Friday, February 7, 2014

It’s Like a Bird Aviary, but for People

Photos by Lindsay Blackwell

The Ann Arbor Aviary is the perfect example of what’s great about Ann Arbor. You wouldn’t expect to find a gym specializing in the “aerial arts”— which include aerial silks, trapeze and lyra—in a city of this size, but there it is, next door to a storage facility out past the airport. For the record, they also offer other classes like belly dancing, and burlesque performance, and at one time, something called a “Twerkshop” for anyone needing professional instruction in that area.

Once a month they offer an aerial sampler class for beginners where you get to try the silks, trapeze and the lyra. It’s a fun way to spend a Friday evening for anyone who isn’t put off by having to sign a death and injury waiver.

My favorite portion of the class was the silks, mostly because you’re only a couple feet off the ground, plus we started out on them, so my biceps had not yet become fatigued to the point of failure. It’s also the portion of the class where it is easiest to fake elegance.

The trapeze is technically “static” trapeze, so they don’t let you swing on it like a giant swing set, much to my disappointment. Instead, you learn to contort your body into a variety of positions while dangling from the trapeze. To excel at static trapeze requires many of the same skills you needed to rock the monkey bars as a kid. It looks deceptively easy, but I don’t care how good you were on the jungle gym at recess, if you are over the age of ten, you no longer possess those skills or that BMI. I regret not having done some upper body workouts ahead of time.

 The lyra was perhaps the most challenging apparatus to master; the metal is slippery and inflexible, and every position hurts. The instructor taught us a pose called “Man in the Moon,” which involved curling your body up within the hoop, but by this point my arms were so fatigued that it seemed they could give out at any moment. I ended up just kind of dangling from the lyra in what the instructor reluctantly agreed could be called a “move.” Fortunately, the class ended shortly after.

If you’re thinking about taking a class at the Aviary, a few tips for success:

Bring a friend. As with anything new and potentially embarrassing, it’s best to bring a buddy. Not just for moral support, but also to serve as your personal photographer. You’ll want to choose someone who knows how to find a flattering angle in the most unflattering of situations.

Have an Instagram strategy going in. Whether you sign up for a second class or not, the most important take-away from your first class will be the resulting Instagrams that make your life look endlessly adventurous and fascinating. You are not going to be great at this the first time (unless you’re a yoga instructor) but you can at least strike an elegant pose long enough for a few jealousy-inducing photos. 

Upper body workouts. I cannot stress this enough: do some pull-ups. If you can’t do a pull-up, do push-ups until you can do a pull-up. Also, stretch while you’re at it.

Bring your kid. The one little girl in our class was such a natural that she basically gave a recital at the end of the class, after all the adults had collapsed on the floor. Start ‘em young, guys.


  1. Sounds like fun time. Maybe I'll see if EJ is interested in checking it out.

  2. Thank for the great article! If anyone is interested in trying this class, we have a deal running on Living Social right now.