(This post is part of my year-long series 40 New Things at 40.)
I was worried, unsure whether my newly-40-years-old-and-overweight-for-nearly-all-of-those-years body could handle this. Before I signed up for the class, I emailed the owner of Aerial Fit Charleston to get her honest opinion on whether someone as old and out of shape as I am should really try aerial fitness classes. Would the materials hold my weight? Would I be able to keep up with the rest of the class? Would I make a fool of myself? She emailed me back within a few hours, and was very reassuring. She said the “silks” (which are actually made of much stronger stuff than silk) and slings, as well as the hoop and trapeze, are incredibly strong, and suspended from special beams that can hold about a ton. The only limitations to what I could do would be my own range of motion and strength. I signed up for an Intro to Silks and Slings class, a bit less anxious about it, but still not convinced it wouldn’t be a disaster.
On Monday morning, I found the “circus building,” a large metal structure with 20-foot ceilings, pretty easily. There were ambulances parked out front, but I later learned they weren’t there because of injured aerial fitness students; the ambulance company rents the other half of the building. Three aerial instructors were seated at the front table when I arrived, looking very young, lean, wiry, tall, limber – basically everything I’m not. I was almost embarrassed to introduce myself as a new student. But if they were judging me, they did it silently. They handed me the new student paperwork (your standard “we’re not responsible if you fall to your death” type stuff) and showed me the cubbies where I could leave my purse, shoes, and socks. Release forms signed and feet bare, I was introduced to Anastasia, the instructor who would be working with my class.
Anastasia (I told her I would remember her name, since mine is just a shortened form of the same) patiently explained to me all the safety rules, and told me again how strong the materials we’d be working with are. I guess she could tell I was nervous. The class turned out to be small; only one other student showed up, a woman probably near my age but about half my weight. She had taken a few other classes already, so after we stretched and warmed up with some push-ups, Anastasia got her started on some slightly more advanced moves than I was doing. For me we had to start at the very beginning.
I learned the importance of proper shoulder alignment and posture, finding my center of gravity, making sure to grasp the silk at the right height above my head, and how to distribute my weight for different moves, sometimes supporting more with my legs and other times more with my arms. The hardest part for me turned out to be gripping the silk between my feet. I was constantly letting it slip and sliding back down to my mat (which was only a few inches below me, thankfully). So Anastasia moved on to some techniques that instead allowed me to stand on a large knot she tied near the bottom of the silks.
Stepping up onto the knot with one foot, wrapping the silks once around my arms above my head for support, was not easy, and I would feel it in my leg muscles the next day. Once I was up, I had to use my core muscles to balance, aligning my torso directly in the middle of the silks, not rocking forward or back. We did some shrugs in this position, small movements to work the muscles in our shoulders and back. I felt that the next day, too.
My favorite movement was definitely the back arabesque. That’s the one I’m doing (or at least making my best attempt at) in the above photo. Balanced standing on the knot, I would lean back as far as I could with control, try to lift my other foot out, hold it for a second or two, then come back to center. It sure looked easy when the other student next to me did it, but it took me a few tries to gain some confidence with it. Once I did, though, I loved the feeling. I was swinging ever so slightly, and I could imagine how getting better at this could eventually feel like flying. When I saw the pictures of me doing the back arabesque, I was surprised at how little I’m actually leaning back and how low my other leg is. I may have looked like the photo above, but I felt more like this one (which came from Pinterest and isn’t mine).
Ah, well. Maybe I’ll get there eventually. I do think I’ll go back to the circus building for more aerial classes. It was encouraging that I was able to do everything Anastasia asked of me during our hour-long session. I didn’t have as much strength or flexibility as the other student, but I wasn’t completely incapable either. It felt great to be challenged and find that I could meet the challenges, if I just pushed myself. What didn’t feel so great was how sore I was the next day, how out of breath and sweaty I got from the exertion when my classmate barely broke a sweat at all. I had to confront how out of shape I actually am. For too long, I’ve relied on youth and good genes to keep me in decent health. Now that I’m in my 40s, that isn’t going to be enough. This is the body with which God has entrusted me. I need to keep challenging my body, enjoying what it can do instead of always feeling embarrassed by how it looks. There are definitely more fitness classes in my future, whether on the ground or in the air.