Spinal Chord

Come fly with me

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Kirstin Innes (almost) flies through the air with the greatest of ease when she meets aerial and trapeze artists Spinal Chord

Through the side door and up the stairs of a church hall on Great Western Road, there’s a room where people fly and mermaids hang off bars. A trapeze hangs from the rafters by the big stained glass window, stopping about six feet above the floor. On the other side of the room are two ropes and two long swathes of blue material, or silks. I’m attending my first aerial class, run by Glasgow performing and teaching group Spinal Chord, and it feels a bit like a fairytale, or at least a rehearsal for a pretty technical pantomime.

After a thorough warm up, Rodolfo Rivas Franco, Peter Pan to the assembled class of lost boys and girls, hops nimbly up onto the static trapeze and turns some impressive tricks. Actually getting on is harder than he makes it look, particularly for someone who’s rather coordinationally-challenged (hello). The impetus has to come from your arms and legs working together - you stand underneath the trapeze, holding onto the bar, then pull back enough to kick your feet higher than your head. Once you’re up there, though, it’s not so difficult. Trapeze is a circus skill, of course and there’s theatricality in the flourishes and poses that each new trick leads you to strike, but what’s most enjoyable about the whole thing is that it feels like playtime.

‘I think people love to do it because aerial skills offer this amazing combination of the adrenaline rush and the self-satisfaction and confidence boost you get when you perfect a new trick,’ says Rodolfo. ‘The other thing, though, is that it takes people back to when they were kids in the playground. You start to feel differently about your body, start thinking you’re able to achieve the things you thought would be possible when you were a kid.’

Finally, I’m deemed ready to try the ‘Mermaid’, one of the most difficult moves in the beginner bracket. There are two under-12s in the class, and Rodolfo asks them to demonstrate. Accepting that I am never going to be as confident, graceful and flexible as a nine year old, I try and copy them: sit on the bar, stretch one arm out and follow it all the way around your back, rotating your body until you’re almost lying across the bar. Maintaining a smile for the camera through the strain was the most difficult bit of the whole procedure. I’ve burnt the photos.

Although Spinal Chord plan to run their classes and children’s summer school throughout the summer, they’re currently looking to lease new premises, as Lansdowne Church is going to be sold and redeveloped. They need a room at least eight metres deep by ten metres high, to give them room to move properly.

Over at the ropes and silks, Rodolfo’s assistants twirl around near the ceiling, only supported by one wrist, or pivot speedily towards the floor as the material billows out expansively around them. While tricks on the trapeze rely on swift, confident movements, this is a slow, poised, mid-air ballet. It’s not performance as such - nobody is showing off - but having almost managed my mermaid I can understand the need to just keep trying new things. It hooks you.

For more information, see www.spinalchord.com

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