They look ethereal, hanging from the ceiling, their bodies moving in impossible directions in the air with only a ribbon to hold onto.
Aerial silk acrobatics are anything but easy and take enormous body strength. For animal science senior Gianna Milano, the journey to learn aerial arts came with some bruises and aching muscles. For her, they serve as faint reminders of how much effort she puts into learning every move.
Milano decided to try aerial silks after watching her sister who started in community college and followed the performance art professionally.
“I started it the summer before I came to Cal Poly,” Milano said. “When I got here I really missed it, so I found this studio a year and a half ago and have been doing it consecutively ever since.”
Aerial silk acrobatics consist of multiple moves including climbs, footlocks and drops. Though the artists make these complicated moves look effortless, they don’t start doing the moves in the air until they’ve mastered them close to the ground with mats to catch them if they fall.
When performing drops, acrobats rotate their bodies to strike a different pose, sliding farther down the rope. These moves are dangerous; Milano said her sister had one drop named “straddle strap death drop.”
“One of the girls here that does rope, she just made one up and they call it ‘tell my mother I love her,’ but there are like four or five drops in the entire thing,” Milano said.
Depending on the time of year, Milano practices a couple hours each week. She has about six shows a year and those performances are coming up, she’s at the gym three times a week for two hours. For Milano, the gym has become very much like a family now, open to people of all ages and skill levels, with everyone teaching and critiquing each other so that they are all at their best.
For a climber like Milano, aerial arts is very finger and forearm intensive because every routine is centered around the artist’s grip on the silks. If she doesn’t continuously practice, it takes a while to get back into the groove.
“You have to continuously come and that’s the same with every sport, you have to keep doing it,” she said. “I really like that it’s different. I like being a part of something that not everybody does.”
Though aerial arts isn’t a conventional sport and not for the faint of heart, Milano suggests everyone should try it at least once.
“I can show you these videos and you’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’” Milano said. “But until you’re in person in the studio, you won’t really get it. It’s such a different environment that you don’t get anywhere else.”