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Friday, 7 December 2012

Flying Fantastic: An evening of Aerial Silks.

Every now and again my blog does something a little bit magical. A few of weeks ago, it was retweeted by Amanda Palmer. Previously to that, I had been contacted by a total stranger telling me that it had inspired her to start her own Fifty@50 challenge. And, somewhere in between these two events, just after I posted my piece on trapezing, a company called Flying Fantastic dropped me a line and offered me the chance to try out an aerial silks class. This is one of the reasons I love not having a pre-defined list to adhere to. Sure, it's scary not to have a plan. Sure, there's a good chance I'll reach May 9th 2013 and realise that I have two days to complete ten challenges. But I love the fact that things can just pop unexpectedly into my life and steer me off course. 

The first time I saw aerial silks was on a BBC ident. Since then I've seen them on TV and on stage several times, most memorably and creatively in a Hindi version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was incidentally one of the most moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen in my life.

The first part of my aerial silks adventure involved hauling my backside to Battersea. Once upon a time I was a Battersea regular, and I thought nothing of a ninety minute journey from North London to deepest, darkest South West. The things we do when we're young and in love... But it's been a long time since I ventured into such alien territory without the protection of my car, and Justin gallantly agreed to come with me to snap some photos. We meet at Queenstown Road station after work and snaked our way through a series of council estates until we found the Wilditch Community Centre. There aren't that many places in London where you can learn aerial silks, because you need a seriously high, seriously strong ceiling. The Wilditch Centre ticks both boxes and the hall was decked out with eight sets of silks hanging down to the ground, each set with a large crash mat beneath it. I was nervous but excited, and ready to get climbing, yes yes yes.

No no no. Before anyone goes anywhere near a silk, there is a warm up to contend with. Sometimes, running in Hampstead Heath, Julia and I see the crazy people doing the crazy military fitness. Well, this warm up was definitely the equal of the military madness. I was seeing spots by the fifth plank, and the instructor kept throwing press ups in between the other exercises, as if they were merely an aside rather than a method of torture in their own right. The less said about my pitiful performance at the warm up the better. If trapezing and silking have taught me anything at all, it is that circus skills require extreme fitness. If I ever decide that the time has come to acquire a washboard stomach and biceps that would embarrass Madonna, I know exactly how to do it.

There were four people in the absolute beginners group, and we were looked after by Claire, one of the head trainers for Flying Fantastic. She quickly explained the theory of climbing the silks. It requires a certain level of strength, but the key is in achieving the correct grip with your feet. If you can hold the silk firmly and effectively between the outer ankle of one food and the ball of the other, you should be able to move yourself up the silk with minimal physical effort. That's the theory, anyway.

The beginners group learns how to wrap the silk and angle the feet.
The theory made a lot of sense. but in practice, when your feet don't know the drill, getting up the silk is a lot harder than the non-beginners made it look. A combination of wobbly technique and sheer determination got me up there, though not without considerable effort. Please note, many of the photos that follow contain very silly faces. These include such gems as: This is difficult; Serious concentration required; Holy crap this is significantly higher than I thought; I might be about to fall over; I am a bit smug because I am up a silk; and Ow this hurts. Feel free to collect all six. 

Look mum, one hand!

I really have no idea what this face is all about.

After (sort of) mastering the initial climb, we had to test out the strength of our arms. For ten seconds. Cue some more interesting faces. 

Putting your tongue aids strength and concentration. Fact.
I think I can, I think I can...
Next to learn was a foot lock. This entailed wrapping the silks around the foot in such a way that it anchored itself. If you've seen the professionals, you'll know that they do some incredible drops, unravelling with death-defying speed and then miraculously stopping, sometimes inches from the ground. This is achieved by wrapping the silks in all sorts of intricate ways, far too complicated for someone who never even managed to knot a half decent friendship bracelet in her youth... The foot look was pretty basic though, so I almost managed to do it without pulling a silly face. Almost.

Yep. There's the face.
Then it was time to throw some shapes within the frame created by the two silks. Lots and lots of fun. Plenty of smug happy faces.

Figurehead-tastic! Thanks to fellow beginner Leanne Parker for this pic.

Another pic from Leanne Parker.

Yeah, this was pretty entertaining.
The class lasted an hour and a half, and (apart from the plank and the press ups, upon which we don't need to dwell) the time absolutely flew. I want to take this opportunity to thank the team at Flying Fantastic, and especially Claire. We ended with a quick and very necessary stretch, safe in the knowledge that the next day would undoubtedly dawn complete with significant muscle pain. In order to mitigate this, I decided to have a very hot bath before bed. Which is when I noticed my foot. Look away now if you're not keen on feet.*

No pain, no gain.

*As a completely random aside, I once knew a girl who had a serious foot phobia. Now, I'm mildly OCD and have some damn odd habits, so I don't judge, but she had to slap her cheek several times, hard and fast, whenever she saw a foot. Or a picture of a foot. Or a foot on screen. She slapped her cheek for a good fifteen seconds in the cinema once. There's nowt so queer as folk. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

So, that was my aerial silks experience. Looking over the photographs now has reminded me of how much fun it was. Why do so many fun things have to hurt? (And while we're on the subject, why hasn't someone designed a calorie-free brownie and ice cream sundae?) I was, unsurprisingly, pretty stiff the next day, and it ached every time I coughed, which I took as an excellent sign that my abs had shown up to the aerial party.

Between the trapeze and the silks, I'm fairly sure that my future lies in escape to the circus. I shall have to toughen up some, and clearly have to work on my face control, but otherwise I'm all set. Roll up roll up.

Thirteen down, seventeen to go...


  1. I loved the writing, the pictures, and particularly the silly faces!

    If you decide to escape to the circus, can I come with you?

    !Pobrecito su piececito!

  2. Awesome, the storytelling, the main character and the smiles.