Air Show

Air Show

A young woman in black and grey, with long brown locks tied back into a braid, is rising stepwise into the air. Torso muscles rippling, she hoists herself up sheets of chartreuse nylon fastened to a ceiling high above.

She bunches the fabric in her hands like a rope, then pulls. She pins it between her feet, then pushes. She bunches and pulls and pins and pushes until her head’s about 12 feet from the ground.

Then, with one plume of fabric in each hand, she flips. Hanging upside down, right leg pointing skyward along one of the sheets, she rotates that foot, wrapping the cloth around ankle and leg. Right hand grasping the nylon where it falls past the hip, her left hand wraps it three times around the left leg, finishing at the heel. Now holding tight with that hand, she grabs the other plume with her right, then brings the hands together and extends them forward, past her head, taut strands of nylon forming a crisp obtuse angle. Her legs are splayed, the right still reaching upward, the left now pointing to the floor, a chartreuse ribbon candy-caning her body. She cuts a figure like a ballet dancer, or a figure skater, or a gymnast, maybe all three, and holds the pose for some twenty seconds as onlookers crow in support: “Alriiight.” “So good.” “Yeah!”

sponsored by

Westville for the holidays!

The pose is designated the “Potsticker,” the nylon sheets are called “silks” and the young woman is named Jacquie Stio. She’s practicing the move during an aerial silks class at Air Temple Arts, a school that teaches what founder/owner/instructor Stacey Kigner (pictured second) calls “new circus.”

Clues about what that means are scattered about her large Trolley Square studio. Long sheets of colorful fabric, frequently with bodies wrapped up in them, hang from on high, and bedazzled “lyra,” or aerial hoops, hang on the wall. There are some more traditional circus skills to learn here too, like “Spanish web,” wherein a performer executes tricks on a rope spun around by a partner below, and solo trapeze, which Kigner calls “very old” as far as these things go. A couple of unicycles, suspended high in one corner, suggest another opportunity for classical circus-learning. Other course topics include Chinese pole, a good choice if you want to develop superhuman core strength, and “fire arts,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

But among all of the disciplines taught at Air Temple, offered across 20+ classes per week during six- to eight-week sessions, it’s those silks that get the most enrollment—between 2/3 and 3/4 of the total, I’m told—despite the fact that it’s extraordinarily challenging. Kigner got into it after years of prior circus training, including partner acrobatics, and even then, she says, “It was a thousand times harder than I anticipated. It was the best workout I’d ever gotten. I was dead after every class. Couldn’t lift my arms.” Which she was very happy about, seeing as she “hated going to the gym,” and now she didn’t have to.

sponsored by

See Cold Spring School in action. Schedule a tour.

Watching the students in both the less and more advanced classes, they’re clearly having fun, but you can also see the kind of wringer it puts them through. Even some of the very athletic-looking beginners are winded after a handful of poses, and on the more advanced side, enrollees look as hard and toned as the nylon does soft and pliable. Kigner, who exudes a very reasonable, measured sort of positivity, mentions that a few of them have been taking classes since Air Temple’s launch in January 2013, when just one instructor—Kigner herself—taught “a couple of classes a week,” she says, sometimes with a single pupil. Now enrollment is pushing 75, with 10 instructors listed on the website. Among them is the acrobatically precocious Lauren Seuch (pictured fourth, left), who’s experienced a meteoric climb from beginner to instructor in less than two years.

As close as the two of them seem, you get an overriding sense that if Seuch hadn’t earned it, Kigner wouldn’t have advanced her. Noting that the sport/art of aerial silks is still something of a wild west, without any national governing body or universal standards of certification, “There are a lot of people very much not qualified to teach that have started teaching,” Kigner says. “And it’s an extremely dangerous sport if taught incorrectly.” She should know: she had to go through “a lot of physical therapy” as a result of lax training she received early on.

Now her students get the benefit of that experience, and the discipline it helped instill. “It’s funny how much you have to do on the side, that’s not even practicing your tricks,” she says, mentioning pushups as a part of her regimen. “Most of the work comes with the conditioning, and forming the right habits.”

You can see the payoff when she gets up there herself, as she occasionally does to demonstrate for students a new trick or pose. Her forms seem to come together smoothly, and she seems able to hold them easily.

As it should be, when it comes to posing on the silks, Kigner’s no poser.

Air Temple Arts
1175 State St, Ste 240, New Haven (map)
(651) 214-7881 |

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

More Stories