A spotlight drew my attention to a performer delicately moving in the air as I was wrapping up my time at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s “First Friday” event. I was pulled into the sidelines like many other bystanders looking up as a woman twirled her body through silk. It was mesmerizing watching the human body bend in familiar yogic ways and even more so off the ground. I believe there to be beauty in the moments where we try to defy our physical restrictions with the help of culture. It can allows us to be expressive and as in the case of aerial silks, it makes one feel unconfined and changes the perspective of the world we walk on. Cultural Anthropology fixates on humans being the only animals to have culture. For example, culture has allowed us to live in various habitats because we make clothes suited to particular climates and environmental brutalities. As I watched this aerial silks performance, I dreamed up all the cultures that had to come together to create aerial silks and what it is today. Aerial silks gives a flightless being the ability to feel something unfamiliar and liberating. As the performer finished her act, an uproar from fellow aerial silks artists ensued and I made my way to learn what I could about this unique, artistic, and french inspired culture.
Corinne Guichard is an aerial silks teacher at UCSB’s Recreation Center and recent graduate of the University. Corinne conducts herself with passion, excitability, and friendliness. She has a vibrant and contagious smile that never ceased during our time as we discussed the inner workings of a growing aerialist and teacher. Aerial silks found her during her first year at UCSB. Specifically, this chance encounter happened on her second day as a freshman where many school departments and organizations host a “Fun & Fitness Festival” showcasing everything the University has to offer to the student body. A big mobile climbing wall was the main attraction, silks dangled from it with people hanging off and around it.
“I had probably seen it in a circus, but never as an attainable thing. I didn’t even know what it was called. I saw it and was like THAT. I WANT THAT.”
Finding your Mental & Physical Strength
Corinne’s first quarter of aerial silks was “bad,” but she loved it. Growing up playing soccer and running track never allowed her to build upper body strength which is a crucial component of aerial silks. Trying to do simple things like hanging was a challenge. However, this girl was determined and she craved more time on the silk. Corinne returned the next quarter and was eager to tackle aerial silks with a different approach; influenced by her teacher, she realized that teacher training would help her learn every foundational skill necessary.
I asked her, Julia! Can I teach, can I be you? How do I be you?!
Julia encouraged Corinne to take another class where she would receive more attention and instructions. Their teacher training check-off system made sure Corinne could do a certain amount of moves and poses to allow her to be an assistant. Later, she had to demonstrate that she could instruct. Corinne became a teacher, aerial silks coordinator, and training instructor going into her second year at UCSB. “It’s still teaching, just with a different approach and I enjoy that. I knew I always wanted to teach and I’m inclined to help people. I knew it’d be really fun.” Further demonstrating her desire to teach, along with her inclination to successfully help others feel successful, she mentioned that teaching allowed her to give really helpful advice to others stuck in a silky rut. Corinne also currently teaches and performs with AIREDANSE in downtown Santa Barbara.
I wanted to get better, but more than that, I want to share this with people, I want to bring it to the world.
Look Ma, No Hands
Corinne’s family do not have a personal interest in aerial silks. However, they love and think it’s great that Corinne found something she enjoys to do. Both of her parents work in the corporate world and reside in the East Bay. For Corinne, life in Santa Barbara is so different. She was a literature major, got into artsy scenes, and became involved in aerial culture. It is a wild contrast when put into perspective. Her parents appreciate the weird circus lifestyle but for a while they wondered “What are you really going to do with your life?” Understanding her parents concerns, she too has contemplated this question.
It would be really cool to be a professional aerialist… but it’s REALLY hard to have a career that is entirely dependent on your body. It’s so precarious.
Corinne tore her ACL last year in a skiing collision with a snowboarder. She was unable to train and teach her classes. Luckily she had a few other part-time jobs that allowed her to supplement her income during her recovery. That time allowed her to realize how impractical a career in aerial silks can be. She would need to put in a lot more work to make a career out of it. This time of reflection solidified the fact that she wants aerial silks to be a part of her life forever, but she doesn’t want it to be her only thing. She is fortunate to have intellectual interests like editing and tutoring, she loves writing. Her eclectic outlets allow her to cater to her body and mind, if one interest is not fulfilling or working out as hoped, she can turn to another.
Love Your Body
Corinne’s love affair with aerial silks allowed her to rediscover an appreciation for her body with all the beautiful and strong poses it could do. It was a progression into self-awareness and appreciation; an unexpected transition. Corinne did not always like her body growing up. She had a long struggle with not liking the way her body looked, she struggled finding out what to eat that promoted wellness, and how much was appropriate for healthy standards. She really nailed it down when she began aerial silks, food was a source of energy. She ate more protein to fuel her muscles and practices due to aerial silks intense workouts.
I was encouraged to eat well not to look good, but because I needed to fuel my body.
Once she started aerial silk, she began to like the way her body looked, the silk twisted elegantly around her body, it allowed her to move into poses that resonated with feelings of empowerment. “My body was getting in better shape, I was getting stronger. It also mattered what my body looked like because I was now on display.” Recovering from her ACL injury led to some weight gain and her practice changed.
I had this really big wonderful mental shift that made me realize who cares what my body looks like because it works! I was so happy to have a temporary injury that I could completely overcome. My body is fucking amazing, it doesn’t matter what it looks like!
This mental shift allowed her to realize that weight was not the sole factor behind ability and she was able to unlock the strength and flexibility to go into an aerial split for the first time. I relished in this self-awareness and pride she shared because I related wholeheartedly. When I returned to yoga my mindset had completely changed and I too had gained weight from my break. I did not see it as a hindrance. I began to focus on taking things slowly and mindfully. For the first time I was able to push myself into a headstand rather than jumping into it. Your mindset changes when you have an appreciation for your body. You are kinder to yourself, more patient and those little victories make you feel unstoppable. Having something like aerial silks makes her happy with what her body can do and the new things she can learn to do. Learning new moves is so exciting to her because she becomes aware of the progress. “I’m in a really good place with my body.” Self-awareness requires an intense mind and body connection more than any other physical activity she has ever encountered because of the added component; risk of falling from 10ft in the air.
Falling is not an option.
You have to be so mentally aware of whats happening in your body, “I appreciate that challenge. One thing we tell our students is that it takes as much energy to get out of a move as it took to get into a move” you cannot muscle yourself out of it, it is not like lifting were you can just drop the weights. You need to learn how to rest on the silks to give your hands and wrists a break. This mind-body connection draws her the most to aerial. She believes that this connection is something that has to interest you.
“The best aerialists in my opinion are super intentional with every movement of their heads, hands, and legs. There’s a reason they added it to their flow and performance. Your body is doing so many things but your mind is clearly in control with every intentioned movement.”
It is and it isn’t a moving meditation because when you start silks, it’s so hard, challenging, and a total body workout, you need to learn and be very aware of every feeling in your body. When these moves are more internalized then it can become a meditation. Remaining in control while being lost in a moment is the ultimate goal but you must always be aware of the dangers that lurk. “It’s a risky endeavor we do” No one she knows has ever had a serious injury but there have been instances when something minor does happen and everyone is grateful it was not any worse.
Who will enjoy Aerial Silks?
ANYONE. Dancers who have really good proprioception can jump in and have fun doing crazy splits. Rock climbers who have upper body strength are always eager to jump in. A common thing Corinne witness’s among newcomers is the discouragement they express regardless of their background with silks, “they meet a move they cannot do and they get discouraged.” As a teacher she has found that her struggles when starting aerial silks have allowed her to coach other students differently than teachers who have been practicing this art since their childhood.
“Since everything was so hard for me I try to remind my students that certain poses took me four months.”
Students should not expect to get into a pose right away, nor should they sweat the trails and tribulations of aerial silks. Corinne reminds students who struggle with a first time move that every attempt is a step closer to that success. “That’s always the hardest part, trying to do something and failing.” Discouragement rears its ugly head but Corinne expresses compassion and an understanding that is sure to ease the relentless feeling of hopelessness. Corrine reminds students that patience with your mind and your body is the most important factor to progress. Corinne also practices yoga and likened another common theme that can plague aerialists; comparing yourself to others. Gymnast will get things day one that took her a year, it is awesome as a teacher to see that success. She has to remind herself that she is still new and from a totally different background. When she is in a class and someone is able to do something quicker than her she needs to go back to a headspace where she can feel gratitude for her practice.
People will always say “I’m not flexible, I’m not graceful, I don’t dance.” You can learn all those things by trying silks. Those things will come eventually.
I am so grateful I got to sit down and talk with Corinne. Listening back on our interview we both laughed a lot and got excited about aerial silks in comparison to yoga, and shared personal experiences. This is something I appreciate about Cultural Anthropological interviews – making small human connections. I was instantly drawn into her world, her feelings, and her passions. Corinne is a strong woman with a soft and compassionate touch that are all expressed when performing.
“I think it’s so addicting, in aerial silks there are these particular sensations that you don’t get to experience elsewhere in life. You’re just spinning, I have spinning withdrawals. You’re upside, off the the ground, it’s almost like zero gravity except you’re holding yourself up, but it’s a completely different sensation as you stretch your body, it’s so addicting, I haven’t found anything else that compares”
I got to visit Corinne and her friends practicing aerial silks and I had such a great time watching them play around. It brought me back to my childhood where I harbored no fears about heights and contortion. The strength and agility these performers have is inspiring and a true testament to the dedication they had invested in aerial silks. It is balancing act. The video at the start of this post was filmed and edited by myself.