Manhattan Beach’s Fly Studios offers both children and adults a chance to experience a life up in the air.
Photographed by Jeff Berting
According to Michelle Bolong, owner of Fly Studios and an avid practitioner of the aerial arts, the average piece of fabric used for aerial silk can hold up to 1,200 pounds. A single piece can support the weight of a full-grown man—even while he’s spinning floridly in the air like a sparrow being chased by a hawk—with complete and total ease.
She asked if I wanted to try it. I hesitated, not because I was over the weight capacity, but because I was a bit intimidated. The studio was occupied by a cadre of giggling, 8-year-old girls who looked completely at home flying six feet above the ground. The little lemurs were just too advanced for me.
“Children are naturally fearless,” explains Michelle. “They don’t have the inhibitions that a lot of adults have. Working with children is quite exciting, because they’re naturals—they just want to climb up anything. So what we do is take that fearlessness and that excitement, and we mold it into a more structured art form.”
Aerial art, which is commonly featured in traditional circuses around the world, includes acrobatic acts like the flying trapeze or the tightrope. Aerial silks acrobatics is one of the more recent acts to be included in aerial art. Michelle, a South Bay native, spent three years with Cirque du Soleil working on their Beatles-themed show, LOVE. During this time, she focused much of her attention on mastering this particular aerial art.
Following Cirque du Soleil, she chose to return to LA to start her own aerial arts studio. Her goal was simple: create a positive and nurturing space that wouldn’t be intimidating for people, especially children, to learn aerial silk acrobatics and other aerial art forms.
While Michelle and her team of instructors teach adults and children, the summer monthsare dedicated to the Aerial Performance Summer Camp for adolescents and teenagers. The camp is held in weeklong sessions throughout July and August, and the curriculum focuses on learning how to manipulate silks: how to establish a hold, how to climb up and support yourself, how to utilize your body weight and momentum to perform elaborate spins and wraps, and so on. The camp also focuses on teaching basic core strengthening exercises.
Yet the ultimate goal of the camp is to encourage students to foster a sense of pride and overall confidence. “Everything that they learn throughout that week is put toward a performance that they’ll do for family and friends at the end of the week,” says Michelle. “It’s pretty cool. They learn the fabric, the trapeze, acrobatics, costume-building skills—it’s all built around this little show so they can demonstrate for their friends and family all that they’ve learned.”
The classes for adults also share the same theme of building confidence, as Michelle is always encouraging her “grown-up” students to open themselves to trying something new. “For the adult, there’s this huge myth when they come into our study, and they say, ‘I’m not fit enough; I can’t even do a pull-up. How exactly will I be able to do any of this?’” She states that she simply tells them to “come into class with an open mind.”
The classes focus on full-body workouts (since the silks use muscles that are rarely used), stretching and conditioning. Like the younger students, the adults learn their basic acrobatic skills on the ground before graduating to the air. Of course, no one is expected to master the art form right away; the classes are about having fun and keeping your mind and body open. But it’s in that spirit of openness that Michelle often finds herself encouraging men to try their hand at the silks.
“When we get them into class, they get very humbled by it because they realize how difficult it is,” says Michelle, who also notes that watching professional male aerial performers is just as exciting as watching women perform. “It’s not as common, and it’s more power-driven. It’s really great to see guys who do it.”
For Michelle, the aerial arts are a tool—a way to teach both adults and children how to develop confidence in their own mental and physical abilities. However, life lessons aside, at the end of the day the studio has an even simpler purpose—one that is enjoyed by both child and adult alike: “People come here to be happy.”
Fly Studios will offer both half-day and full-day camp sessions throughout July and August.
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