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|Diary of an Aerial Silks Newcomer|
Like the free-spirited younger sibling of more conventional workouts, aerial silks, an airborne progeny of gymnastics and dance, combines the three cornerstones of fitness—strength, flexibility and balance—with a bit of a wild streak. Although the art of acrobatics is nothing new (think ancient Greece), aerial arts as an accessible fitness form for the masses is only a few years old. Great for Kansas Citians who like to get in on the ground floor, as our city offers a premier aerial arts establishment in the Quixotic School of Performing Arts (2820 Cherry St.).
“People travel in from all over just to take classes from this studio because we are known for doing good work,” says Jenny Prohaska, a Leawood native, international performer and Quixotic instructor. Sounds intimidating, but she insists the school’s clientele varies from those vying for professional positions to true beginners. “You can start from anywhere and do it.” And she means it. Her students range from preschoolers to those eligible for full Social Security benefits.
PREPARING FOR LIFTOFF
As for me, I’m just looking for a good workout (and a good time). After some obligatory stretching, my class, consisting of one other novice and our instructor, artist in residence Lani Gordon, hits the silks. The flowing strips of fabric are suspended from the loft ceiling over reassuringly thick 16-inch mats. Gordon launches into the first lesson of silks: how to climb the things. After her impressively clear explanation of how to weave your feet around, through and under the fabric to secure a foothold, I attempt my first ascent. Because you can support yourself with your feet as you climb, it does not require superhuman arm strength to hoist yourself to the top. A plus, because we’ll be hovering over the ground for the next hour.
Next, Gordon demonstrates an assortment of poses I would have thought to be too difficult for greenhorns. Turns out, holding the actual positions is the easy part; it’s navigating your way through the silks to get there that’s tricky—and physically demanding. Just when I think I’ve expended my strength, Gordon shows us another move, and, of course, I’ve got to try it.
“You’re always learning new things,” explains Prohaska, who also happens to have a doctorate in clinical psychology. “When you incorporate something fun into your exercise routine, you’re more likely to stick with it, you’re more likely to see health benefits, and you’re more likely to progress.”
Though I’m sold, I realize my extreme thrill-seeking inclinations may not be shared by all. A chat with a student more appreciative of terra firma makes for a less biased review.
“When I was turning 50, I said to myself, ‘I am almost 50 years old, and I’m scared of heights,’” says Georgeanna Layton, a regular at Quixotic for the past year. “Like, can’t climb a ladder scared of heights. I thought, ‘That’s stupid to be a 50-year-old woman who can’t clean her gutters.’”
Determined to conquer her fear (and the gutters), Layton landed at Quixotic, where the beauty of the silks enraptured her. “I’m still scared on ladders, but I’m not scared on the silks,” she laughs. “You’ve got something else your mind is engaged in, and you don’t think about it.”
So hooked was Layton, in fact, that she had silks installed in her living room. “My whole body just changed shape completely without even trying, really. I was just having fun. Then suddenly it was like, whoa, I can wear sleeveless tops again.”
I can see how a regular regimen of silks would be a shape-shifter. Just as the artistry is like nothing else out there, neither do you get the full-body conditioning required of silks in your average workout—unless, maybe, you’re Spiderman. Most importantly, though, the camaraderie of the place will keep you coming back for more.
“Everyone here is laughing,” Layton says. “They don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Truthfully, I’m not surprised. This is the circus, after all.