The gravel crunched under my tires as I parked across the street from a nondescript door. Little girls in leotards bounced through the door, their parents chasing after them with tiny jackets and boots. If they can do it, I can too. I strolled across the street with mustered confidence that disappeared when I opened the door. A 4′ glittery spandex tornado whizzed around a table as more parents hastily signed waivers. I darted through to join the women my age sitting to the side of the room. We waited quietly, introducing ourselves and asking each other “Have you ever done this before?” “No, have you?” as we stared up at the intimidating silks, trapezes and hoops hanging from ceiling beams.

I had debated going all day. Why, I’ll never know. I had wanted to try aerial silks since I first watched the incredible acrobats in a Cirque du Soleil show 14 years ago. I had no aspirations of becoming a performer, but the fabric acrobatics called to me to break the monotony of the gym, give me an unconventional hobby strictly for my own enjoyment, and challenge me to move in ways I never had before. I finally took the leap in September of 2014 and committed to an eight-week adult beginner course at The Flowjo in Carrboro, NC.

Once the girls from the youth class were shuffled out, our instructor, Jill, gathered us in a circle in the middle of the room for introductions and a warm up. I mistakenly assumed we’d start with demonstrations and a long list of basics, unsure if we’d even work with the silks at all during our first class. Wrong. Jill briefly showed us a wrist lock (a way to wrap the fabric around your wrists and hands to hold them in place on the silks,) a series of moves to mount the trapeze for inverted sit-ups, and some hoop exercises. And then it was our turn. She partnered us up to jump right into backflips, front flips and knee tucks on the silks then rotate through the trapeze and hoop stations.

TW Editor, Alexa, practicing a Rebecca split in a beginner aerial silks class

Alexa, practicing a Rebecca split in a beginner aerial silks class at The Flowjo

I braved the silks first and touched the fabric for the first time to recreate the wrist locks. Unsure if they would hold, I gripped the silks tightly, noticing that they were at the same time more tough and springy than I had anticipated. Hoping simply to avoid embarrassment in my first attempt at a backflip, I leapt backward, tucking my knees to my chest, and landed on my toes with surprising ease. I reversed the motion in a front flip, landing again surprised at what I had done. Achieving my first very basic move of Aerial Silks 101 sparked my excitement for the rest of class, and any remaining apprehension slowly melted away. Less than an hour later, Jill had showed us how to climb and hang upside down in V-ups and gazelles in knotted slings. I was figuratively and literally hooked.

Though I struggled to wash my hair the remainder of the week, the soreness left over from the strenuous first class made me prouder with every sharp ache. As the weeks rolled on and the soreness and class size dwindled, those who stuck it out got stronger and better with every new move. We built on our newfound skills each week, eventually progressing up to splits, birds, mermaidsstars, and the capstone move of the class: crossback straddle. Whether we could or couldn’t do the various moves didn’t matter; Our group supported and encouraged each other with every attempt, marking each woman’s progress with cheers upon accomplishing something new. Every student had her strengths and used them to support others in their weaknesses so we all moved forward together.

I signed up for the beginner class series again five more times over the next eight months, as did a few other women, and Jill made sure we continued to progress as she went back to the basics with new students. As my repertoire grew, so did my strength. My upper body and core could lift more than they ever had before, and I finally garnered a semblance of grip strength. The higher I climbed on the silks, the longer I could hold myself off the ground.

crossback straddle

Alexa in crossback straddle during beginner aerial silks

I replaced any insecurity of not being able to perform a move with determination and competition with only myself, using the open gym time on Sundays to practice new moves until I got them down. By the end of my last class in early April, I still hadn’t accomplished a move or two, like V-ups from the air, and determination to reach them lingers today. I must remind myself, however, to focus on all that I did achieve. I could put double foot locks on from the air hands free, scissor into a hip key from a climb, and even flip myself into crossback straddle without assistance.

But the moves themselves don’t matter. The biggest takeaway from eight months of something so different was one clear reminder: To get out of my comfort zone. I’m open to trying almost anything once, and when I actively take steps across a self-imposed line, the new territory changes my life. When I was 12, I signed up for soccer years later than most other female players my age and discovered my competitive athletic niche. In high school, I made myself sign up for a marketing association to get over my fear of public speaking, and not only did I get past the fear, I found a passion and a future career I never would have considered otherwise. After college, I moved to Italy, and the experience shifted my life’s focus toward full-time travel. And four years ago, in my bravest step of all, I told Allen to give me a call sometime. We got married three months ago.

When I connect these dots looking backward every now and then, I realize once again that the only way to move forward and discover those things that make life that much richer is to brave the edges of a perceived comfort zone and leap. As I hung upside down from the silks in a move I once thought impossible, my old boundaries faded behind me and exciting unexplored territory stretched endlessly ahead.

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