Fearless Femmes

I Tried It: Aerial Dance

I accidentally discovered an acrobatic workout so cool, it helped me conquer my fear of heights.

By Hala Daher February 17, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

A couple of years ago, on Galentine's Day, I found myself at an acrobatic burlesque performance at Vault in the First Ward. I was particularly impressed by the aerial silks performers. These ladies managed to climb the fabric to the very top, creating beautiful shapes in the air with their bodies and the silks and putting on a skillful show that also included stripping. I was immediately obsessed.

I wanted to learn aerial silks immediately. Only one problem—I'm terrified of heights. And of inversions—you know, those positions where your head is pointed straight at the ground. And these routines were heavy on both. I let this dream die, thinking maybe CrossFit and yoga were enough. At least they kept me on the ground, right?

Fast forward to last fall when I was in the kind of terrible mood that can only be cured by blindly spending money on... Anything. I ended up buying $160 worth of what I thought were yoga classes at the newly opened Hunter Dance Center on the advice of a friend. I arrived to the studio two nights later and found out I had actually purchased a beginner aerial silk course for one night a week for the next six weeks. Oops.

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The author, getting the swing of things.

The class was small, about six women including our instructor, Abby Flowers. All the women were different shapes and sizes. My friend and I were by far the oldest people in the room—according to the introductions that opened the class, everyone else ranged in age from 16 to 22. Most of the attendants also had performance backgrounds, with plenty of dancers and actresses participating. My friend and I were the only oil and gas professionals. Needless to say, we both felt pretty out of place. 

The warm-up was easy enough: a round of jumping jacks, burpees, dynamic stretching and the dreaded abs work. Next we became familiar with the silks, learning upper and lower arm wraps. Abby led us through "conditioning" workouts including pull ups, shoulder shrugs and knee raises on the silks. Easy enough stuff, especially for a gym rat like myself.

Then came the climbs. Abby patiently demonstrated the two popular types of climbs, Russian and regular, but before long it was our turn. I was terrified. I was about to hang from a piece of fabric that dangled from the ceiling with only a thin mat to catch me at the bottom. What I didn't anticipate was that climbing would be a challenge—I only managed to get up a couple of feet off the ground. 

The next day I was sore, feeling the burn in muscles I didn't even know existed. I was hooked. Every week I get better and better at the climbs, rising another foot off the ground. I've also fallen out of the fabric more times than I'd like to admit, but I always get right back up. The inversions have gotten easier, too—I can do several simple tricks on the silks. I've got a long way to go to make it as an aerial burlesque star, but I'm doing something I never thought I could, and that's pretty amazing too. 

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