My sole knowledge of – and cause of my interest in – the ability to spin gently and elegantly upside down in the air, suspended from long pieces of silk, was born from that BBC advert with three ladies twirling around magnificently. Not that I expected to be doing exactly that in lesson one, but gosh, don’t they make it look easy? Well, it’s not.
Flying Fantastic is a school which teaches aerial silks alongside other aerial circus skills. There are classes for hoisting yourself around – gracefully, of course – on slings and hoops as well as silks, and even aerial pilates and yoga sessions. I went for a drop-in class, and was fortunate enough to be one of six beginners. There were plenty of more experienced people there, but thankfully the organisers had it covered – the group was split up according to ability, so you don’t have to feel a complete idiot trying to hoist yourself a foot in the air, while the next person to take a turn is 12 feet up the silks, upside down in perfect splits.
After a brisk 20-minute warm up, we approached the apparatus with trepidation, and as we were taught a basic climbing skill to actually get us onto the silks, I experienced a sinking feeling. The sinking was both emotional and physical – my first attempt to get up consisted of half a second’s hold, a panic as my arms asked me what the hell I thought I was playing at, and a drop back down to the mat.
But there is a technique, which I discovered, though didn’t exactly master. Our instructor, Lynn Smith, who left her job 20 years ago to learn, perform and teach circus skills, showed us how to trap the silks and use the tension to support ourselves. She grabbed our legs to rotate us until we hung upside down. She even kindly told me that I made some very nice shapes – who knew? Not I. It’s hard to know what you look like when you’re completely inverted and concentrating hard on every single limb, and with each movement I thought, My god, I’m going to hurt tomorrow.
These aerial skills exercise everything. Arm muscles, leg muscles, core muscles, flexibility, strength – you name it, it’s all going to get a workout. Because you share the apparatus with a couple of others, you can give your limbs a rest between goes and not overtire yourself. And I don’t doubt that within a few weeks you’ll be much stronger and more flexible, with the added bonus of being able to perform an amazing skill.
The good news for me? I didn’t hurt as much I thought I would the next day. My arms are sore, and I’m definitely feeling something in my back and stomach muscles, but I am a fully functioning human being and not the puddle of useless flesh that I’d expected.
Flying Fantastic operates from two locations: The Wilditch Centre in Battersea, and Gymbox in Farringdon. The Battersea classes run throughout the week – see their website for details – and the Farringdon class is for aerial hoops on a Wednesday evening. Classes are £20 each, but if you book in bulk it works out a lot cheaper. Call to book yourself a place, even for the drop-in sessions – they fill up fast.
The Wilditch Centre
48 Culvert Road,
Tel: 07801 075 488