by Quynbi Ada December 11, 2019 11 min read

 

All About Aerial Silks - The Art of Fabric Acrobatics

In recent years, this art form has rocked both the performance and circus arts, steadily collecting countless practitioners and fans. With its grace, beauty, and astounding demonstration of strength, it’s no wonder that so many people have discovered their passion through a practice that balances exacting demands with high rewards.

This article will cover the art of aerial silks. Whether you are just getting started in the field or if you’re an old pro, we hope to offer some helpful information to enhance your career as an aerial silk artist.

blackwhite ombre aerial silks uplift active

Aerial Silks History 

According to many, aerial silks emerged from the creative cauldron of the now world-famous Cirque du Soleil in the 1980s. The form persists as one of the circus world's most alluring and captivating apparatuses. Athletes of all kinds are drawn to the majestic column of silk, from gymnasts and acrobats to aerial fitness enthusiasts.

In the last several years, the massive growth in popularity of aerial silks has even landed the art form at home -- in living rooms, backyards, and other open areas of living spaces throughout the world. Practitioners want convenience and privacy along with their daily dose of adrenaline. With the correct gear and knowledge, practicing aerial arts at home can be super safe and satisfying.  

What is Aerial Silks

The term aerial silks refer to a form of gravity-defying creative movement featuring a column of fabric rigged overhead as the performer’s dance partner, on which she demonstrates acrobatic movements and poses.

Aerial silks are known by many names around the world. In some circles, it’s known as aerial contortion or aerial contortion in silk, although not all silks artists present contortion-style movements. Aerial ribbon is another romantic term to describe it. Some refer to the form as aerial fabric or simply fabric or silks. The French word tissues also used in many places.

A Brief History of Aerial Silks

The original founder of aerial silks remains somewhat of a mystery, but there are many key players who helped establish and develop what’s now one of the most incredible forms of performance and circus arts.

 André Simard joined the now world-famous Cirque du Soleil in 1987, hired on as a creative movement researcher with the aim to capture the attention of spectators. This was a mere three years after the company’s inception.

Simard’s alchemy between fine arts and athleticism created a compelling storytelling element in which performers narrated with their entire bodies. The former gymnast is often credited as the inventor of aerial silks, but this claim has been disputed in some circles. Whether André Simard invented the actual apparatus or not, he was undoubtedly an early contributor to the discipline in the late 1980s and 1990s.

 As a gifted teacher and artist, Fred Deb’ pioneered many aspects of the art form in the early 1990s after graduating from The National Center for Circus Arts. Her inventive collaborations impart lofty inspiration to audiences everywhere.

Her highly popular aerial workshops are a treat for any aerialist and include creative inquiries into movement. Her work incorporates contemporary dance, theatre, and music, with a touch of whimsy. Fred Deb’ is also the organizer of the French Aerial Dance Festival.

Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion are identical twin sisters as well as the founders and artistic directors of the New England Center for Circus Arts, or NECCA, widely known as one of the best circus schools in the U.S.

The cirque-style entrepreneurs have been instrumental in the inclusion of injury prevention training for aerial silks and all circus arts.

The legendary Dreya Weber has helped to bring aerial silks and other apparatuses to the popular world stage. As the aerial instructor to the stars, her work as a gifted aerialist, an actor, and a filmmaker reaches a wide audience and continues to inspire a new generation of aerial artists.

Check out her film The Aerialist, along with pop star Pink’s amazing and beautiful aerial productions.

Uplift Active Blue & Pink Ombre Aerial Silks by Lani the Carni

Photo from @lanithecarni

Aerial Silks Fabric

Contrary to their name, aerial silks are not actually made of silk. That would cost a fortune.

There are two broad categories of aerial silks: stretch and non-stretch, with some variation in between. All aerial fabrics should have at least a 2-way horizontal stretch. They are made of polyester-lycra or nylon tricot. In terms of the technical thickness of the fabric weave, 40 denier is the norm.

Beginners will quickly find that the non-stretch variety is much easier to climb, while later in their explorations, they may discover that stretchy fabric is more forgiving when it comes to absorbing the shock of a high drop. Still, many aerialists prefer non-stretch aerial silk.

You can have your silks cut to varying widths to suit your hand size and grip strength. Aerial silks come in just about any length your ceiling or portable rig height can accommodate.

A Figure 8 or Rescue 8 descender is used to affix the fabric, while carabiners (auto-lock or screw gate) connect your Figure 8 to the hardpoint overhead. When using screw gate-style carabiners, ALWAYS remember to flip the carabiner over to prevent gravity from unscrewing your closure. An easy reminder is this: Don’t screw up!

To prevent unwanted twisting on your fabric, don’t forget a swivel which will allow the apparatus to spin in space.

Round slings or daisy chains can be used to add length to the apparatus. However, keep in mind that round slings will be much stronger for high, dynamic drops.

Additional options include a rainbow of colors and shades, and silks are even available with patterns like sunset ombres.

To enhance grip, most aerial silks artists use rosin on their hands, feet, other parts of the body, or even on the fabric itself to prime it for use. Rosin is made from tree sap and comes in a dry, powdered form or as a spray mixed with alcohol.

The powder can be a bit messy, while the spray is very sticky, but they both give you a great power grip. Rosin can be purchased commercially. Some aerialists have been known to concoct their own custom blend of dry rosin and alcohol to find that perfect friction factor. Other aerial silks artists prefer to rely on little or no grip aid.

Safety mats and spotters are critical components for new aerial practitioners, and they are not a bad idea for experienced artists either. The topic of safety mats for performance is a controversial one, but many professionals rely exclusively on their own strength and skill to execute a successful performance.

Where can you learn Aerial Silks

You can find an aerial silks class just about anywhere now, and the art form has become accessible to a wide range of people. But in the long run, there's an even cheaper alternative to training at a school or studio: to invest in an aerial silks setup right at home. Your aerial silks home setup, along with a multitude of online instruction that's now available, will pay for itself very quickly.

Let's discuss the basics of how to hang aerial silks and share a few different workouts you can do. Whether your fitness goals have to do with cardio, gymnastics, building upper body strength, pilates, working with yoga swings, or something else, there are workouts available to inspire you!

How to hang Aerial Silks at home

With the proper ceiling height, know-how, and aerial equipment, you may be able to rig your aerial silks at home. This scenario is more and more popular, and with the right guidance, it can be very safe. You can place your rig or rigging point in a room that is clear of obstructions and heavy traffic.

  • If you have space in your home to rig an aerial point, your first consideration should be whether you can set up a free-standing aerial rig. Rigs are portable, versatile, affordable, and relatively easy to set up and strike.
  • If you want another setup, call a structural engineer before you make any alterations to your home. This expert should include an initial visit to assess your space. You can discuss the proper placement of the point/s and the best rigging methods for your situation.
  • Rigging from exposed structural beams and a high ceiling is one of the simplest ways to rig for aerial arts. Just choke a span set over the beam and attach a carabiner, a swivel, and your aerial silks affixed to your trusty Figure 8.
  • A certified rigger or structural engineer should install a point in the ceiling using hardware. 

If you are planning to be away from your home practice for a while, you're switching out apparatuses, or if you need to edit your space, taking your aerial silks down is even easier than hanging them. Use a daisy chain knot technique along the entire length of your fabric to "shorten" it. If you're not going to use the aerial equipment for a prolonged period of time, take it off its Figure 8 and store your gear in a waterproof container.

upliftactive aerialsilks portable aerial rig

Rigging Safety and Education: Understanding the Basics

Safety should be your number one motivation when you will be hanging headfirst towards the floor. Make sure you source your aerial silk from a reputable company that has weight tested their fabrics.

Consider where you plan to hang your silks. The equipment required may vary from space to space. If you have access to or own an aerial rig, the setup could be different than that at a professional or home studio, or even a performance venue.

  • Always follow your rig manufacturer’s When in doubt, look up your questions, connect with a professional or ask a trusted rigger.
  • Never exceed working loads for your Drops can be dyno tested to determine how much force they generate, so you don’t need to wonder.
  • Never train 
  • Check your rigging each time you use
  • Store your equipment
  • Use a crash mat for your
  • Rigging from trees is not

For additional reading material and safety training resources, check out ETCP rigging educators Delbert Hall and Brett Copes.

What to wear for Aerial Silks

For work on aerial silks, both the fabric and your body need to be protected.

DO: Wear comfy, stretchy workout clothes, like leggings and a fitted t-shirt. It’s best to keep most of your skin covered, especially your midriff area. Fabric burns are painful and unsightly.

DON’T: Wear jewelry, zippers, or any metal on the fabric. Anything that could potentially catch or snag the silk is a BIG no-no. Even the smallest tears can weaken the fabric and force it into early retirement. This is true for you and your students or friends. Costumes with sharp-edged crystals can also be hazardous. Baggy clothes will get caught in your fabric wraps, which is just awkward.

Top 5 Aerial Silk Workouts

1. The Foot Lock

The Foot Lock is a beginner-level move and also a starting point to many other beautiful positions. This can be done from the floor or in the air. The foot lock puts a bit of pressure on the foot, but it's less intense with a medium stretch fabric. Start with learning it from the floor:

  • Stand on your mat with the silks in front of you.
  • Wrap one foot around the fabric.
  • With your opposite hand, pull the tail of the fabric up to about hip level.
  • Wrap the slack outside the fabric, underneath the foot, and then stand.

Your foot lock is an excellent skill to master because it can function as a good resting pose in the middle of a challenging aerial routine. Foot lock is also great for building your upper body strength. 

2. Spinning

Spinning is a fun way to play in your single-point aerial hoop or Lyra, but it can also be done on a fabric hammock or yoga swing. Try this beginner-friendly version.

  • Stand on the floor in front of the apparatus.
  • Bring your hands high and hold on tight.
  • Center your upper body directly underneath the point with your legs wide behind you, feet pointed at the floor.
  • Start by rotating to the left. Turn slowly but keep your left foot in contact with the floor. Let the right leg float up behind you.
  • As you feel comfortable, gently lift that left foot so that you are flying in a graceful spin.

Spins are inherently playful, and also a great way to build grip strength, equilibrium, and endurance.

3. Beginner-level inversion

Challenge yourself in your aerial silks warm up with a beginner-level inversion. You may have seen this simple straddle inversion on a static trapeze, and it can also be done on aerial silks and hammock. 

  • If you are on an aerial silk, tie your fabric close to your hips to create a sling.
  • Place the fabric around your upper back like a backpack.
  • Pull up slightly with your arms and lean back, bringing your legs up so that the sling rests at your hips. Let your arms go here.
  • To come upright, simply reach your hands up and pull yourself upright.

Inversions are a fundamental aerial movement technique that you'll use a lot. This exercise is a great way to build abdominal strength, stretch out the spine, and get more comfortable being upside down.

4. The Casket

For another beginner/intermediate trick in your aerial silk sling, try a move sometimes known as Casket. 

  • Sit in the fabric and turn your body so that the fabric is running directly down your back.
  • Bring your feet opposite you in a turned-out position on the fabric. 
  • The other side of the fabric should be behind your neck.
  • Press out with your body, coming into a flat, horizontal position.

This pose is a wonderful chance to work on balance, and it's always a crowd-pleaser!

Where to buy Aerial Silks

At Uplift Active, our aim is to present you with the highest quality aerial equipment, making aerial arts accessible to anyone who wants to explore the art form. We have aerial silks for sale along with all the equipment you need to fly them, even if your dream is to do aerial silks at home.

Check out our aerial boutique, where you can choose your rigging equipment, colors, and style of fabric to accentuate your aerial work.

We offer fabric sets that come with all the hardware you need, as well as aerial fabric on its own by the yard. In addition to a rainbow of enticing solid colors to choose from, we provide gorgeous ombre style designs that will truly catch the eye and the imagination.

Aerial silks sets include your fabric, span sets, a rescue 8, swivel, and two screw-lock carabiners to rig in most aerial-worthy environments.

 

lady in red aerial silks

Frequently Asked Questions


Do you send product samples?

Yes! You can order tricot fabric swatches to get a sense of the weight, texture, and color shades that we offer before you buy.

How do I find aerial classes near me?

Check the interwebs! Aerial studios have proliferated in the last decade. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Can I use my aerial silks at home?

Yes, you can. Be sure you have done your research on safety and rigging protocols, use a mat, and never train alone.

Why should I do aerial silks?

Embarking on an aerial journey is not imperative. The practice is definitely not for everyone. But if you do choose to take it on, you’ll find that it brings a multitude of gifts and rewards. Whatever your abilities are, you can experience the joyful challenge of aerial arts. As you face fears and grow stronger, fitter, and more confident, you’ll reveal more of the beautiful badass that you truly are.

How long should the fabric be for aerial silks?
For 2-pole aerial silks, double the height available and add several extra yards for your rigging and your tail on the floor. Silks artists with more experience may prefer a shorter tail or puddle of fabric on the floor.

Are aerial silks hard or are aerial silks a good workout?

Yes, without a doubt. The practice is a fierce anaerobic workout that will facilitate overall fitness from body and mind to soul.

What muscles does aerial silks work?
Aerial arts demand that you work your entire being, with a strong emphasis on the upper body and core Good flexibility is helpful and can be cultivated with dedicated practice. You will develop muscles you didn’t know existed.

Is aerial silks dangerous?
It can be. Is driving a car dangerous? Use common sense and put every safety feature in places that you possibly can, such as a good crash mat, a spotter, and solid, hands-on training. Get in the habit of using proper technique early. As with all the best things in life, the reward is worth the risk.

So what are you waiting for!

The art of aerial silk is a magical, dramatic spectacle that makes people truly smile just as it takes their breath away. With the right training, rigging, and equipment, you can help your dreams to soar. At Uplift Active, we believe aerial arts should be accessible to everyone who wants to try. When you are ready to make the leap, we are here to help your journey.

Are you ready for your aerial silks? Shop our extensive collection of Aerial Silks Sets, fabric, and hardware here.

 

 

Quynbi Ada
Quynbi Ada


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