Hanging on Silk Fabrics

 

Cirque du Soleil performers aren’t the only ones with a license to climb and dangle from suspended silks. A spectacle of UCSD students scaling up lengths of red fabrics to do acrobatic tricks in the air can be witnessed regularly in the Main Gym’s West Balcony. These students are enrolled in varying levels of aerial silk acrobatics classes, which are offered by UCSD Recreation each quarter. 

The classes, instructed by Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomores Troy Campbell and Chloe Jackson and Scripps Institution of Oceanography Ph.D. student Elizabeth Sibert, are open to all students — with no experience required at the beginner level.

Though the classes have become one of the most popular classes offered by UCSD Recreation (they normally fill up the night of registration), aerial silks was only added to the roster of classes last spring. But before the classes became a possibility, a lot of work had to be done.

“Main Gym hired some engineers, and they had to look at the architecture of the space to find the most stable points to have such pressure applied,” Campbell said. “They installed these eye bolts into the ceiling, and from there, we had a professional aerialist with his own company that does rigging shock test everything and make sure that everything was safe before we got started. It was a very long process, but it’s still going on. We’ve expanded from three or four classes to nine or 10. The number of silks we have has also increased.”

Campbell, who had the initial idea to bring aerial silks to UCSD, said that he never thought it would happen. While the idea was planted in his head after meeting Jackson at their freshman orientation and stalking her Facebook page (discovering that they had a shared background in aerial acrobatics), the two had always laughed off the conversations that followed between them about starting an aerial silks program at UCSD. 

But one day, while passing by the Main Gym, Campbell decided to take the initiative and pitch his idea.

“I showed [the UCSD Recreation staff] a video of my high school [aerial performance team] on YouTube, and on the spot, they said they wanted to hire me and they wanted me to teach classes,” Campbell said. “It was really, really exciting.” 

Since then, Campbell’s enthusiasm as an aerial silks instructor has catapulted.

“At first, I thought I’d like it,” Campbell said. “I didn’t think I’d become obsessed with it. I feel like this program is so much a part of me, because now, I’m in class — and I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m getting lesson plans down and I’m thinking about how we can expand — what new things we can bring to [the students] and how we can enrich their experience.”

Regardless of plans for enhancement, Campbell emphasized that safety, above all, remains his top concern. But he said that teaching safety first is sometimes a challenge within such a thrilling environment.

“I think sometimes people are so excited by what they’re doing, and I can totally relate,” Campbell said. “From the very first class, you’re upside down and you’re up in the air and you have so much adrenaline that sometimes, people don’t always listen. They’re taking pictures, and they’re having a great time, but they don’t always hear every important thing. So I guess to overcome that, I just make sure that I am very, very clear.”

While some students have only dabbled in aerial silks for a quarter, others have stuck around through thick and thin.

“We have a lot of students who took [the class] the very first quarter we offered it and are still with us today,” Campbell said. “Especially in those classes, it’s like this really special family. They’ve all struggled through these horrible, horrible moves and whatever conditioning and all these things that we’ve done together. It’s very hard to put into words — it feels like a community.”

But no matter what their experience level, Campbell believes that anyone can learn.

“I think everyone in all of the classes has learned that it looks so challenging, but it’s something that you can do,” Campbell said. “It’s very important to me to make people feel capable — to make them just really get to be excited and do something really crazy. Aerial silks is for any body type, any fitness level. I’ve seen women who’ve had babies two weeks prior climb to the top of the silks their first time. It’s really something that anyone can do.”

More aerial silk classes will be offered over the summer. Registration begins on May 28.

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