tired. That’s okay! It is possible to do other poses from the ground. The important thing to remember is that if you don’t try to climb, you will never gain the strength to do it.
3. Keep it slow.
As someone who has broken her foot from rushing (fell down the stairs because I wanted to get Starbucks before work, but I digress) I cannot stress this enough—aerial silks is all about control. Especially as a beginner, you should never ever rush through new skills. There are two reasons why safety, and strength.
Rushing through things that are new means that there’s a higher chance that you will tangle yourself in the silk before your instructor can stop you from doing something wrong. Your instructor will then have to help you untangle yourself and most times when you are stuck you are not in a comfortable position. I know there’s a desire to get to that really cool drop or pose you saw on Instagram but there’s a chance that person tried that multiple times before committing it to film. Go slow and save yourself the bruising.
The same holds true for getting down from a silk. You should always walk your hands down from a silk. Again, it’s all about safety. Sliding down like its a fire pole creates friction, and friction creates silk burns which can literally rip the skin off your hands if you’re not careful. I’m not kidding. Ask anyone at your studio or gym what silk burn feels like, and it will not be pleasant.
Doing things slowly means that you need to be able to hold yourself longer and in effect you are building strength. This is a good thing! You want to be building your grip and arm strength, especially when you are starting out. It’s important to start building your strength from the beginning because when it comes time to progress to more difficult skills, you’ll need that strength.
4. Keep it low.
Don’t try anything new up in the air where your instructor can’t easily correct any mistakes you might have. If you get stuck in the air trying something new, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get you down. And all the while, you won’t be able to let go. Be safe, try things on the ground, and only when you are comfortable and 100% confident you can get yourself down should you try things higher up. When in doubt, ask your instructor if it’s okay to do so.
5. It will be uncomfortable at first.
You’re going to be putting your body through some new experiences, causing some discomfort. I promise that you will get used to it. The most common discomfort I have seen is a result from footlocks—a basic move where you can knot the silk around your foot and stand in the air. The pressure is going to be on the outside of your foot, and it’s going to feel like your foot is being crushed. But after a few classes, you’ll barely notice it! However, if any position or move is too uncomfortable for your body, let your instructor know. They may be able to give you some adjustments or a similar pose that is more comfortable.
6. Check the studio’s dress code before class.
Most studios have strict rules about what can be worn in a silks class. Jewelry like rings and clothing with zippers are usually not allowed because it can catch on the silk and rip it. Check the studio website or call ahead to make sure there’s no restrictions or if there’s a recommended dress code. Usually, I recommend students to wear long leggings, a tight shirt that can be tucked in, and to have their hair tied back. You will be barefoot during your class, but if you want to wear socks, you totally can—just know that it will be harder to climb.
7. Don’t get discouraged.
Whenever I get a new student, I ask them why they wanted to try aerial silks and what was the one thing they wanted to learn. Nine times out of ten, the one thing they want to learn is a crazy drop they saw on YouTube, a super bendy split pose from Instagram, or a super long routine from a Cirque du Soleil show. After their first few classes, some are disappointed that they can’t do a drop or do the splits. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your physical ability won’t be either. Practice and ask questions, and you’ll get there! That being said…
8. You look cooler than you think.
You may feel like you’re doing it wrong or that you’re unsteady. But, trust me, you look cool. After your first class, take the time to take a pic in the pose you learned that day, even if it’s low on the ground. Share it on social and in your bestie group chat. Revel in their praise. You just learned something that not everyone knows how to do. You go, you!