Aerial arts for the (very) beginner

On Saturday nights from 7 to 9pm in the Ashamu Dance Studio, the Brown Aerial Arts team opens its doors (and it’s silks) to any students who want to learn how to fly, with a net. I’ve had minimal exposure with aerial arts, but I knew that it’s a special talent of P!nk and the most recent winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so this past Saturday, I decided to attend a beginner practice and proudly walked out with all of my bones and most of my dignity intact.

The first order of business at practice is stretching. We stretched our legs, our arms, our backs, our hips, and muscles I didn’t become aware of until I stretched them. I asked my friend to take a picture of me doing that “weird stretch with the leg” which, as it turns out, is called a lunge.

I still don't know how I bent this way.

I still don’t know how I bent this way.

After stretching, the regular members of the Brown Aerial Arts team split up among the various things hanging from the ceiling, and all the beginners are invited to pick one of the four options to begin with: partner acrobatics, trapeze, lyra, or aerial silks.

Partner Acrobatics

This seemed like the most logical space to start. After all, this would probably keep me closest to the ground for the longest amount of time possible. In partner acro, one person stays on the ground (i.e. bases) while holding up the other person, who balances midair (i.e. flies). This trick is called a cartwheel, as the person flying actually cartwheels onto the feet of the base.

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I was able to hold another person up with minimal help, and decided to try my hand (legs?) at flying as well. In this trick, called “cathedral,” one person balances their shoulders on the hands of the base, while holding onto their knees at the same time. It’d probably be just as easy, right? Wrong.

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As it turns out, the only thing more terrifying than the feeling that you will inevitably drop another human being onto yourself is the feeling that you will inevitably fall onto another human being without warning. The team assured me that I was “very close” to getting it, so with that confidence we rotated spots in the practice.

Trapeze

We then moved to the trapeze, perhaps the quintessential symbol of aerial artistry. As it turns out, the trapeze and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it, but it hates me. As a result, it took my three four tries to get onto this thing.

One...

One…

Two...

Two…

Not quite. And...repeat three more times.

Not quite. And…repeat three more times.

Being on a trapeze is sort of like when you were a kid at the playground and you’d hang upside down on the monkey bars. Except, now the monkey bars are hanging on a rope from the ceiling and you have a midterm in three days. Of course, once you ignore that midterm and finally get onto the trapeze…

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Success!

As it turns out, the trapeze isn’t quite so scary after all. And I’m proud to say I was able to get into this next trick on the first try:

My mom was sufficiently impressed.

My mom was sufficiently impressed.

Lyra

At this point, we rotated again, and I ended up at a big steel hoop covered in athletic tape suspended from the ceiling, or, as it’s officially called, a lyra. I was assured that this was a very sturdy apparatus, which was the kind of boost I needed after about an hour of ignoring gravity.

I was able to get myself onto this one with slightly more ease than the trapeze, and my spotter was also very helpful in pushing my foot the extra inch it just wouldn’t stretch.

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We learned a trick called the mermaid. I’m a big fan of the fourth Harry Potter, so I was excited. (Not to mention the wealth of puns that come from combining aerial arts with Ariel herself.) Basically, the mermaid takes you from this:

The look of uncertainty.

The look of uncertainty.

To this:

I swear I'm not falling.

I swear I’m not falling.

We then learned a trick called “Splits Away!” The name, I think, speaks for itself.

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The next trick was called “gazelle,” and was an upside-down trick. It was only a bit terrifying.

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I swear I am falling.

Aerial Silks

I ended up finally at aerial silks, which are exactly what their name implies. This was the last apparatus I’d be trying out for the night, and I believe my facial expression says it all:

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Nevertheless, I was determined to learn, and I diligently tried…and tried…and tried.IMG_1502

At this point, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the members of the Aerial Arts team for continually assuring me that I was almost there, and that’s it’s always difficult the first few times. As it turns out, I was eventually able to get myself up and spinning around.

Note to self: gain upper body strength.

Note to self: gain upper body strength.

And lower body strength.

And lower body strength.

Until I eventually fell. Twice.

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“I’ll never be P!nk.”

At this point, I began apologizing profusely to my spotters, who were incredibly helpful in assisting me out of the silks and back onto both feet. They convinced me well enough that it really is difficult to do on your first few tries, and I walked away with my head held high.

The final part of each practice is cool down, or “conditioning,” which involves a series of calisthenics designed to target the muscles in your body that are specific to aerial arts. As it turns out, I have none of these muscles, although I’d like to believe I’m on my way to developing them.

All in all, I left practice with the knowledge that, no, aerial arts isn’t completely impossible, and I ended up feeling incredibly supported by a team that genuinely wanted to teach me a new skill that I wanted to learn.

If you have even the slightest interest in learning aerial arts, and if you believe you can do it, or even if you believe you can’t, come to their next beginner practice. (I’ll be there).

The Brown Aerial Arts team holds beginner practices each Saturday in the Ashamu Dance Studio from 7-9pm (excluding holiday weekends). Anyone who is interested in seeing more aerial arts, while staying on the ground, can checkout their winter and spring showcases, dates to be announced.

All images via Anthony DeRita ’18.

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