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The Performance Life

Hanging on by Her Core Strength

Amber Monson glides through the air, twenty feet from the floor, suspended from the rafters by only two long strands of fabric. There is no safety net.

She wraps herself in intricate knots, stretching and twisting into seemingly impossible positions, then plunging toward the ground in a death-defying roll with the silk curling wildly through the air.

Known as “aerial silks,” it’s a mesmerizing combination of grace, core strength, flexibility, and athleticism right out of Cirque du Soleil.

Monson, a self-described adrenaline junkie and rock climber from Atlanta, took up silks several years ago when she found it difficult to get to the mountains regularly.

“You basically climb up the curtains and tie yourself in different ways and create these mesmerizing shapes,” says Monson, 28.

These days, she performs her routines at conventions, fashion shows, sporting events, and nightclub openings. She teaches classes and has developed a home version of the silks apparatus that can attach to a common eight-foot ceiling.

Rock climbing gave her a solid foundation for aerial silks, but the key she says is the Core Performance program she’s followed since receiving the Core Performance Essentials book as a gift more than three years ago.

“You have moves you do in silks that take a lot of core strength,” she says. “But there are muscles you need that you don’t necessarily build doing the actual aerial work.”

Because of the physical demands, a silks routine rarely lasts more than 10 minutes. The strain on the core, especially the hips, can be intense.

“The core training gives me the stomach muscles to be up there and lift my legs above my head and twist in various positions,” Monson says. “I’ve found an incredible amount of improvement, especially in my hips, when I’m doing the dramatic drops and catch myself in the various harnesses or catch on one leg. It pulls your hips out, so when I get back to the Core Performance routine, I can pull the hips back into place and it alleviates the pain and soreness.”

For her silks students, Monson has developed a hammock-like contraption that rests only a couple feet off the ground. She’s taken some of the physioball exercises from Core Performance Essentials and adapted them to the hammock.

Whether with the hammock or ball, it’s essential training for when she’s up on the silks.

“You’re taking exercises you’re used to doing vertically or horizontally and now you have a total 3D orbital axis,” she says. “You’re upside down and twisted and using core muscles you didn’t know were there. You’re in all of these hanging positions – sideways, tucked, backwards and upside down – and suddenly you flip into something else.”

Monson is dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle of nutrition, exercise, and mental fitness. A graduate of Georgia Tech, she’s an avid reader who does not own a television. She prefers endeavors such as rock climbing and aerial silks since they’re both physically and mentally challenging.

“With rock climbing, you have to overcome your fear of heights and decipher this puzzle of how you’re going to get up this wall,” she says. “All of that translates into aerial silks.”

Her work with silks has become a full-time endeavor, in part because of the economy. After college, she put her degree in industrial design to use by working on retail spaces for an environmental engineering company. That gave her the experience to launch a construction business, a casualty of the housing bust.

These days, she runs SkyGym, which offers classes in aerial silks and markets products to perform the routines. Women make up about 80 percent of her classes, which tend to attract those with experience in yoga, martial arts, ballet, and rock climbing.

The classes teach students to move their bodies through space in ways they never imagined while developing core strength and flexibility.

Men tend to think it’s easier than it looks. “They’ll get up there and wimp out,” she says. “It does tend to attract more women, but there is a lot of stuff that men can do well, especially the poses where you’re hanging on your arms and doing flying-type poses.”

The concept of aerial silks has been around for centuries but only popularized since the meteoric growth of Cirque du Soleil in the 1990s. The silks fabric is strong and flexible, but attractive and colorful. In areas where it’s set up permanently and pulled back when not in use, the silks can pass for draperies.

For Monson’s regular aerial silks routines, the fabric is attached to an I-beam from ceilings between 18 feet and 35 feet from the ground. Her performances have included a Monster Truck event, a New Year’s Eve nightclub opening - even a Mixed Martial Arts fight.

Not only did Monson demonstrate the same type of athleticism as the fighters but her graceful performance offered a stark contrast to men fighting.

“It adds to the mystique,” she says. “I come out and play with the silks on the ground and people think this is just a scarf performance. Then I wrap myself, my feet go off the ground and I go. You just keep building up the intensity.”

Monson has incorporated movements from Core Performance Endurance into her training and is beginning to work Core Peformance Women into her regimen as well.

“I’ll rotate them around, do some of them more or longer than others, but I don’t think I’ve taken any of them out,” she says. “It’s a major part of my training.”

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About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Women