I’ve been described a number of ways over the years: charming, clever, beautiful, humble…Just kidding! Actually, more like “spontaneously hangry”… “annoyingly amused by her own jokes” (I’m laughing right now)…”unusually talented at quoting 90’s rap lyrics”… The word “graceful” and I have never before been used in the same sentence, except in something like, “Courtney looked like a non-graceful hot mess when she tried to take on a bull by herself.” The words “klutz” and “butter fingers” are much more common, as I’ll often just drop things unprompted (I’m on iPhone screen #9) or walk into stationary objects. I was in denial of my klutzy reality for the longest time, but I’ve since learned to accept my flaws. I think my “come to Jesus moment” was when Elliot made a comment about how I always drop things, to which I immediately protested, “No, I don’t!”, and then proceeded to walk into a pole, drop the bowl I was carrying, and watch it break.
Since moving to London, I’ve been trying to get involved in new things to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve taken an archery course, swam in a pond in Hampstead Heath, and just signed up for a hat-making class with a “milliner to the stars!”. So when my friend, Blair, asked if I’d be interested in an aerial silks class, I thought, “Why the hell not?” A few fellow teachers from my school in Chicago took weekly aerial/circus classes, and their pictures looked incredible. They are also super toned, so I was game for anything that would make me look that fit.
For the uninitiated, or non-Cirque du Soleil fans, aerial silk is a performance art where people are suspended in the air on these “silks” (aka curtains), moving into a variety of positions using only the fabric and their own body strength to stay aloft. It’s becoming more and more popular, and there are classes popping up all over the world.
The class Blair and I attended was at the London Academy of Dance, and took place in a space no bigger than a traditional yoga studio. LDA offers all sorts of classes, including a lap dance one, or as I like to call it, “A class you’d never ever want to see me in.” My first thought when I entered the studio was, “Jesus, it stinks in here.” Blair had mentioned that she’d gone to an aerial yoga class, and that she didn’t think they washed the silks that often. She wasn’t kidding; it was like a giant foot did performance art on my face. I also noticed that the silks weren’t yet hung up either, and it was a small class of six girls total.
Class started right when the crazy-fit instructor walked in, and we did a bunch of dance moves, like rotating shoulders and hip swivels, to get warm. It should come as no surprise that I’m a f**king HORRIBLE dancer, and we did all of these warm up moves facing a mirrored wall. I tried not to focus on how awkward I looked, but, like a car crash, it was hard to look away. The universe was telling me something, and that something was that I’m not in fact hot shit. It was kinda like how some pet owners teach their dogs not to poop in the house by confronting them with it. Only I was the dog, and dancing was my poop in the house.
After a warm-up that felt like forever but was really only like three minutes, we pulled out the mats and our instructor set up the silks. There are no suspension cables or harnesses to climb into; you’ve got fabric and your own muscles. The fabric was soft to the touch, yet grippable, and thick like window curtains. Our first exercise was to practice gripping them properly and lifting up both of our knees at the same time. She made us do this move ten times before starting another exercise of extending our arms and pulling our bodies up. There weren’t enough silks per person, so Blair and I partnered up on one. Now, I am a physically strong person. My lower body strength is cray-cray, and I can lift a lot with my biceps and triceps. But doing these moves involves muscles I’m totally not used to using, and my arms were on fire after about five minutes. I desperately glanced at the clock, thinking class had been going on for hours, only to realize we had 45 minutes to go. I looked back at the clock, sighed, “I’m…”, looked back at my arms entangled in the silks, “f**ked.”
After our “easy” exercise, our instructor had us wrap our arms in silks and then basically do a plow pose (she called it pike) suspended in the air. She made it look so easy and elegant, and the girls next to us popped right into their pike poses almost immediately. Blair and I, on the other hand, were STRUGGLING. I wrapped my arms in the silks, leaned my body back, and threw my legs in the air. In theory, you’re supposed to catch one leg on the silk and then use that to gracefully propel your other leg off the ground and over your head. In reality, I hurled both legs in the air, thinking I could thrust them over my head and into the pike position. Gravity had another idea in mind, and my legs went up into the air….and quickly crashed down to the ground. I looked like a baby about to get a diaper change. After a few pathetic dangling attempts like this, the instructor came over and held one of my legs up so I could propel the other one against the silk. When she did that, even though it was still a struggle, I somehow managed to hold my pike for like five whole seconds! I felt graceful AF. She did the same for Blair, and then we took turns spotting each other.
Over the next hour, our instructor demonstrated a series of positions, called climbs. Because she’d been doing this for so long, every move she showed looked effortless. The French climb was first, and after you wrap your foot in the silk, you kind of pop up in the air. You’re then supposed to climb up before walking your hands back down the silk. Blair and I were able to get onto the silk, but we failed miserably at the actual climbing part. I learned that day that I cannot climb for shit. I am SCREWED if I’m ever on a Temple of Doom bridge.
The next climb, the Russian climb, involved a little more foot wrapping, and I was actually able to get decently high on the silks. On the first attempt, my feet magically did this scissoring motion and I was up in the air. I surprised myself big time! We then did this other move where you’re actually standing in the silks, no hands or anything. I somehow picked up that move pretty quickly as well. Blair looked great in the poses, so I’m glad that neither of us was the class’ weakest link. After a few seconds of suspension, I tried to emulate the instructor’s move to get out of the tangles. I leaned back, lifted one foot against the silks, and thought the ones around my foot would loosen. I quickly lost my balance, and my loose foot fell to the ground (like a foot down). My other foot was completely wrapped in the silks at this point, and I was one wrong twist away from spraining my ankle. We did one last move where we repeated the last pose, but then put our elbows through and leaned forward. The result was this majestic “mermaid prow of a ship” pose, and it looked AWESOME. We repeated that a few times before class was ending and we had to clean up.
What I learned in class:
- Aerial silks is fun as hell, and I’m definitely going to do another class
- I am more graceful than I thought!
- I’m dead if I ever am in a life or death situation where I have to climb something
Other Random Updates/Observations
- I am wayyy behind on travel blogs. I have to finish the WWII ones, and write ones for our recent trips to Dublin and Stavanger, Norway.
- We had a whirlwind trip to the States to celebrate my father in law’s 80th birthday. So great to see family, and we brought home two suitcases full of American stuff. Like butter flavored Crisco.
- We’re trying to get cable here, and it’s proving as frustrating as getting Internet
- EVERYONE goes on vacation in August. It’s been pretty dead at work
- People are obsessed with the British Bake Off
- Summer has finally arrived in London! It’s a balmy 75 degrees!
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