Aerial Physique combines pilates, yoga and ballet exercises

Tucked away near Los Angeles International Airport in what initially looks to be an industrial warehouse on Aviation Boulevard, Aerial Physique has transformed a 10,000-square-foot space into a silk performer’s dream. The studio moved to its new location on Oct. 4, after spending almost three years at its previous location it shared with a pilates studio in Santa Monica. One look inside, and it’s clear this space is meant strictly for silk — the only other classes held at the location are silk classes for kids through Le Petit Cirque. Beautiful silks in red, blue, teal and purple drop from the 26-foot ceiling. The reason for the big move? Owner Jill Franklin’s clientele was quickly expanding and she was in need of a bigger space.

Though Franklin didn’t get into aerial performance until her 20s, you’d never know it by her strength and grace on the silks. She started ballet when she was three, and originally wanted to be a prima ballerina. After moving to New York to try her hand at Broadway — a dream that didn’t work out — she switched her focus and put her energy into trying something new: aerial yoga. Almost nine years later, Franklin has published an aerial tutorial book entitled Beginner’s Guide to Aerial Silk, maintains a hit YouTube channel and her own clothing line, all along with her own studio, Aerial Physique.

My class at Aerial Physique started off with some basic warmups. Franklin was present at the studio — she had just taught two more advanced classes before my introductory class — but my class was taught by Kylie, who had been doing aerial for several years. Because classes require a lot of instruction and understanding, each aerial class is capped at six students. To start the class, we all gathered in a circle on the mats for introductions and some stretching. As we introduced ourselves around the circle, it became clear that this was a different kind of class; we were all going to be working very closely together. I quickly noticed the varying degree of flexibility around me, and it was clear that I was the least flexible of the group. Though aerial is more collaboration than competition, I had trouble holding back my competitive spirit as Kylie led us into lunges and splits. Envious of other people’s flexibility, I pushed myself further and further into a lunge; I’m pretty sure I pulled my hamstring trying to keep up.

After warmups, Kylie transitioned the class to the silks with climbing. Climbing a silk might be very similar to climbing a rope, but I hadn’t climbed a rope since my seventh grade gym class and was not too keen on starting again now. I stayed back to observe the first round — as a class of six, we took turns on three silks — working up my confidence. I was nervous when my turn came around, but took solace in the support of the class. To my surprise, once my arms got over the initial shock of carrying my own body weight, climbing was a breeze. With every inch I climbed, I gained new confidence for the rest of the class.

The first half of the class consisted of silk fundamentals. Kylie taught us how to tie a hammock knot, wrap our wrists, flip our bodies into an upside-down straddle and tie our feet into single-foot locks. Watching Kylie perform each move looked like a beautiful magic trick, but the art of silk mastery really lies in practice, with a surprisingly quick learning curve. These moves are considered the basics of silk, but require a lot of upper body and core strength that were by no means easy. My body seemed to give up on me as I struggled to flip into an inverted tuck — I cheated a little by propelling my feet off of the silks mid-air — and then extended my legs into a position called candlestick, which looks exactly like it sounds.

Once we got the hang of moving with the silks, we finally learned some beginners’ tricks, which included the side-hip lean and the lay-back arch, both combining several of the moves and knots we learned at the beginning of class. The choreography of silk was probably the most difficult part for me, as each move was like learning a new dance, and we could say I have two left feet. I would get myself into a position only to forget what came next, and though I felt as graceful as Kylie had looked during demonstration, upon analysis of some pictures, my lines were hardly elegant, and my form was not great. Regardless of my lack of personal grace, the class was an absolute blast. My arms and core killed me, but I felt like a circus performer and total rockstar in mid-air.

Franklin recommends that clients come twice a week to see continuous progress in their aerial skills. For interested students, Aerial Physique offers introductory, beginner, intermediate and advanced silk classes, as well as a class in Aerial Lyra. Students can take anywhere from two months to two years to progress to the next level, and the studio encourages students to go at their own pace. A single group class costs $30, but the studio offers both private and group packages for a variety of prices. As for the benefits of aerial yoga? Increased flexibility, a mind and body workout, a great time, and if nothing else, Jill says, “The yogis say that being upside down prevents gray hair!”