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Try the silks at an Aerial Improv class in Portland (and trapeze! And aerial hoop!)

Try the silks at an Aerial Improv class in Portland (and trapeze! And aerial hoop!)

Here’s where I plan to be most Tuesday evenings from now until forever: Aerial Improv class at Breakwater School in Portland.

This class is so. much. damn. fun.

And for anyone who’s ever watched performers gracefully climb and swing and dangle and dance on an aerial hoop or silks and thought, “holy wow, that looks amazing, I want to do it but I could never…” I say: Yes. You can. You must.

Improving on the silks. Shannon Bryan photo
Improving on the silks. Shannon Bryan photo

The two-hour weekly session is held at the Breakwater School Gymnasium on Brighton Ave. in Portland from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays (drop-in is $16). Janette Fertig, of Apparatus Dance Theater, leads the class.

There are all kinds of apparatus hanging from the ceiling – silks, trapeze, a lyra (aka an aerial hoop) and ropes with harnesses.

And you get to do whatever you want with them.

(Well, not WHATEVER. You can’t use the trapeze as a weapon or light the lyra on fire and encourage neighborhood cats to jump through it.) The “improv” part of the class is half the fun – the freedom of just trying it out, exploring how your body moves or how you do that thing you saw someone else do.

Climbing the silks at Aerial Improv. Shannon Bryan photo
Climbing the silks at Aerial Improv. Shannon Bryan photo

Janette is a big advocate of the “just play around/try it out” philosophy. She spent years with instructors who taught her choreography – put this hand here, move that leg like this – before really getting a chance to just…explore. So that’s an emphasis in her Tuesday night classes (and the kids sessions she does earlier in the day).

Some partner work. And spinning. Shannon Bryan photo
Some partner work. And spinning. Shannon Bryan photo

Of course, when you have little to no experience on any of the apparatus, you can feel a little lost. Or intimidated.

When I walked into the gym on Tuesday, I didn’t know what to do with much of it (I did take a workshop with Janette a few years ago, and got a refresher this spring with a Circus Arts class, which is no longer running, but aside from grabbing the silks and trying to climb them like a junior high gym rope, I wasn’t sure where to start). That’s okay. There’s plenty of help and just enough structure to get you going.

Emily headed for the top. Shannon Bryan photo
Emily headed for the top. Shannon Bryan photo

To start with, there’s a warm-up and some stretching. Then we moved to the silks and everyone took a turn climbing. Janette had more experienced folks work on different skills – splitting the silks when they climbed or climbing with the non-dominate side. (I realized those phrases probably make little sense, and there’s a chance I’m not even saying them correctly.)

Since I’m just starting, Janette walked me through the fundamentals – wrap your leg around the outside of the silks, point your toes up, keep your pelvis forward. And suddenly, there I was, climbing up, up, up and feeling really great about it.

Just trying things out. Shannon Bryan photo
Just trying things out. Shannon Bryan photo

Before we launched into full-on improv time, Janette had everyone pick an apparatus, get on it (or in it, as my case was), she turned down some of the lights, cranked up some powerful music, asked us to close our eyes and we just chilled out. I was cocooned inside one of the silks, swaying just a bit. And it was great.

This is what it looks like when you're cocooned in the silks. Shannon Bryan photo
This is what it looks like when you’re cocooned in the silks. Shannon Bryan photo

Then it was time to explore. I got some great guidance from Emily, who showed me how to maneauver on the lyra and how to flip up into one of the silks that was higher off the ground. We tried some partner stuff, too, spinning together, each with a leg hooked over the silk. It felt like spinning in a tire swing on the elementary school playground.

 

And I took time to watch what everyone else was doing – cool stuff that made me think, I want to keep doing this so I can try cool stuff like that, too.

Whoa. Shannon Bryan photo
Whoa. Shannon Bryan photo
Some of the cool stuff. Shannon Bryan
Some of the cool stuff. Shannon Bryan
And more cool, gorgeous-looking stuff. Shannon Bryan
And more cool, gorgeous-looking stuff. Shannon Bryan

Aerial Improv
6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays at Breakwater School, 856 Brighton Ave, Portland, ME
$16 drop-in (stay tuned – a punch card might be happening)

FMI: www.facebook.com/Apparatus-Dance-Theater
www.apparatusdancetheater.org


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Shannon Bryan

Shannon Bryan

I don't like "exercise" any more than you do. But you know what I do like? Paddleboarding with a friend all afternoon (and then sitting in the grass to drink chardonnay). Bike rides and nachos, hikes, yoga classes held in breweries, group paddles to Fort Gorges, you get the idea. Because Maine is my gym.