Saskatchewan·In Your Shoes

Hanging with FLY ladies: Aerial arts offer a chance to conquer fears and 'be a kid again'

When I was a kid, I'd look up and see other girls on the monkey bars, swinging and twisting on the bars without a care in the world. When a friend suggested aerial arts, it seemed like a way to redeem myself for all those years of timidity, of holding back while watching others be so free and joyful.

Regina's FLY Fitness and Aerial Arts teaches how to dance in the air

CBC's Janani Whitfield tries aerial silks 1:15

Memories of the monkey bars still haunt me.

When I was a kid, I'd look up and see other girls swinging and twisting on the bars without a care in the world.

I'd watch wistfully from the ground — then thoughts of death and injury or questions of liability insurance would intrude and keep me frozen like a dummy.

When a friend suggested aerial arts, it seemed like a way to redeem myself for all those years of timidity, of holding back while watching others be so free and joyful.  

FLY Fitness and Aerial Arts owner Adrienne Hassard and instructor Kayleigh Bouw met me on a perfect Sunday morning, after a week of hazy weather. Since the business is in the midst of moving into a new indoor space, they've set up a portable rig that resembles an infant's Jolly Jumper with a sling in the middle, a precursor to the more advanced aerial silks. The child-like setup seemed fitting, since I fully expected to look like an oversized and ungainly toddler, and possibly wet myself.

The trickiest part of the morning proved to be getting into the sling with all the grace of a hippo, then sliding down to allow it to rest as low along my back as possible.

At one point, doctors weren't sure Kayleigh Bouw would be able to use her left arm after a bad gymnastics injury. Now, she's found a love in pole dancing and aerial arts, and has become an instructor at FLY Fitness and Aerial Arts. (Alex Soloducha/CBC News)

The ladies patiently walked me through what I needed to do to wrap my legs in the right way around the material. The rest, they said, is working with people to trust the sling will hold them.

"You can let go," Hassard said, after I finally contorted my legs into the right position.

I let loose my hands, and felt 30 years of fear dissipate.

"I'm doing it! I'm upside down!" I shouted. "The whole world looks different from here."

Getting into the sling on the portable setup proves to be a challenge. (Alex Soloducha/CBC News)

The brilliant sun and blue sky was spread out under me, and it was exhilarating. I felt more like a child than I did even as a nervous five-year-old.

We went through a few moves. Some went well, like 'The Batman,' where I hung like a bat under the silks. Others didn't go so well, including an attempt to stretch myself out like Peter Pan. I overextended and gravity took over, landing me on the mat, my shirt flying over my head and my legs tightly entrapped in the silks.

Through it all, the instructors were patient, helping me out of the trap and then showing what can be done with a little practice. Nothing feels impossible or too painful, but my core, legs and shoulders definitely felt an aching burn hours after all the playfulness.  

Then I watched Bouw take to the skies and show me how it's done, with liquid grace and elegance.

After a few missteps, CBC Saskatchewan reporter Janani Whitfield manages to capture a few aerial sling moves. (Alex Soloducha/CBC News)

I'd never have guessed from watching her twist herself into pretzel shapes and fly through the air with ease that she was anything ever than confident about letting go and trying something new.

It surprised me to learn that the 25-year-old instructor had such a bad injury as a child, that for years she was too scared to get back into gymnastics.

"When I was nine, I was doing a backhand spring, and I actually dislocated my elbow," she said, recalling that she ended up in a cast for four months. "They weren't sure if I'd use my left arm again."

A couple of years ago, she stumbled into one of Fly's offerings — a pole dancing class — tried it out, and almost immediately "became obsessed" with it. When the fitness centre started offering aerial arts, she thought she'd give it a shot. She fell in love with it.

For Bouw, just like me, it's a chance to conquer old fears, to dance suspended in mid-air, and to recover something elemental: the joy and freedom of childhood. 

She said, "I think that's part of the obsession: the fact that I get to go back to that and feel like a kid again."

About the Author

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca on on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.