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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This pose is a wonderful chance to work on balance, and it's always a crowd-pleaser!
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.
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:
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?
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?
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.
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.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
Summer is a time to show off those cute warm-weather looks, but for those of us who are involved in aerial arts, training in the heat can sometimes present added challenges. In this blog, shared some tips on how you can take care of yourself while watching out for your aerial cohorts in this heat.