Aerial silks (also known as aerial contortion, aerial ribbons, aerial tissues, fabric, ribbon, or tissu, depending on personal preference) is a type of performance in which one or more artists perform aerial acrobatics while hanging from a fabric. The fabric may be hung as two pieces, or a single piece, folded to make a loop, classified as hammock silks. Performers climb the suspended fabric without the use of safety lines and rely only on their training and skill to ensure safety. They use the fabric to wrap, suspend, drop, swing, and spiral their bodies into and out of various positions. Aerial silks may be used to fly through the air, striking poses and figures while flying. Some performers use dried or spray rosin on their hands and feet to increase the friction and grip on the fabric.
The three main categories of tricks are climbs, wraps, and drops. Climbs employed by aerialists range from purely practical and efficient, such as the Russian climb, to athletic and elegant tricks of their own, such as the straddle climb. Wraps are static poses where aerialists wrap the silks around one or more parts of their body. In general, the more complicated the wrap, the stronger the force of friction and the less effort required to hold oneself up. Some wraps, such as the straddle-back-balance, actually allow performers to completely release their hands. Foot locks are a sub-category of wraps where the silks are wrapped around one or both feet, for instance, an ankle hang. In a drop, performers wrap themselves up high on the silks before falling to a lower position. Drops can combine aspects of free fall, rolling or otherwise rotating oneself before landing in a new pose. Preparation for a drop can make for a pretty wrap, but the ultimate goal is the fall rather than the pose. Of the three trick types, drops require the most strength and are also the most potentially dangerous. Rosin (dry or mixed with rubbing alcohol) is employed to help performers maintain their grip. Aerial silks is a demanding art and requires a high degree of strength, power, flexibility, courage, stamina, and grace to practice.
The fabrics used as silks are very strong with some give and flexibility. The fabric is two-way stretch polyester lycra or nylon tricot. The width varies depending on the routine and the acrobat. The fabric is usually quite long, as it is doubled for rigging, giving the acrobat two strips of fabric to work with as they perform.
It is not known for certain who invented the art form of performing aerial dance on fabrics. Fred Deb of Drapés Aériens is widely known to be one of the founders around 1992. André Simard was hired by Cirque du Soleil to develop and research acrobatics in 1987; his job was to discover original and imaginative ways to attract audiences, and is also regarded as one of the founders around 1995. Now silks have been incorporated into the circus arts and are practiced as a form of aerial fitness.
This article contains instructions, advice, or how-to content. (July 2019)
Aerial rigging applies to the hanging of aerial silks. Aerial silk rigging equipment commonly includes:
Carabiners are the most used rigging piece for all aerial arts, but only two or three styles are safe for aerial use; these are the auto lock gate and screw gate carabiner. rated two different ways, one for the spine and one for the gate. Distributing weight on the gate is not recommended, for it is about 1/3 of the spine kN rating. For aerial silk as for other aerial arts, a screw gate carabiner is used rotated to screw down to decrease the risk that the carabiner will accidentally open or that the screw gate will become unscrewed.