Grace in the air

Taos Aerial Gym offers exercise that builds strength, flexibility - and is never boring

Posted 11/26/19

There's something celestial about the Taos Aerial Gym. On a recent afternoon, the high-ceilinged space tucked away on Bertha Street was decorated with sparkling white lights and music played softly. Four women twirled and spun high up in the air on brilliantly colored blue, magenta and purple silk fabrics.

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Grace in the air

Taos Aerial Gym offers exercise that builds strength, flexibility - and is never boring

Posted

There's something celestial about the Taos Aerial Gym. On a recent afternoon, the high-ceilinged space tucked away on Bertha Street was decorated with sparkling white lights and music played softly. Four women twirled and spun high up in the air on brilliantly colored blue, magenta and purple silk fabrics.

Angel-like, the aerialists spread the fabric as if they were wings while they swung, tumbled and hung upside down. Even the names of the moves they are practicing during this open gym session conjure up the sky - the cartwheel star drop and the spinning rainbow are among the breathtaking sequences.

The women didn't start out high up in the air. "Low and slow" is the motto of owner and founder Dianne DeMille. Her first priority is making sure everyone is safe and comfortable. DeMille demonstrates a few basic moves that every beginning aerialist must master before beginning to climb higher up.

All of the hanging fabrics have a thick cushion underneath for safety. One of the long purple silks has a knot tied at the bottom that provides a secure place for one to sit and swing and begin to get the feel of aerial moves. After she demonstrates, I try each move, first sitting and stretching an arm out behind me and then sliding against the fabric to twist down toward the ground. With the weight of my body supported on the fabric, I am able to really stretch my spine and begin to feel the grace and pleasure of the practice.

"Some of the people who come to Taos Aerial Gym (TAG) want to perform, some come to work out," explains DeMille. "Everyone moves at their own pace. The practice builds strength, flexibility and mental awareness; it can be highly addictive. Time flies by. It is different than being on the treadmill. Aerial work is never boring."

She added that aerials are a great way to have fun while burning calories and reducing stress during the upcoming holiday season.

Beginnings of Taos Aerial Gym

DeMille got a late start in the field. She was 46 years old and had friends who were in the air. "I found every excuse in the book not to try it. Finally, I got a little fed up with myself and decided to go for it. I could barely do anything in the beginning, but that didn't matter. I was instantly hooked and now here I am with my own aerial gym."

Her early training was at the Peñasco Theatre and with Wise Fool in Santa Fe. With no aerial gym in Taos, she decided to open TAG in July 2017. Although DeMille says she is not the best aerialist, that is not evident as she demonstrates moves for the open gym participants. Her moves are graceful, and the pace measured, as she displays the full visual impact of the dance of the body with the fabric.

Learning experience

Students at the gym agree that DeMille is an excellent instructor, working with each student to meet them at their own level. "Dianne is good at helping you make progress; everyone loves working with her," says Corinne Thomas, who has been working out at TAG since May. "She helps everyone get comfortable and go forward slowly. Even after the first few classes, you will see progress. It took about six classes before I felt comfortable going up higher on the fabric." Thomas is a snowboard instructor in the winter months and is using the aerial practice to build strength and get in shape. It is something she looks forward to doing.

The Taos Aerial Gym offers a full schedule of classes from beginner to advanced, along with open gym slots at which everyone can practice the moves they have already learned with input and assistance from DeMille. In addition to work with fabrics, there is instruction in trapeze and a set of metal hoops known as Lyra.

From 12 to 73 years old, students of all ages and abilities come to TAG. Gymnasts and dancers often are drawn to aerials for its grace, explains DeMille. It can also serve as an alternative form of training for those who are burnt out on their own sport or want to try a different kind of workout. The practice can provide a sense of safety and sanctuary.

TAG doesn't feel like a typical gym and usually all the students are women. "I don't like going to the gym, but this is a lot of fun," says Daphne Schoenfeld, who is at TAG for a beginner class. "I have some special issues. I broke my collarbone two months ago. Diane has been great to work with. It is fun to come work out and I'm building upper body strength."

Another beginning participant agrees that DeMille keeps everyone safe with her detailed instruction and says that being at TAG is more like playing than working out.

For 13-year-old Eva Collins, TAG is a friendly place. "A friend told me about it, and it sounded great," says Collins. "Everyone here is very supportive. There is no jealousy; it's very inclusive." She has been learning aerials for a year and a half and hopes to perform someday.

The grace and beauty of aerials maintain their attraction over time. Kate Martin started training in Peñasco and met DeMille at that time. After taking a break, Martin is back to continue her exploration. "I take classes in Lyra and am rediscovering my passion for working with fabric," she says.

Currently TAG offers primarily aerial fabric classes, with Lyra and trapeze classes taught by guest teachers Alisa Ritchie and Alessandra Ogren from Peñasco Theatre. DeMille holds a vision of visiting aerial teachers coming from around the nation and maybe the world to teach intensive workshops here.

For now, DeMille's biggest aspiration is to encourage other women to try this fun and challenging workout. "There is a sense of family with everyone here," says DeMille. "Watching women of all ages coming together and encouraging each other is what keeps me going. It's a beautiful thing."

For more information

Find Taos Aerial Gym online at taosaerialgym.com. Email contact is taosaerialgym@gmail.com and phone is (575) 613-2399. TAG is located at 203 Bertha Street. Reservations for classes and open gym times are required.

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