Aerial dance classes in Atlanta

Our tester takes flight at Sky Gym. Plus, five other places to hone your acrobatic skills.


6172-cmyk-400x500“I don’t mean to sound grim, but people die doing this,” the bald man says, his goateed face looking grave and his legs folded into lotus position. “This is dangerous. There’s nothing that’s going to take that danger away.” This momentarily silences the nervous giggles of two tweens.

“I hope that you are afraid,” says the man, who calls himself Myster Porch. “I hope that you are afraid of getting hurt, because if you’re not, you’re the person who is going to get hurt, without a doubt.”

A woman cautiously raises her hand.

“So . . . is there anything that’s . . . fun about this? You’ve told us a lot about what’s scary . . . but why are we here?”

Porch nods wisely and says only she can know why she decided to attend Sky Gym’s Intro to Aerial Dance. The class acquaints wannabe acrobats with swinging on trapezes, spinning on suspended metal hoops, and spiraling on long strips of fabric that hang from the ceiling.

Check Instagram and you’ll see photos of celebs stretching out on silks—from Khloé and Kourtney to January Jones. Fitness classes have sprung up to capitalize on the art’s growing popularity, with Reebok creating Jukari Fit to Fly, a session that combines suspension training and cardio. Even Hugh Jackman has reportedly said he does trapeze as an alternative to weight training.

But there are no celebrities in this class at Sky Gym, and nobody’s getting coddled like a Kardashian. Porch spends a great deal of time informing students of the very real dangers associated with the art. (A dancer with a troupe in Chicago died in January after he was hit with a steel acrobatics ring, and a Cirque du Soleil performer with the show in Las Vegas fell to her death in 2013.) At Sky Gym, the facility’s ceilings are twenty-eight feet tall. And the mats on the floor are only one and a half inches thick.

After our “scared straight” talk, Porch gives us a quick warm-up—jumping jacks, rolling shoulders, stretching wrists—and some instruction on swinging from the silks. I twist a silk around each wrist twice, then hoist myself up and tuck in my knees. Yeah, it’s much tougher than it looks. It’s essentially an only slightly assisted pull-up. My partner and spotter, a fellow student named Mikey, pushes me like I’m on a rope swing at a lake.

Then we all take turns doing basic moves on various apparatuses: standing or sitting on knotted silks, sitting on the trapeze, and climbing onto and lying back on the metal hoop. The last, a co-instructor says, should feel like a metal thong in your rear (it does). Porch tells us that audiences never clap at the right times when watching an aerialist. They don’t realize that just getting on the trapeze—swinging your legs onto the bar, hanging by your hands and knees, then reaching for the ropes and pulling yourself into a seated position—is one of the most strenuous parts of any routine.

He’s not kidding. I work pretty hard on my upper-body strength, but these moves make me ache, particularly in my shoulders, lats, and hands. While this isn’t a cardio-intensive activity (at least at the beginner level), it’s definitely a workout.

At the follow-up class, which focuses on just the silks and moves like the “Lady in the Moon” and the “Gazelle,” the effort and pain increase tenfold.

I put a knot in the bottom of my two silks to create a U-shape. Then I put one foot on the knot, stand up, and shift the weight to the other foot while wrapping one silk around that ankle.

Holding the other half of the hammock with both hands, I swing my body through the two silks until my ankle is wrapped three times. With each wrapping, I have to use my arms to pull my body through the silks.

My “Lady in the Moon” looks more like “Panicking Trussed Pig.”

Porch is right about another thing: After all the hoisting and pulling I do to get set up, the glory moment comes when I’m already sitting on the trapeze bar, perched like a perfect parakeet. My arms push the ropes to the side and I position my legs like I’m doing a modified stag leap. That’s the easiest part of the day.

Where to Take Flight

Sky Gym in Sandy Springs offers instruction for adults and children who want to try the cirque arts. Intro $19,

The Circus Arts Institute in Candler Park, founded by trapeze artist and social worker Carrie Heller, offers a variety of circus classes as well as play therapy for children. Intro $46, circus­

Inspire Aerial Arts on Metropolitan Parkway teaches students how to use aerial silks, hoops, and ropes for fitness or performance. Intro $15,

The D’Air Project on Boulevard is a not-for-profit community arts organization with aerial dance for children and teens. Intro $20,

Play Hard Gym on the west side is most known for its parkour classes, but also offers instruction on aerial silks. Intro $15,

Leap Trapeze in Athens trains all levels of acrobats on a high-flying trapeze rig. Intro $45,

This article appeared in our July 2014 issue and is an extended version of an earlier blog post.

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  • Hilary Zanca

    I have a 4-year-old hip injury and was concerned at first about whether or not my hip could handle such a potentially intense workout. Every instructor I’ve talked to about it and regularly work with takes special care to ensure my injury does not worsen and is supportive of me taking care of my body. I have never worried about my safety in the sky gym. Simpy based on how well the staff cares for the facility, I never have a doubt in my mind that the riggings are set up properly or that the silks are the right material. The instructors have set up specific heights for practice for different levels, and as we as students, at different levels, gain confidence and experience, we learn to seek higher heights both literally and physically with our practice. A beginning student would never be up in the rafters! As we learn new techniques, we are given appropriate spotters, extra mats, and specific instruction to not go further than our bodies are capable of. The sky gym is a wonderful place to practice, is full of exciting adventures, but is never unsafe as long as students follow rules and comply with the outlined and specifically stated safety guidelines.

  • Lorraine

    Of course aerial work is dangerous; however, all the trainers at The Sky Gym take safety seriously. They have a level program that allows students to develop not only their strength but technique as well, in order to progress through this medium safely. When I started, it was the idea of doing “drops” that thrilled me and what I wanted to accomplish. I learned quickly that one simply does not go to their first class and dive 25+ feet; it takes time and practice. I personally know the stringent guidelines all the trainers at Sky Gym have to maintain because the owner, Amber Monson, stresses safety to not only her trainers but us students too. It is the safest and most fun place in the world. I call the Sky Gym “my happy place” because it is. There are so many exciting and fun classes for all levels.