The joys of soaring artwork with aerial silks at the Breck Rec Center |

The joys of soaring artwork with aerial silks at the Breck Rec Center

aerial silks demo

Not ready to jump right into aerial silk? Check out a free demo performance at the Breckenridge Recreation Center just after Valentine’s Day.

When: Monday, Feb. 15 at 5 p.m.

Where: Breckenridge Recreation Center, 880 Airport Road in Breckenridge

Cost: Free

For more info, call the rec center at (970) 453-1734

Did you ever have a secret desire to run away and join the circus? Maybe not the best idea you ever had, but the idea of travel, freedom and being part of the “big show” always had an allure compared to regular life.

I remember the first time I saw a Cirque du Soleil performance. I was mystified by the raw talent on display, thinking to myself, “I’d love to be an acrobatic entertainer!” As a former gymnast, I understood the dedication it took and was in complete awe of their athleticism, flexibility and acrobatic skills.

When I was a gymnast, I loved crafting a routine that not only entertained the audience, but also contained a few “wow” factors designed to blow their minds. My personal favorite was the floor exercise, as it allowed me complete freedom to express myself. I could choose my own music — I loved the Peanuts soundtrack and “The Final Countdown” — and combine it with mandatory skills to craft a choreographed routine.

The first time I watched “O” (the Cirque du Soleil water performance), the motion of the performers and choreographed skill helped take the audience into another world, leaving me astonished by their visual masterpiece. These entertainers defied the rules and wowed the audience with their elegant mixture of acrobatic maneuverers and athletic finesse.

Welcome to the world of circus arts and the beginning of my first lesson with aerial silks. Who’d have thought my longtime desire to try these skills could happen right here in Summit County?

What are aerial silks?

Aerial silk is a type of material used by artists to perform aerial acrobatics. While the material is usually not real silk, the apparatus hangs like an ethereal artwork from the ceiling: two ribbons side by side.

Similar to activities like pole-dancing workouts (not the gentleman’s club variety), the silks are used to entertain while increasing core strength and flexibility. Performers are constantly climbing and wrapping their legs and body in contoured positions, using the silks to flip, twist and drop.

During practice or performance, the audience might be dazzled as the performer creates the illusion of defying gravity by wrapping their body around these shiny colorful silks. The result: A full-body workout and one heck of a good show!

Intro class

Rachel Miller is a certified aerial silks instructor teaching classes out of the Breckenridge Recreation Center. During her intro class, I had the opportunity to get a taste of what life would be like in a Cirque du Soleil performance. When I arrived, I saw the silks hanging from the rafters and watched the advanced students practice their routines. I heard the instructor’s calls resonating across the gym, a chorus of different commands: “Move into Man on the Moon,” “excellent Princess Seat” and “over the booty.” It didn’t take long for a smile to wash over my face, anticipating a love affair with this new activity.

Basic moves

In my mind I was ready to climb to the top and wrap myself up in this soft, silky fabric and float gracefully down like an aspen leaf on a fall day. But my vision certainly exceeded my skills in the beginning.

As with any new sport, start slow and learn the basics. The first move is always the most anticipated. Rachel had me practicing “wrist locks,” allowing me to self-arrest in a similar manner to mountain climbing, which instantly gave me the feeling of being secure.

Once I locked the silks onto my wrists, I felt like I could do anything. Right away I had my first taste of an “inversion,” throwing my heels back over my head, letting my body flow. As I felt comfortable, it was fun to settle into a deep back-bending position with my feet leaning against the silks. I felt like I was creating art in human form and we had only just begun!

Now it was the time to climb. I sprayed on a healthy dose of Tuf-Skin (a formula that helps your hands create a better grip on the silk) and went for it. The first few inches felt natural, but the higher I got I had a feeling similar to being on a climbing pitch: “The bigger the height, the bigger the fall.”

Two quick yoga breaths later and I eventually relinquished my fear, trusting my foothold and summoning my arm strength to move farther up the silk. A few moments after I reached that place high on the silk and felt like I was flying over the gym floor below … just enough to look out and say, “Yes, I made it! Victory!”

Putting the pieces together

Rachel is also a physics teacher at CMC, and it was interesting to hear her describe the inner connection between aerial silks and physics. Physics is about understanding how each move can connect with the next, like a big puzzle, one piece flowing into the next to eventually create something special.

Aerial silks is about understanding physics and your place in a real-life 3D plane. Visualization also helps connect one move to the next when you choreograph a routine. As most entertainers know, you never want to start out with the “big bang” — each move should build into the next, keeping the crowd at the edge of their seats.

round and round, upside down

Perhaps you’ve had the feeling of being in love, when it feels like your head is spinning? Aerial silks is its own kind of “synthetic Valentine’s Day,” as a good head inversion combined with torque and rapid rotations will certainly do the trick! Suddenly I found myself forgetting my right side from my left, lost in this euphoric feeling.

The final move we learned (really putting the icing on the cake) was the sacrum hang. Normally this move is executed by wrapping the silk behind the back, high above the ground. However, in recognition that this was my first class, the instructor tied a knot in the silk to give me a sense of what it feels like hanging upside down. By combining the hang with a light twirl I had achieved rec center bliss, experiencing a powerful connection between mind and body. What a rush!

In full disclosure, after participating for one day I found myself sore in the strangest places. Griping the silk gave my forearms a workout, and muscles in my back and shoulders (ones that I did not even know existed) were sore to the touch. But what’s a little discomfort compared to experiencing something completely new? Truly a small price to pay!

Strength and grace

I believe anyone can pick up this sport, but it does require strength, fitness and good core muscles to climb up on the silk, along with the flexibility to wow the crowd.

The biggest workout was in the abs and hip flexors. Climbing the silk was certainly a big challenge, and gaining the confidence to hang and wrap my foot enough to hoist myself up another few inches took a little courage. I’ll admit it’s going to take practice to combine the strength with the grace that makes it look easy, but the journey promises to be a great one as you build power, flexibility, coordination and balance.

Join the circus

Without question, aerial silks rejuvenated my passion for the performing arts, got my heart pounding and made me feel like a kid again. I’ll admit that circus life might not be in my cards, but I felt alive and connected to that long tradition of artistic performance. For a brief moment, I could catalyze my fantasy of joining the circus and wowing an audience with visions of daring routines combined with artistic grace, leaving the crowd roaring for more.

If you have a secret desire to join the circus, I recommend starting out with an aerial silks class. Who knows? You might even be a winner of “Breck’s Got Talent,” an event two students recently won by dazzling the crowd with their outstanding aerial performance.

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