As the summer season waves us goodbye for another year, it takes with it a good deal of the motivation required for regular gym attendance or wholesome outdoor exercise. The only solution for the ensuing fitness ennui is to run away and join the circus, or in the modern-day non-committal equivalent: undertake a 90-minute version of this. Enter aerial silks, or tissu as it’s also called.
Invented in 1995 by acrobatic research and development specialist for the world famous Cirque du Soleil André Simard, Aerial Silks involves a performer climbing up suspended fabric anywhere from 20 to 50 feet high. The performer uses the fabric, which is split in two pieces but can be pushed together to be just one strand, to climb up, wrap, fall, spiral, swing and contort their body. Done well, it’s spectacular to watch: hypnotically graceful, fluid, and a jaw-droppingly impressive feat of pure strength.
Walking into Flying Fantastic’s base between Clapham Junction and Battersea, I’m instantly met with figures unraveling from the ceiling. There’s no wires, safety lines or harnesses (because of all the twisting involved, having extra wires would be counterproductive and about as safe as a stray eyebrow hair in a threading salon). They’re pretty high up but there’s mats on the floor, though it’s very apparent that they’re the kind of gymnastics mats they have decked out for babies doing somersaults in Gymbaroo classes as opposed to full-grown adults falling from 30 feet.
We start with a Pilates-style work-out, which clarifies from the start that this will be a core-heavy workout (except that when your abs are tired you can’t give up and just lie on the mat like in Pilates; instead you plummet tens of feet: if that’s not a motivator, I don’t know what is).
After a series of warm-up stretches, ab crunches and planks we move over to the silks and are paired up with an instructor per station, which is very useful as it’s the kind of activity that needs full adult supervision. The first move we learn is the French climb; it’s just going up and down the rope, we’re told. It looks fairly easy, like when a cat climbs up curtains. Of course, it’s actually incredibly hard. The main difficulty is the upper body strength required to pull off the move. You need to first do a pull-up, then while you’re holding your entire body weight you have to create a knot by flicking the fabric under one foot and securing it with the other foot. Then, you have to do this again by letting go of the fabric with your feet, drawing your knees up to your chest, climbing up higher and re-doing the knot. Then you do this again, until you reach the top. Looking down at the now ant-like people on the floor below beckoning you to lower yourself down slowly is the grown-up equivalent of hanging motionless from the monkey-bars until your Mum comes to lift you down.
Meanwhile on the next set of silks a woman is suspended in the air, a piece of fabric tied around each foot, doing the splits. It looks amazing and after attempting even the most basic moves, you have new appreciation for the difficulty of this artform, yes I said it: artform. Some of the moves and rotations are similar to pole dancing (before you jump to any conclusions, loyal readers will remember I once did a Pole Fit class for the Weekender health page, I’m not just delving into the ‘special skills’ section of my CV here). However, while a pole is stable the silks move like a pendulum, which is disorienting to say the least. Some of the moves require you to push the two pieces of fabric together, and then separate them mid-air. It’s the acrobatic equivalent of untangling iPod headphones and I can now say I genuinely hope no crisis situation ever requires me to complete either task under pressure.
It’s a phenomenal workout, particularly for upper body and core; I’m aching the next day, in the next possible way. Now all I need is some long curtains to practice on at home.
Flying Fantastic runs Aerial Slings, Aerial Silks and Aerial Hoops classes every Monday. Aerial Silks is held at the Wilditch Centre, 48 Culvert Road, SW11 5BB, on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:30pm and 7:40pm. Admission: £20. Phone: 07801 075 488. http://www.flyingfantastic.co.uk