Tag Archive: silks

After about six weeks of aerial silks classes in Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of taking a class from Aerial Arts of Utah in Salt Lake City this past week. (And for anyone that’s confused, yes, this is still the Las Vegas Dance Insider … but it will have a Utah satellite until August. Check out this post for details.)

First, I was entirely thrilled to be airborne again. Hanging out in empty space was addictive from the start, so the month or so of silk-less-ness was almost more than I could handle. The second thing that struck me was more about wordage than physicality — and the bunhead in me was rejoicing.

The aerial school in Salt Lake had an established system of terminology for every movement we did. After a watch-and-learn class structure in Vegas, I was both caught off-guard but appreciated the structure. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not opposed to the mimicry method of teaching. After all, this is how much of the dance world operates. But being able to attach a name to a movement that is confusing at first somehow made it more manageable in the beginning.

This hasn’t been the only role of vocabulary in the history of dance, and ballet is perhaps the best example of a standardized lexicon. Despite the myriad flavors swirled throughout the discipline, a collective commitment to maintaining a core set of terms has preserved them. As a result, well-versed dancers can walk into a ballet class almost anywhere in the world and have at least a tentative grasp of what’s going on.

Interestingly, this rigorous vocabulary isn’t always transmitted through formal schooling. Instead, toddlers in tights are deliberately exposed to a slew of these (mostly) French verbs on a weekly basis, ostensibly with the idea that the words will absorb by osmosis. Oftentimes (and with varying levels of success, of course), they do. Teenagers that have been in dance classes since they were small can converse in foreign infinitives without really thinking about it, even without having studied the “Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet.

This is an excellent book, by the way; I recommend it for anyone with an inclination toward the linguistic side of dance. It also proves the valid point that the language of the arts has come beneath the gaze of learned professionals and has benefited from it. While this intensity probably isn’t necessary for good dance schooling, it provides a depth to the field that has made for great staying power.

Because, after all, words are the fundamental method of transmitting culture. Evidence of artistic and creative expression is visible far before the appearance of writing and while we have the benefit of codified vocabularies now, this wasn’t the case for thousands of years. Language was the key piece instead. So next time you’re in a ballet class listening to French, Russian or Italian chatter, say a quiet thank you for the language that has helped preserve and propel the dance world toward the complex art it is now.


So it’s been about six weeks, give or take, since I started my aerial endeavors and first shinnied up a strand of silk. Things are coming more naturally now; I’m not sore for days afterward and I can climb a decent distance above the ground before getting that fluttery, good-Lord-the-floor-is-far-away feeling. My brain seems to have caught up with all of this wrap, knot and lock business and I can go through a few basics before getting tired or confused, or both.

Mad hammock skills!

I do, however, still spend a lot of time tired. And confused. But, ironically, I’m usually having an awesome time despite muscles that twitch involuntarily and “what did she just do??” moments. As it turns out, being airborne is fun and addictive. Our non-human primate pals might be onto something with all that brachiating they do.

Skills, predictably, have gotten harder as we’ve gone along. An interesting thing about silks is that tricks tend to build on either basic wraps or one another. For example, a hip key is the beginning of a lot of moves, including those impressive drops and falls that circus smarty-pantses do. A figure-eight knot, which can be tied around one foot or two separate feet, allows the aerialist to do all kinds of fancy stuff, like splits and inverted poses.This modular quality of the discipline means that, once you’ve got some basics down, you start progressing more quickly.

A close cousin to silks is the hammock, which, as the name suggests, is a looped piece of fabric instead of a purely vertical one. This is also an apparatus that has been added into our weekly repertoire. The fabric is the same, but maneuvering is a different animal and requires separate techniques from silks.

Perplexed looks generally begins with the pullover, which is essentially a hips-over-face movement that gets a person into the thing (think of a gymnast pulling themselves up and over a horizontal bar.) From this point, you generally work from a seated or fully reclined position. The loop makes inversions easier and knots a little less prolific. Strength elements, however, remain the same: your forearms and fingers will be dying after an hour on either.

Two figure-eight knots + overly long hamstrings = a hmm, that's not the trick I showed you ...

Despite snazzy new moves, the basics of aerial work have remained the same. Practice is important, and this can be difficult when you don’t have a 40-foot-long strand of fabric handy. Things don’t always go as planned … as the photo above demonstrates. Patience is a good thing to keep on hand. Enthusiasm is advantageous, and nothing quite beats that moment of stillness that descends right before a stunt.

For more information about aerial training, check out the Hayden Productions Vegas website.

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“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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