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Gripping air with Aerial 4 Me

High-flying fitness attracts local attention.
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For more information about Aerial 4 Me

  • check out their page on Facebook
  • visit their website
  • Aerial 4 Me is located in the Innovative Marital Arts’ studio at 2400 Grand River Dr NE, Grand Rapids

/Shelby Stowe

This article was written by Shelby Stowe, Sydney Murphy, Stephanie Lara, and Austin Jeltes for EN 102H: Digital Literacy at GRCC. 

Upside down, the blood rushes to your head. The muscles in your legs tighten as they intertwine with the strands of fabric wrapped around them, and your heart leaps into your throat as you become excitedly aware of the distance that you have created between yourself and the ground. As your knuckles whiten from gripping a simple piece of fabric, adrenaline surges through your veins with each heart beat. Your mind is overcome with the intense, surreal sensation of flight.  This is Aerial 4 Me.

Despite any preconceived notions you may have held about the aerial arts or their irrelevancy to your own life, one woman has made it her personal mission to make aerial arts an accessible opportunity for everyone in Grand Rapids. Jackie Joy, an esteemed aerialist (who has performed for companies as notable as Food Network, the Make A Wish Foundation, and the American Red Cross), founded Aerial 4 Me last June in hopes of bringing the awe-inspiring mystique of working with aerial silk to the Grand Rapids community.

You may not know much about the art of aerial silk, the act of dancing while suspending oneself in the air using one or more pieces of fabric. It has been featured in shows as renowned as Cirque Du Soleil and typically involves one or more flyers performing routines in which they wrap themselves up in their silks, hold difficult postures and proceed to wow the crowd with death defying drops. There is speculation as to the origins of the art of using aerial silk, and how it came to be as celebrated as it is today in the United States. But it is undoubtedly the youngest addition to the aerial arts family. Jackie herself was first introduced to the aerialist arts in 2007. Although she had been dancing nearly all her life, it was not until after graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in Education & Dance that she decided to pursue a career as a performer in sideshow and circus acts, later founding her own entertainment company, Knotty Bits.

Joy explained her desire for everyone to try the thrill and beneficial exercise aerial arts provides. “You don’t have to be someone that’s been dancing since they were three or a gymnast since they were ten. You could be someone who maybe [works out] already, but you’re looking for something to kind of break the monotony of lifting weights or running on a treadmillso  this is a great alternative to your traditional fitness.”  

All ages are welcome to try out this dynamic calorie burner. Classes at Aerial 4 Me are broken down into six week sessions, and each class is sixty to ninety minutes long depending on the difficulty level: 

  • Level One is designed for students who have had no experience with aerial silk. It focuses on fitness and helps students to strengthen and tone their muscles while teaching them the basics of aerial silk acrobatics. While learning these fundamental skills students have no need to fear heights because they are only a short distance off the floor.  
  • In Level Two and Level Three, students advance their skills and learn alternative ways to climb the silk. Lessons involving posing, mounting and dismounting, and knee-dangling off an aerial hoop are also available. 
  • Advanced aerial courses are offered for students seeking more than just a unique way to exercise. These courses add more dance oriented, theatrical elements to the foundations of aerial acrobatics learned in previous courses.  Advanced students learn to choreograph their own routines and are able to perform at local venues in Grand Rapids. Joy offers professional workshops, private lessons, and an internship program for the select few pursuing a profession in aerial arts. 

Aerial 4 Me makes the safety of students its top concern. Instructors make sure their students are confident enough to complete each task asked of them. 

Talking with some of Joy’s students, one cannot help but notice the enthusiasm that Jackie Joy and her students share for getting in shape “aerialist style.” Jennifer Young, an advanced level student, said “I hate the gym. I wanted to do something to get back into shape, but I didn’t want to run on a treadmill five days a week...They’re [Aerial 4 Me] really professional. I emailed them, and they sent me all the information I needed to make a decision on whether I wanted to do it or not.”  

Another student, Trevor Blossom, described his time at Aerial 4 Me. “I’ve been here since they started in June... I love the program. I like ‘hanging’ around here. Keeps me in shape.” For Valentine’s Day, Aerial 4 Me offered a couple’s workshop where couples tried out silk, hoop, and stretching exercises to build trust and practice communication with each other. 

Throughout the week Aerial 4 Me’s studio offers martial arts, belly dance courses, as well as open gym to aerial students. Private aerial lessons and parties are also offered. This summer, Aerial 4 Me hopes to begin their first classes for children.

So if you are tired of your same old fitness routine, you have an affinity for disciplining your body into doing new and challenging things, and you are not faint of heart, consider visiting Jackie Joy and her team of amazing aerialist instructors.

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