Aerial dance is the broad term for a style of modern dance that incorporates the use of hanging equipment, also called aerial apparatuses. Aerial silks (also known as aerial fabric, aerial tissue, aerial ribbon, or aerial curtain), trapeze, lyra (aerial hoop, cerceau), aerial rope (corde lisse, Spanish web), aerial sling (aerial hammock), and aerial net are a few of the more popular apparatuses, although aerialists are also known to invent their own equipment. It is an incredibly demanding art form that requires a high degree of strength, power, flexibility, courage, and grace to master.
Aerial dance shares a fundamental movement vocabulary with circus arts, where high-flying acrobatic feats were used to amaze audiences. Cirque du Soleil popularized the concept of aerial arts as a dance form and theatrical expression rather than a purely gymnastic movement art. Isabelle Chasse’s Aerial Contortion in Silk for Quidam is an inspiring example of aerial arts incorporating emotion and expression. It has continued to evolve and is gaining national recognition as a fitness program in popular media broadcasts like The Doctors and The View.
What are aerial silks?
Aerial silks, also known as aerial fabrics, aerial tissue, aerial ribbons, or aerial curtains is one of the newest and most challenging, yet most awe inspiring and versatile aerial art forms. Aerial silk artists climb, twist, spin, drop, and contort themselves on fabric curtain sheets that hang from the ceiling. The beauty of the silky material wrapping around the aerialists body is matched only by the breath-taking courage it takes to be suspended several stories above the ground. The suspense builds as an aerialist wraps complex, multi-dimensional sequences, then drops into a death-defying free-fall until the last second when they catch themselves mere feet from the ground. The technology to create synthetic fabrics strong enough to hold the incredible amounts of weight of high impact drops has only been around for less than 50 years.
Poses and sequences often borrow from older aerial arts forms like trapeze or rope, but new ones are constantly being discovered, including dynamic movements like drops, slides, and rolls. The fabric is supple and pliable, and is wrapped and unwrapped around various parts of the body. It is also one of the only aerial apparatuses that can be done at full height. Aerial silk artists cannot wear safety harnesses, because it would get tangled in the fabric. Normally aerial silk artists work between 18-35’ but there is really no limit to how high it can be done. Debbie Parks, another aerial innovator does a silk performance from a hot air balloon. Do not try this at home!!
It is an exciting time for this new aerial style, because it is gaining popularity yet it continues to explode with new developments. Aerial dance training used to be limited to Olympic level gymnasts and circus performers, but now it is being offered to the public as a dance and fitness program. Some of the newest trends to develop from aerial silks are aerial yoga and aerial suspension training.
What are the risks of aerial arts?
Aerial arts is a potentially dangerous activity involving acrobatic work at various heights. The most common injuries are overuse injuries of shoulders and back, pulled muscles, bruises, fabric-burns, and dizziness/nausea (from upside-down or spinning). Possible risks include but are not limited to sprains, broken bones, paralysis or death. Students agree to participate at their own risk.
Students should only take classes from professional aerial trainers. Aerial arts involve complex wraps and positions that if executed incorrectly or slightly off could have major consequences including falling out of the air. It also involves subjecting the body to large impact forces that may cause sprains, strains, overuse injuries and internal organ injuries and/or bleeding if done incorrectly. Do not try to learn from Youtube or people who are not qualified professionals. Unsafe aerial instruction can result in paralysis or death.
What safety measures do you take?
Sky Gym takes your safety very seriously. Our Master Trainers have been through the top aerial arts teacher certification programs in the country including NECCA and CAI. All of our trainers are CPR certified and go through a rigorous Sky Gym Teacher Certification program that focuses on teaching and spotting techniques. We also carry commercial liability insurance. Our aerial equipment holds a minimum of 2,000lbs, and the rigging holds at least 10,000 lbs. We have a regular inspection and maintenance schedule to keep our equipment clean and in good repair. We work above high-impact gymnastics mat that are specially designed to absorb large impact forces.
What can I do to ensure my safety?
Your safety is ultimately in your hands. All students must adhere to the Sky Gym student safety policy, or they will be asked to leave the class.
Sky Gym Student Safety Policy
- We insist on a mastery of basic skills before progressing to skills requiring more strength, endurance, stability, and understanding. Our program is based on Levels (1-5) that build on each other. Students must strictly adhere to the level progression and may not learn or practice skills above their level.
- Students must be able to execute a pose or sequence with strength, control, and proper body positioning before progressing to a more difficult skill.
- Students must strictly adhere to the working heights specified in the program. The program starts low to the ground while students’ bodies and minds adapt to the new movements. Students will only be allowed to work at greater heights when they can safely execute the skill (with control) many times low to the ground first.
- Students are not allowed under any circumstances to teach other students or anyone else, any movement, pose, sequence, or skill. This is also known as skill-trading or skill-sharing, and is strictly prohibited. Please check out this great article by Laura Witwer that explains why. When the Bling Lead the Blind
- Students must get instructor approval before practicing skills that were not taught to them by Sky Gym.
- Students are not allowed to practice anything that they learned off YouTube. If a student wants to learn a skill that they saw on YouTube, they can email the link to their instructor and ask their instructor to teach it during class. The instructor will evaluate whether the skill is appropriate for the student’s level, and will teach it accordingly. Please check out this great article by Laura Witwer that explains why. DIY FAIL: How NOT to Learn Circus from YouTube
- Students must respect the teacher and other students at all times
- Students may not be under the influence of alcohol, any illegal drugs, or any prescription or over-the-counter drugs that affect their focus and concentration.
- Unsupervised practice is strictly forbidden.
- Students must respect their bodies. They are responsible for listening to their bodies, and not pushing them past safe working limits. Late nights, drinking, illness, stress, injury, and monthly cycles can all affect an aerialist’s strength and stamina. Be aware that your ability to safely execute sequences may vary daily.
- Warm-up properly to avoid pulling or straining muscles.
Purchasing Your Own Equipment
Sky Gym sells aerial fabrics here. Please carefully consider if you are qualified to 1. own fabrics and 2. rig or contract the rigging of your own equipment. Sky Gym assumes no liability of personal aerial equipment or use thereof.
Fitness and Health FAQ
Minimum health requirements
Level 1 classes are designed for new students who may not have alot of core or upper-body strength. All levels, ages, and body types are welcome. Students must be in good health, and in proper physical condition to participate in such activity. Clients with the following physical limitations should consult their doctor before participating in aerial acrobatics: Pregnancy, glaucoma, recent surgery (esp. shoulder, eyes, back, hips, hands or wrist), heart disease, very high or low blood pressure, easy onset vertigo, osteoporosis / bone weakness, recent head injury, cerebral sclerosis, propensity for fainting, carpal tunnel syndrome, severe arthritis, sinusitis or head cold, hiatal hernia, disc herniation or acute, discogenic disease, recent stroke, artificial hips, radiculitis (inflammation of nerve root in spine), severe muscle spasms, botox injections (within 6 hours).
How long will it take me to learn aerial arts?
Students are encouraged to learn aerial arts at their own pace. Our program is designed for all body types and abilities. Students with high levels of conditioning and a strong background in movement arts such as gymnastics, dance, yoga, rock-climbing, pole dancing or martial-arts often advance more rapidly because they already possess a greater body awareness and greater level of physical conditioning. Students with a lower strength to weight ratio will need to focus on conditioning and weight loss to be able to progress through the levels. To progress more rapidly, students should come to class or practice 2-3 days per week.
Soreness and stiffness
Aerial work is a highly intense fitness program. Expect to be sore after class. Soreness should last 2-3 days, and typically occurs in the fingers, forearms, back, and abs. If soreness lasts longer than 5 days, consider taking a break until completely healed. Even if new students are in good shape, as with any new movement practice, they will probably still experience soreness. Aerial work is a unique fitness program because it introduces the body to the instability of suspension. The body must strengthen all the tiny stabilizer muscles that don’t normally get used. Expect to experience soreness regularly after class for about 4-6 weeks. Calluses are normal on the palms and fingers.
What can I do to build up my strength for aerial silks?
A great way to condition for aerial silks is to join our Wings of Steel aerial fitness class. The class builds core and upper body strength for all levels, from Beginner to Advanced.
Here are some of the most helpful exercises to do outside of class:
- Pilates type leg lifts
- Forearm grip toners (squeeze balls, springs, gyro-balls)
- Pull Ups
- Lat Pull-downs
- Incline Sit-ups
- Hanging leg-lifts
Sky Gym classes
What should I wear to class?
- Fitted, stretchy leggings or yoga pants that cover the backs of your knees. Recommended for men: leggings underneath athletic shorts, dancers belt (available at dance stores) if desired. Men may wear just athletic shorts, but be aware that loose shorts will ride up when upside-down.
- Fitted, stretchy top that tucks in and covers your armpits. Men must wear shirts.
- Absolutely no shoes on the fabric
- Absolutely no jewelry or belts on the fabric
- For those with long hair, it is recommended that you pull it back so that it doesn’t get tangled in the fabrics or hang in face while upside down.
How do I register for classes?
You must pre-pay for classes since our capacity is limited. You can purchases classes online, call (404) 309-9696, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our studio during class times to sign-up. We accept cash, check (to Sky Gym) or Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. If you drop into a class and it is full, you will get turned away. If you do drop-in to a class and there are spots available, you are welcome to join.
How do I get credit for my online class purchase?
When you pay for a class online, you are already in the system, and we will check you in at the beginning of class.
What is the minimum and maximum age?
Sky Gym classes are for students ages 12 or older, and Junior Sky classes are for ages 7-11. There is no maximum age, in fact, AARP just ran an article about an aerialist who is 57. For older clients we recommend starting with the Sky Yoga program that is slower paced and lower to the ground.
What if I need to cancel a class?
Since class space is very limited, we must request the following:
Cancellations less than 24 hrs in advance will result in the forfeit of ticket cost
Cancellations more than 24 hrs in advanced will be rescheduled for free
If Sky Gym has an emergency class cancellation, we will e-mail everyone registered 24 hrs in advance, put the cancellation on the calendar, and make a Facebook announcement. Per students preference, we will either reschedule your class, or give you a refund.
Tips for making the most of your classes
- Avoid upper-body work-outs the day before class
- Get enough sleep the night before and avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Eat something 60-90 min prior to class
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after class. Bring a water bottle.
Code of Ethics
- I will respect my trainers and fellow students
- I will bring any complaints, problems, or concerns to the attention of the studio manager immediately after class
- I will not use foul language in Sky Gym facilities
- I will adhere to the dress code
- I will not rig my own aerial equipment. If I do want to hang my own aerial equipment, I will get a certified rigger to hang it for me, and I will use aerial equipment from a trusted source.
- I will not publicly perform aerial dance without written Sky Gym approval.
- I will not eat food during class
- I will be on-time for class or risk my space being given away
- I will only take photos of myself or others (with permission) during trainer specified times