“You want me to sickle my foot, wrap it in lengths of silk dangling from the ceiling … and then stand on it. Hmm.”

Yours truly, figuring out what, exactly, a hip key can do

So begun my induction into the world of aerial adventures, judicially guided by aerialists Nicholus Quade and Kelly Millaudon. I, alongside other dancer friends of mine, presented myself at the Go For It USA gymnastics club in North Las Vegas for a beginner class in silks.

After warming up and a briefing on safety, all the while blinking apprehensively at the sheafs of fabric descending from the sky, we began hands-on exploration of what this aerial business is all about. Control is a key element of any kind of aerial work, as Nicholus and Kelly emphasized. Even with moves as basic as a climb (which is pretty much as basic as it gets), being able to descend hand-under-hand and not sliding down fire-pole-style is incredibly important. Not only does it build the strength necessary for more advanced movements, it protects the aerialists against nasty things like falls and silk burns.

Nicholus Quade, mid-climb

Step one was, as is only logical, just getting into the air in the first place. This is where the climb comes in. Even though it has a snazzy name, climbing the silk is only a little different from shinnying up a tree. By sandwiching the fabric between the top of one foot/ankle and the bottom of the other, enough traction is created to allow for an inch-worm-like motion of ascension. After I got over the ballet-instilled “bevel your foot at all costs” mentality and sickled my foot properly, I discovered that this basic “lock” was pretty secure. After climbing and descending a few times, I had the coordination down enough to feel comfortable and my hands and arms were trembling slightly — always a good sign, as Kelly assured me. Step one, check.

Step two involved what is called a figure eight knot, which is another way to secure a foot in the silk. The difference between this knot and a basic lock is that, once the figure eight is tied, only one foot is needed and the other is free for fancy things, like fan-kicks and extensions. Old-hat aerialists like Kelly and Nicholus routinely tie the knot with just their feet, but us newbies practiced with a a hand instead and with one foot on the ground. After figuring out this knot, though, some smarty-pants points are awarded. If each foot is tied in a separate strand of silk, for example, hitting a splits position in midair is a breeze.

Thank you, gravity.

Lesson No. 2 was also a success. After reviewing skills learned the previous week, we put a twist on the basics (literally) and got the hang of a few new poses. The hip key, another basic wrap that affords a lot of flexibility, was a slightly more difficult thing with which to grapple. Having to be airborne for the whole thing, in combination with proper silk placement and a sort of pivoting motion with the hips, made me realize how much I use the floor when I’m dancing. After all, if I need to get my center of gravity in a different place, all I have to do is shift my weight from one foot to the other. In the air, this isn’t an option. It all comes down to upper-body strength and leverage. I always knew physics would come back to haunt me.

All of this aerial work means that my arms, shoulders and hands are sore in the strangest places for a good part of the week, but being airborne is completely addictive. I’m continually amazed at how secure I can feel when I’m really just tangled up in some bits of fabric, but being able to dangle upside down several feet above the floor is pretty awesome. I’ll certainly be coming back for more.

The class takes place on Mondays and Fridays at 4 p.m. and is $30 per session. For more information, contact Nicholus Quade of Hayden Productions at inf@HaydenProductionsVegas.com. Check out the Hayden Productions website for more information.

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