These stunning aerial displays have always caught my eye, not just for the sheer theatrics of it all, but, seriously, have you seen those performers' bodies?
While no one is going to run off to the circus for killer triceps, a recent outcropping of studios offering aerial classes at least lets you try it -- for an hour or so.
That's what I did earlier this month, at New York City's Body and Pole, the largest pole fitness and aerial dance studio in the Big Apple.
I'm not entirely hopeless in the coordination department, but I am what you might call gracefully challenged. I was a little hesitant about trying an Aerial Fabric Dance class, fearing I wouldn't be able to keep up with the steps. That fear was amplified when our instructor Jen James walked in. She only had to take two steps before it became obvious she was a seriously seasoned dancer. I knew I had my work cut out for me.
First, we had to meet our "dance partner," as Jen called the billows of fabric hanging from sturdy mounts on the ceiling. She showed us how to properly wrap the fabric around one wrist like a handcuff, until it was tight enough to comfortably support our body weight. I expected to feel like my shoulder was ripping out of its socket as I lifted my feet off the floor, but instead I flew through the air, twisting faster as I pulled my legs into my chest.
Once we had tried twisting to the right and the left, we launched into an hour and 15 minutes of choreographed fabric twisting, sashaying, swinging, flipping and wriggling.
While Body and Pole is one of the few pole fitness studios that does allow men in class, I was surrounded only by women -- some of whom were much more experienced than me with dance partners made solely of fabric. They patiently slowed their pace as Jen helped those of us who were new to the class with our hand positioning or untangled us when we turned left instead of right.
My favorite part was a break in the middle of our choreographed routine where Jen let us freestyle in the fabric. She gave us a few options of ways we could twist ourselves up and into the material, allowing it to grip our bodies like a harness. I absolutely loved hanging upside down with the fabric wrapped tightly around my legs and nestled into the small of my back. I was surprised at how safe I felt inverting, and decided to get a little fancy. I twisted onto my side while still suspended, I wove my legs up and around the fabric, I arched my back, all the while imagining I was soaring above the gape-mouthed crowd at the 2013 Oscars.
That is, until I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Despite how hard I was pointing my toes and stretching my legs, it was not a pretty site. I looked exactly like what I was: A runner tied up in a knot. I set out to copy the more experienced aerialists around me, even though that meant breaking the most important, if unspoken, rule of group exercise classes: Thou shalt not stare at the woman to thy left. But c'mon, imitation is the first form of flattery, right? She really knew how to point her toes!
The one thing I will say it could have used: booze. Of course, I'm only joking. As a health editor, recommending drinking while exercising would land me in some hot water. But I'm the type of person whose dance moves are, shall we say, amplified by a drink or two. I realized I'm not entirely comfortable moving my body the way these other women were, under bright lights and surrounded by mirrors. If I have to watch my reflection exercise, I'd rather focus on the way my ponytail bounces during intervals on the treadmill. (I felt the same way at my first Zumba class. Both classes would be even more fun if they started with a shot and the lights were dimmer. Kidding! Sorta...)
I also learned I'm not nearly as flexible as I could be. There were at least two times during class when Jen instructed us to ease into a split whenever we were ready. I couldn't help but laugh, as I struggled to balance in my deepest possible lunge and watched the women all around me easily slide their legs down to the floor. Time to get back to Pilates.
I wasn't very tired and I wasn't very sore after class -- but if you're the type of person who likes to dance and wants to try something new, I'd definitely recommend an aerial class. I don't think I'll go back, at least not expecting to get a workout. But Body and Pole does offer some bachelorette and birthday party packages...
Photos are courtesy of Body and Pole. I'm not actually in any of them.
For more on fitness and exercise, click here.