Aerial fabric and sling class looks like fun — until you realize how strong you need to be to do it well
I WAS MAYBE 6 inches off the ground, and I was struggling. My feet were disobeying all orders to tie some slippery green silks into a knot.
Try as I might, my feet would not cooperate. Mastery was not in my near future.
I was at the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in West Seattle for an aerial fabric and sling class with The Cabiri, a theater and performance group. Classes also can include instruction on dance trapeze, but first you have to learn the basic technique.
Charly McCreary, The Cabiri’s managing director, walked us through the basics of aerial silks, with loose ends that trail to the floor, and an aerial sling, or a hanging loop.
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You need upper-body strength for silks and slings. McCreary warned us some people are sore for up to five days afterward. Noted.
After running in circles to warm up, along with exercises for our shoulders, fingers and hips, we grabbed the silks to practice engaging our shoulders. It was time to learn an essential — “clams,” or taking the silks or the sling, piking our legs overhead, then lifting our legs straight toward the ceiling. I’ve done this on rings, and it was fun flipping upside down.
I also was surprised how quickly my hands tired out. I was happy to practice tying the aforementioned knots in silks with our feet while seated on the floor. My classmates and I joked that we totally had this skill down.
The knot is the secure base when in the air. McCreary had us tie the knot first with our hands and said we could try practicing with our feet.
I used my hands to loop the silks around one foot, stood up and practiced a side lean and a backbend. But I wanted to try with my feet. I was soon hanging on for dear life and panting as I wrangled with the right tension in the silks. Finally, I managed a knot on one side, though I still felt confused. A teaching assistant reassured me it takes a lot of practice.
I went to the aerial slings for a break. The slings make anyone look elegant — once you get up, that is. We flipped our legs up and over, some with assistance, did a hip hang with the sling looped around our hips, then reached back to grab the silks and lifted our chest and legs for a flying fish extension. Next, I practiced flipping to a seat and did an archer, pushing out one side of the sling with one hand and pointing my opposite toe. I could practically hear the applause.
The star was also simple — lift one leg up higher than your shoulder, press your foot into the sling, hold on with one hand and lean away to extend one arm, spiraling gently in the air. Hire me now, Cirque du Soleil.
But the silks were beckoning to practice climbing. I’ve climbed ropes with middling success. Silks are harder. You use your feet to grab the silk, release, move them higher and climb. An assistant talked me through. It worked, sort of. I was on the extra stretchy performance fabric, and she said climbing a foot was a triumph. I decided that was good enough.
We closed by hanging on to the silks and lifting our knees to our chest to strengthen our upper bodies.
I thought I had decent upper-body strength, and I was still sore in my shoulders and lats the next day. My tired hands also proved my silks grip needs some conditioning.
Even still, class was exhilarating. I loved playing in the air and going upside down. Of course I want to go back.