All about Aerial Silk

Human being, right from the first days of his existence, strives to do new things every day. He is driven by his internal urge to make progress and to stay unique by learning new things. In fact this very nature is one of the reasons why he has explored new horizons crossing all the limits. As you look in to the history of human beings, you will notice that many earlier small looking activities have given rise to some complex arts. Yes! This is to refer to a modern day sport called aerial silk. Well! If you are not familiar with the game, this article would definitely enlighten you about the history, tricks, method, tools or equipment and the benefits of playing the game. There are various names of this sport like you might have heard aerial contortionaerial ribbons, aerial silks, aerial tissuesfabricribbon or tissue. These are all the alternative nomenclatures for the aerial silk, used according to the regional and cultural backgrounds.

What is Aerial Silk?

Well! The sport is characterized by the use of ribbon, silk or tissue such that the player has to perform in the air depending wholly and solely on his skills. It is very interesting to know that this type of aerial aerobatics is very popular in different areas of the world and has been recognized as an art. The fabric or tissue is mostly suspended in the air and the performer by using the flexibility of body wraps, falls, rises, suspends, swings and even flies with the aerial ribbons. In the modern day, the sport is even modified such that the performers also pose and dance while staying in the air with the help of the aerial ribbons.

History of Aerial Sports and aerial contortion

As mentioned earlier, every human activity has some history at its back which further gives rise to the subsequent events. Same goes with the aerial sports. It has its roots in the acrobatics which is basically about walking high. The word finds its origin in the Greek civilization back in 2000BC when the acrobats used to show their performance in the sitting or standing position on the backs of the bulls. Even the running bulls were also used in those times. Later on, the similar tricks and performances were staged by Egyptians too but that was limited only to their social and religious festivals in the beginning. As for example, looking at the Egyptian history, we come to know that they used to perform in the air on the events like village harvest celebrations.

The art of acrobatics and the aerial sports showed its first appearance in China some 25 centuries back when the acrobatic troupes performed there. Slowly and gradually, it gained popularity across the region, so much so, that by the era of Han Dynasty, it has become one of the favorite sports of the people. In fact, various other forms of acrobatic performances had emerged by this time. The aerial silk was one of the modifications. For the same reason, acrobatics is considered to be the mother of the aerial contortion. Another addition to the Aerial sport was the introduction of background music; Chinese acrobats started dancing to the tunes while walking on the rope or climbing the pole. After that there was no stopping to the spread of the aerial sports. Now it is performed in the leading circuses, clubs and various entertainment hubs of the world where the skilled performers make the best use of their skills and dance along the slippery surface of fabric, silk and even tissue. This can be regarded as the most dangerous but interesting sport of the modern world in which the performer displays excellent balance and skills while staying on the silk. People find it adventurous sport as they literally play with life while flying at the height of 30 feet.

Main Tricks of the Aerial Silk:

The sport is not at all simple to learn. It requires physical as well as mental stamina and temperament. If you are afraid of falling, you cannot master the game. But yes! If you are able to hold your nerves, no matter, what happens, you can learn it. So, it is more about holding yourself together and staying all your senses light and cool. There are many tricks and techniques of the aerial contortion which need practice.

  1. 1.      Climbing the Silk:

It is the first and the probably the most difficult trick for a beginner as it is just the start of the game and the body might not be habitual of the technique. But with the passage of time, it becomes easier to climb the silk. While climbing the fabric, you need to pull, crunch, clamp and stand which requires a lot of strength of the upper half of your body. Especially, when you are pulling the silk, your arm should be sturdy and firm. The grip on the silk should be stable so that you can easily concentrate on the movement of your lower limbs. Again the level of concentration is a must for the aerial sports. The crunching step is also crucial as it requires maintaining the balance while keeping the grip on the pulled fabric. It is recommended to do some warm up exercises before going for the crunching because the muscles of your legs and arms should not be stiff for easy movement. Crunching basically involves bringing the knees to your chest in order to have the flight along the tissue. The higher a performer wants to fly, the closer he brings the knees to his chest. Therefore, flexibility is the key here.

One of the most crucial steps in climbing the aerial tissues is when the performer clamps his feet by wrapping the silk around his feet so that he may stand freely in the air. This requires a lot practice and stamina because it also involves your mental strength. If you are thinking that you will slip, the grip of the silk on your feet will loosen and you will land very hard. So, once you balance your feet firmly, you will able to handle the rest easily provided you have the expertise. The next step of climbing the fabric is standing in the air. Well! It sounds interesting, doesn’t it? But again it requires physical strength. It is mostly advised to have a regular routine of squatting in order to master the skill of standing in the air along the fabric. This is the beginning of a whole new game of flying and swinging in the air once you learn to stable your mind and body along the thin line of silk or aerial tissues.

  1. 2.      Wrapping the tissue:

Another technique of performing along the silk is to wrap it around your body specifically around feet and arms. Well! It is a bit tricky as the wrapping might involve hanging on to different sheets of silk. As for example, in some cases, the performer uses two separate pieces of silk to wrap around one foot and arm. The objective of wrapping the fabric around is to provide stability during the flight. Although, the beginners find it very difficult but if you look at the experts, they make it look extremely easy. The credit goes to their practice and expertise off course. You might even get to see the interlocking of feet with each other and with hands too while the performer is flying in the air.

  1. 3.      Dropping off the tissue:

The last but not the least trick of the aerial Silk is dropping off the silk. In fact it is about landing yourself safely in a comfortable position. In the modern circus, the performers also strike new poses and figures after falling but obviously, it is not advisable to the beginners to give it try unless and until you are sure that you can handle your body from really falling on the ground. Along the way of falling, the performer may rotate, swing or roll his body. A smooth looking drop can only be performed if you wrapped yourself in the prescribed manner otherwise slipping and gliding against the silk may also hurt you. This is the most dangerous trick of all in aerial sports because if you lose the control of your body along the side of the aerial tissues, it might cost your life. Therefore, it is regarded as the most technical trick for any performer.

Complex Tricks of the Aerial Silk:

In addition to the basic tricks, there are some complex ones which only the experts can do after practice. They can be performed only if you have mastered the skill of overcoming your internal fears. The fear of the unknown is the most dangerous one which stops you from doing something. So, the key is to fight back your internal fears in order to let your mind and body move freely in the air.

  1. Footlocks: They are used by the performers when they want to strengthen their grip on to the fabric. Once you fasten the grip, you get in to a better position to initiate new tricks. Similar case is with the arms. In some cases, the arms and feet are interlocked in order to have a smoother flight.
  2. Crucifix: A performer is said to have performed the crucifix when he holds the fabric such that it passes through the back from under the arms. You slip all along the fabric and the fabric remains under your arms coming from the back.
  3. Upside Down Split: The technique in which the separate pieces if aerial tissues are used is called the upside sown split. As the name indicates, the two pieces of the silk are used to split the feet. That implies that legs are wrapped separately making the performer to stretch through the air.
  4. Scissors Hip Key: When the fabric is passed in between the performer’s legs such that he is suspended in the air horizontally, it is called the Scissors Hip Key.

Fabric used for the aerial contortion:

The material of the fabric used for the aerial sports play an important role and there are always special fabric used for the aerial sports because the only support the performer gets is from the fabric. The expertise of the performer becomes the center of attention only when he has the appropriate aerial tissues alongside his body. The strength of silk counts a great deal in this respect as if the silk breaks up while the performer is in the air, he may get into serious trouble. The commonly used aerial tissues for the aerial sports are as under:

  1. Shiffon
  2. Silk
  3. Nylon
  4. Polyester
  5. 2-way stretch lycra

The fabric is mostly slippery and it is the pure skill of the performer which makes him hold to the silk while in the air. There is no other safety line for the aerial contortion and it is important to master the skill with the most risky fabric.

Measurements of the Fabric:

Similarly, the dimensions of the silk are also taken into the account. There are standards for the fabric to be used for the game. However, it may differ according to the level of expertise of the performer. If you are a beginner of the aerial sports, it is recommended to go for the low stretch fabric because it will help you not falling away during the flight. Alternatively, if you have mastered the skill of balancing yourself while hanging on to the silk, you should choose the medium stretch aerial tissues. This is a matter of common observation that the professional aerialists opt for the medium stretch silk.

Width of the tissue:

The width of the fabric depends on your personal preferences. However, a term “denier” is used for the technical thickness of the silk which plays an important role when the fabric is gathered. The most commonly used fabric is of 40 denier. 40 denier fabric is available in the following widths.

60” – the fabric is narrow if opened but it becomes very thin. This is the most commonly found fabric as it does not cost much.

72 to 84” – if you are an adult performer and are used to performing at the professional level, this fabric makes the perfect choice for you

96” – for all those out there who have large hands, this fabric is suitable.

108” – this fabric is wide and thick and is therefore, used by the expert performers.

Length of the fabric:

The length of the fabric varies with level of performer. But the rule of thumb is that the length depends on the height of the ceiling of the room which means that if you have more space available, the length will be more. If you are beginning to learn the aerial Sports, the silk should be long enough to get past through the ground so that you can practice without fearing about getting hurt. However, for intermediate performers, the fabric usually reaches the ground. The ideal length of the fabric for aerial Silk ranges from 20 to 30 feet. Although, the performers do even complex tricks with the 12 to 15 feet long silk but the professionals prefer to go for the 20 to 30 feet long fabric.

Rigging – Equipment for the Aerial Silk:

The aerial sports are performed with the help of specialized equipment in addition to the fabric. Yes! It is not just the aerial tissues you need to practice. There are some attachments required if you want to practice the tricks. For that matter, you would need a descender which is supposed to hang the fabric tight from the roof of the room. This is hardware, strong enough to hold the silk as well your body weight so that you can fly and swing in the air. The carabiner is another piece of equipment which is used to connect the silk with the swivel. It is sometimes used to connect the swivel to the point of mounting. If you want to practice your performance rather modify your tricks off and on, you would require a swivel also. Yes! This prevents the silk from twisting while you are hanging on to it. In addition, it allows you to rotate on your axis as well as roll in the air.

Advantages of the Aerial Contortion:

Aerial sports are used for various purposes. The motivation of every performer may vary with the individual preferences and backgrounds but there are some generally perceived advantages for the performers these days. For the same reason, the trend of learning and practicing the aerial silk is increasing at a rapid pace. Here are some important and the most sought after motivations which drive the people learn the sports.

  1. 1.      Source of entertainment:

For all those out there who possess adventurous nature, this is the best choice to make your dreams come true. Well! There are a lot of people who imagine to do something different from the rest of the world and to stand out of the crowd. This attitude is driven by the sense of achievement and success. If you have the sole purpose of being unique and to impress others with your skills, you would definitely enjoy performing the Aerial contortion.

  1. 2.      Excellent Workout Exercise:

If you are fitness conscious and want to stay smart and thin, Aerial silks will serve your purpose. The use of the muscles of your limbs make you lose extra pounds of your body. In addition, the tricks and techniques of the aerial sports ensure the stretching of your belly muscles which help you reduce your tummy. If you look at the figures of the performers, you would notice that they have well-shaped hips and pelvis, this is because of the fact that the body gets attuned to the exercise. Therefore, it makes the excellent choice for the people who want to get rid of the extra fats of the body. Although it is a bit difficult to handle but you have to have a strong will inside you to get to your goal.

  1. 3.      Respectable source of Income:

An economic motivation behind learning and practicing the aerial contortion is that it can be very good source of income. Well! This is the reason for the professional performers of the circus. They are given handsome salaries. Although the risk is quiet high, but then they are only recruited if they have got professional training and their skills have been tested. With the ever-increasing commercialism, the trend of opening new clubs and entertainment centers is on a rise. The club owners in addition to the circus managers require the Aerial dancers and performer at their business places. So you can make a great career out of your skill. The scope is very high as people want to have variety of entertainment to enjoy with their families, so they really appreciate such healthy activities like aerial sports.

  1. 4.      Improved concentration:

Human mind is very flexible in that you can train it as and how you want. All you need is to get full control of your thinking. To that end, many activities like yoga and meditation techniques can be employed but one of the most effective methods is the Aerial silks. Yes! You learn to train your brain while dancing and flying in the air along the thin line of aerial tissues. The performer has to keep his body and mind together and for that matter he strives to concentrate hard which improves his concentration level.

  1. 5.      Self – Control:

It is more about emotional control. Although the aerial sports help you to strengthen your physical being also but the mental strength is also a result of the constant and dedicated practice with the silk. As a performer, you learn to control your emotions like fear and panic. Especially in the beginning, it is difficult to handle your body and mind because you sometimes lose your heart once you slip off the silk. But if you gather yourself within a minute, you overcome your weakness and with the passage of time, you get accustomed to it. The training of the aerial silk teach the performer to stay composed, especially for those who want to make a career out of the skill, are urged to control their facial expressions. The reason being it is important to make it look simpler to the audience. The more you perform it with a light heart, the more interesting it will be for the audience. Therefore, if you want to stabilize your temperament, it is recommended to get in to the training of aerial contortion as it will help you calm your senses to the maximum.

  1. 6.      Physical Strength:

One of the important benefits for a performer is to have strong upper body. Yes! The lower limbs also get stronger but it is the hands of the performer which mainly do the tricks making your grip stronger. Even if you are at home and have to open the tight cap of the bottle, you would not need to call someone else to do it. Now you can do it yourself with your bare hand. Therefore, for all those out there who want to be self-sufficient as far as physical strength is concerned, this is the best way to do it.

  1. 7.      Boosted Flexibility:

If you dream of having a flexible body, aerial silk is one way to go about it. The limbs of your body experience all sorts of stretching while doing the tricks and hence get accustomed to the flexible movement. Especially if you want to impress your significant other, the aerial silks make the best choice for you.

Potential Accidents:

Well! In spite of the fact that the aerial sports seems very interesting and exciting, it may bring a disaster in your life too if you do not handle it properly. Yes! Being a performer you need to be extremely careful because it may cause you even your life. The most commonly observed consequences of accidents while performance of the aerial contortion include light bruises, scratches, tissue burns etc which are minor things to suffer from. On the other hand, a serious accident may result in the breaking of bones, fracture and even paralysis. So, it is very important to be mindful of the consequences if something goes wrong while flying and dancing along the silk.

 

The aerial silk is an awesome sport playing with aerial ribbons, silks and aerial tissues such that the audience looks at you holding their breaths. The sport also signifies that human beings always try to conquer everything on the planet earth, whether it is land, water, space or as in this case Air. Yes! This is the best example of the human capability that you can achieve every goal in your life. All you need to have is a fearless heart and courage to face all the difficulties on your way. If you have the will and urge to move forward, nothing in the world can stop you from doing so.

 

Example of Circus Arts Single Tissue

Example of Circus Arts Single Tissue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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