Trapeze School New York instructor Rachael Servello (left) instructs writer Samantha Masunaga through aerial tricks at the school's location on Seventh Street. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SEVENTH STREET — The young woman struggled to thrust her arm through a narrow gap in the silk curtains hanging from the ceiling — while suspended 5 feet off the ground and secured by a only few loops of that same fabric around her legs.

In another corner of the studio, two girls practiced some sort of double flip, in which one girl was upside down and the other right side up.

This was the aerial silks class I had decided to try.

Best known for its prominent use in Cirque du Soleil shows, aerial silks have become a popular pastime, especially in Santa Monica.

An aerial studio of the Trapeze School New York opened in the middle of January after an increased interest in and demand for classes in aerial silks, said Troy Remelski, general manager of the Trapeze School New York in Santa Monica.

Though the school already owned and operated an outdoor trapeze facility on the Santa Monica Pier for several years, passersby always inquired about the few aerial silks classes they saw.

“It looks graceful and it looks easy and people think that they can do it,” he said. “They don’t realize how difficult it really is.”

A few weeks ago, I wandered down to the aerial studio and inquired about taking one of their classes so I could write about it. I had no idea what would be offered and only insisted on something for beginners. I chose aerial silks over lyra simply because I didn’t think I could handle balancing in an aerial hoop.

After making arrangements, instructor Rachael Servello warned me that I should get plenty of rest the night before, and be ready for a good workout.

Though I wasn’t scared before, I became a little more nervous.

When I arrived on May 9, I was ushered into a four-person class, the typical size at the studio, Servello said.

It was a mixed-age class, and though we were all together in the same half of the studio, we were all working on similar, but different, tricks. Katherine Fitzgerald, a Santa Monica native, was high in the air while performing a maneuver that wrapped both of her legs in the silks, as they crossed at her back. She would later progress to an intermediate move called the candy cane, which involves a one-leg wrap, body inversion and more abdominal strength than I could even imagine. This was only Fitzgerald’s fifth class.

After seeing my shocked expression, she informed me, with a laugh, that the learning curve for aerials was relatively small.

“You start picking up a lot in your first few classes,” she said.

The foundation of these more advanced moves is a footlock, a one or two foot wrap maneuver that secures your feet at a specific point on the silk. At times, it’s the only thing keeping you up in the air.

Servello taught me the basics and gave me a practice set, which involved actually relying on the footlock to suspend myself in midair.

At first, I found myself spinning around the silk because I forgot to keep a tight hold with my left foot in a type of yoga tree pose. But after a few times, I finally got the hang of it, and Servello moved me along to bending backwards and forwards, all while suspended by my footlock.

I wouldn’t generally consider myself very graceful, so the feeling of hanging from two silks in a C shape, with one leg outstretched was exciting.

My experience would have been complete with that final move, but Servello decided to have me try a double footlock that would eventually result in me hanging upside down.

As I started to get into the footlocks, I had a few reservations, but as soon as I got into position, Servello called, “Now, flip over!”

So I did as I was told.

It was worth it.

With the blood rushing to my head and Servello on hand to make sure I was holding up, I had a huge grin on my face. Though it took considerably more abdominal strength to pull myself out of the move, it was enough to know that I could do it.

I won’t be trying out for the next Cirque du Soleil audition, but I now have greater respect for those aerial artists.

The Trapeze School New York Aerial Studio is located at 1207 Seventh St. The silk classes start at $35 for an hour.

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