Junior exhibits talent for aerial gymnastics

Sarah Sundermeyer participates in rare athletic and artistic activity using silks

Wrapped in a strip of fabric, hanging 30 feet from the ceiling, junior Sarah Sundermeyer twirls herself up in preparation for a triple star drop, a move during which she will flip three times and fall 15 feet before catching herself on the thin fabric.

This is the art of aerial silks, categorized as a type of gymnastics with one major twist: it takes place in the air. The art, commonplace in circuses, is meant to make aerialists to appear as if they are flying in a very elegant manner.

“You put yourself up in this big strip of fabric hanging from the ceiling, and you can do poses and drops,” Sundermeyer said.

There are four primary aerial apparatuses: aerial silks, straps, rope and trapezes. Sundermeyer has tried all of them, but she is most fond of aerial silks, and has been practicing ever since she learned about silks from a friend last year. She fell in love with the thrill of it instantly.

“It’s kind of a dangerous sport when it comes down to it, but it’s really exciting and thrilling so that’s why I love it,” Sundermeyer said.

Although the risk is part of what makes this art form so enjoyable, Sundermeyer found that it can still be quite frightening.

“Initially the drops were really scary to me, especially open drops, where there isn’t necessarily a wrap holding in [because] you have to catch yourself, or it’s all over, ” Sundermeyer said. “But I love how exhilarating drops are, and I love being so high above everything.”

Fortunately, there are mats on the ground to cushion a fall. However, at such high elevations, there is always a risk of injury. Due to the fact that aerial silks depends mainly on strength, it can be especially dangerous to attempt some poses at first because one may not have the strength for it.

“You’re holding yourself up entirely with your own strength, so that’s one of the hardest parts about it,” Sundermeyer said. “Initially there are a lot of moves you can’t do because you just don’t have the strength yet.”

Sundermeyer prefers drops to poses because they are more striking than poses. Her favorite, and most frightening drop is called the Charlie Chaplin, in which she performs a series of wraps at the top of the silk in an upright position. Then, she twists as she drops until she is hanging by her ankles a few feet off the floor. This moves requires immense strength, and a fearlessness heights.

The sport’s focus on strength is part of the reason Sundermeyer enjoys aerial silks so much. It is not only fun, but also is a great way to build muscle.

“I can feel myself getting stronger,” Sundermeyer said. “That’s one of the nice things about it. Just doing it even once a week makes you a lot stronger.”

Sundermeyer practices about once or twice a week, whenever she has the time. Because she does not compete, she is free to practice whenever she wants just for fun without the stress of having specific days and hours in which she must practice.

“I stay for an hour or two hours, but it’s really hard to keep stamina up because it revolves a lot around strength, and your strength gives out after a period of time,” Sundermeyer said.

Sundermeyer practices at the Arrillaga Family Gym in Menlo Park, and is coached by a circus performer, who teaches the class various wraps and poses. The moves are then put together to create an entire routine.

“Throughout the year we learn different moves and then at the end of each semester we choreograph our own routines with a series of poses and drops set to music, and we usually have a performance at the end of every semester,” Sundermeyer said.

Aerial silks is a beautiful and very strenuous art form that often appears in circuses, such as Cirque de Soleil, but for now, Sundermeyer is enjoying performing for fun.

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