We Tried It: Aerial Silks and Lyra
It was back in 1994 on a family trip to Disney World when I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show.
I was no more than 6 years old, and I was mesmerized by the acrobatic magic before me. With wide eyes, I leaned into my mother and asked, "Who taught them to fly?"
At the time, I probably brushed it off as some unexplained Disney mystery, but I never forgot how fascinated I was with their talent. That beautiful art is known as aerial acrobatics, and with aerial silk classes growing in popularity, I decided it was time to try it myself.
When I walked into my session at Aerial Arts NYC, my instructor Kristin first told me the basics of aerial silks and lyra. The silks are two pieces of nylon fabric joined at the top, while the lyra (also known as an "aerial hoop") is a steel hula hoop. Both are suspended from the ceiling and used as aerial apparatuses for acrobatics.
As I watched my instructors flip and glide around the room, I powdered my hands with rosin, took a deep breath and hit the ropes.
First, Kristin taught me a basic climb. Climbing is always the neutral position in silks, and the act of doing so builds core strength to perform tricks. She then showed me how to securely get my foot into a figure-8 foot knot, which serves as your support to maintain balance and safety. After a few attempts, I finally got my foot secure and hit my first trick, the Candy Cane Roll-Up.
(Jaimie La Bella)
Lyra (Aerial Hoop)
I found the aerial hoop to be a bit more difficult, yet it was my favorite of the two. You use core and upper body strength to lift your legs through the hoop, then find a balance that you trust yourself to maintain during your session. We started off with splits to practice balancing, then we practiced holding on with one knee and one hand before attempting our trick. As pictured above, we hit the Dragon Fly and the Martini Sit.
By the end of our 60 minute session, my muscles were burning, my hands were shaking and I was confident I’d be back for another class.
It benefits the whole body: I never felt I was over exhausting any particular muscle in my body. You’re working your core, upper body, legs and chest while incorporating flexibility, strength and balance into your routine. Depending upon the trick, you target different parts of the body with different motions while building endurance.
Anyone can do it: Although it does take time and training, aerial classes can fit the needs and physical ability of the individual. My class consisted of men, women and children alike, all working at their own pace. And for people who are afraid of heights, there are ground activities such as juggling, hula hooping, partner acrobatics and contortion.
Aerial acrobatics can be used for conditioning: Both the lyra and aerial silks can be used as a method of training. We practiced conditioning techniques such as double-knee hang sit-ups, pike pull-ups and shoulder shrugs on the hoop.
It’s fun: Above all, the class is extremely enjoyable. While giving myself a great workout, I was learning new tricks and having fun doing it. Aerial acrobatics is an art, and with enough practice can also be performed in shows (or just for fun in front of friends).
(Jaimie La Bella)