Go ahead. Live out your fantasies and fly your way into strengthening and toning your body. The art of performing aerial acrobatics is no longer exclusive to the elite breed of circus performers. You’ll have to work on it, though. Work on it real hard.
It’s the stuff Cirque du Soleil is made of. Aerial art, also known as aerial silk, is coming to Manila.
“People today are constantly looking for new ways to challenge themselves. It seems like the more you challenge your body, the more gratifying a workout becomes,” said Lala Ilao-Dinglasan, proprietress and fitness instructor of Movement Dance Studio at Jollijam Arts Center, 2/F Three Salcedo Place, Makati City (tel. 3926220); at Kidsville, 4/F The Podium, ADB Ave., Mandaluyong City; and at Beyond Yoga, 3/F Il Terrazas Bldg., Tomas Morato Ave., QC.
The inspiration to bring the art to the country started when Dinglasan invited Viva Vertical’s head of training and development, Emily Tan, to certify her studio’s pole-dancing instructors.
The Malaysia-based Viva Vertical is one of Asia’s leading academies that provides instructor certification recognized by Asian Academy for Sports Fitness Professionals, Aerial Arts Association and International Pole Dance Fitness Association.
During one of the training’s down times, Tan demonstrated aerial silk. Tan, a certified personal trainer, corrective exercise specialist, performance enhancement specialist, mixed martial arts conditioning coach, and master instructor for TRX suspension training and movement efficiency training method, among others, is also Viva Vertical’s instructor and program designer in aerial arts.
The image of a chiseled body climbing up and down the fabric is daunting for anyone, even for seasoned gym rats. And it should be. It is as hard as it looks. The program, however, is designed to take even those with zero workout experience all the way up in the air. It will gradually build their strength and flexibility, with a step-by-step guide on executing the techniques and tricks.
“The circus, with jugglers and animals and aerial performers, originated in France. Then Canada’s Cirque du Soleil adapted it to become a modern aerial art. Gymnastics used to be practiced by athletes only. Today we see children enrolled in gymnastics classes around the world. We are now witnessing an evolution in the fitness industry,” Tan said.
Stronger students will learn faster, of course. It also helps if you’re agile. If you’re going for it to chase a fantasy, not to become a professional aerial artist, then this class is for you, said Tan.
Yes, you will need Herculean strength to carry at least half your body weight in the air, and you will slip or fall down to the floor. Not to worry, though. Floors will be fully padded with crash mats similar to those used in gymnastics classes. When you get past all that, the real challenge is keeping the fabric steady and executing each trick with the grace of a ballerina.
Developing strength—from your arms to your core all the way down to your legs—and flexibility is just the beginning. The real key lies in how well you can master controlling your power. Control your strength, control your body, control the fabric.
“It’s very feminine and graceful, but the strength required to do it is incredible,” said Cristalle Henares, who tried out some movements with Tan. The poles are stable, she said, so while pole dancing is not a walk in the park, it is not as physically demanding as aerial silk.
Without a doubt, Cirque du Soleil makes it look “easy,” said Tan. Controlling the fabric is not an easy feat. Even the technique of wrapping the fabric around your leg in preparation for a climb takes a lot of practice. Developing confidence in your wrapping technique to keep that fabric wrapped around you, and making sure it will hold your body in case you accidentally lose your grip, takes even longer.
She said it will take a beginner weeks to learn the basics, but his/her patience will be well-rewarded. The experience is fun and exhilarating, she said.
“Don’t give up right away. Each time you show up for training, it brings you closer to your goal,” Tan said.
Nothing ever is boring in learning aerial silk. Each session brings with it new challenges, whether you’re new or you’ve been practicing it for years. If you’re adventurous, aerial silk might be the fitness choice for you.
Aerial silk is not suitable for pregnant women, for obvious reasons, or people with low blood pressure, as turning upside down, said Tan, is disorienting for someone new and might cause dizziness. Depending on level of training and size of the studio (or warehouse, in some cases), one can go up from five feet to up to 40 feet.
“It’s not about how long you can hold a pose, but how many times you can do it, climbing up and down, the way you use the flow of the fabric with your body. You and the fabric become one. You become part of each other,” Dinglasan said.
Classes in aerial silk will run for one hour and a half. Classes for beginners at Movement Studio branches will be offered before the year ends.