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Hong Kong aerial artist talks about the intense workout it gives her

Stephanie Reid grew up dreaming of being a dancer or perhaps even joining the circus one day. It turns out dreams can come true, and sometimes, they can work out even better than planned.

Today, Reid is an aerial arts performer and instructor – a combination of choreographed movements with acrobatics and dramatic body contortions, all performed while hanging on a piece of fabric, or sometimes a hoop suspended in the air.

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“I love the mixture of grace and strength that aerial acrobatics demands. I also enjoy the feeling of suspense, particularly when I am performing some of the riskier drops,” the 31-year-old Briton explains, referring to manoeuvres where she drops from the silk and unravels, only to capture it again before falling to the floor.

“There are always new tricks and combinations being choreographed in aerial, there’s always room for improvement, and I love to learn.”

It’s also intense and demanding on the body – not to mention a serious workout, as testified by her taut figure. “You need a lot of strength and stamina. Strength is elegance in aerial arts: the stronger you are, the easier it is to make the movements look graceful.”

After completing her studies, Reid travelled to Europe and then Asia, working as a professional dancer in various shows and on board luxury cruise liners. In 2009, she settled in Macau where she worked at the Grand Lisboa. It was there she was chosen to perform in their aerial silks nightly show and first learned the art. She brought her skills to Hong Kong, where she established the Aerial Arts Academy.

She performs and instructs classes across Hong Kong, and jumps on an indoor bicycle 10 times a week for magical performances at XYZ’s cycling studio.

Is flexibility a prerequisite to being able to take part in aerial arts?

If you are already flexible it’s certainly an advantage as tricks will be easier to perform. But practising aerial can help build flexibility with time. That said, it can only help to an extent – if you can’t do the splits now, I’m sorry to say but you won’t be able to do them on the silks, at least not straight away.

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What came first, the confidence to perform, or did performing increased your confidence?

Although I’ve danced my whole life, and I am used to being on stage, my confidence has definitely grown the better I have become at aerial arts; it wasn’t all there right away. Being up in the air you really need to have a clear mind so that you can focus on every move, as the smallest mistake or slip can be life threatening if you were to fall. There is no harness.

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Just how hard is it to teach someone to be graceful and athletic all at once?

It differs greatly on the person. Someone’s capability and athleticism can depend on a number of things like if they are afraid of heights or have never done any other physical training. Those with a musical or dance background are usually the most graceful. Confidence can help, but it can also be dangerous. Some students are fearless and think they know it all, but that’s when falls tend to happen.

Is aerial arts safe?

Of course anything practised above the ground cannot be 100 per cent safe. That said, we take all safety precautions. All beginner’s classes use a safety mat and protective padding. The rigging is tested regularly. Students are never left to try new tricks alone; there is always a spotter. But at the end of the day you’re all on your own up there. It can be both frightening but thrilling.

I had a fall a few years back, I was on the aerial hoop and I slipped off and damaged the ligaments in my wrist. I was out of action for three months, but luckily everything is fine now and surprisingly I had no issues getting back up there. In truth, I couldn’t wait.

What are you thinking about when you are up there?

During my workout I focus on my lines – my body alignment from the tip of my toes to the tips of my fingers and head – and try to mentally push myself to go that little bit further.

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What’s your signature move or the move you’re most proud of?

My legs are very flexible so I’d say anything that involves a split.

Any move you’re still hoping to crack?

There are always new moves to crack or new equipment to try in aerial. I just started learning the aerial “cube”, a metal cube-like frame. It has been lot more challenging than I expected as it has a unique shape and an extra dimension, but that’s why I enjoy it.