Through the air with the greatest of ease

Aerial arts offer strength for mind and spirit

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 5, 2017

 Acro yoga classes are available at Aerial Dragonfly Movement Studio in Ferndale.

Acro yoga classes are available at Aerial Dragonfly Movement Studio in Ferndale.

Photo provided by Robyn Burns


METRO DETROIT — After 21 years of active duty in the military, Dari Pfeiffer knew a thing or two about what it takes to stay fit.

She also knew that she was ready to kick off her combat boots and find an exercise regimen that would benefit more than just her muscles.

“I had done the P90X and high-intensity interval training programs, and I was looking for something that would bring me back to my roots. I was a performing art major and modern dance student, so after I retired from the Army I wanted something that would allow me to express myself more,” said Pfeiffer.

She found what she was looking for in Ferndale at an aerial arts studio that she would one day come to co-own. Known since May as Aerial Dragonfly Movement Studio, the venue offers aerial silks classes, aerial hoops training — also known as a Lyra — trapeze, pole fitness, and acro and aerial conditioning.

If those terms are lost on you, you’re not alone. Within the past 10 years, aerial fitness has become a growing trend, putting thrill seekers and fitness fans alike into silk slings and hoops so they can create beautiful compositions with their body off the ground. Think of it as a tamer version of Cirque du Soleil with you in the air and in the spotlight, instead of sitting below in the audience.

But to hold those positions and stay gracefully in the air, you’ve got to work some serious muscle groups — all of them, in fact.

“This just makes for such an interesting platform; it’s a great alternative to the traditional gym or running format. Even the HIIT workout, it’s an alternative to that,” Pfeiffer explained. “You’re working your upper body, and it’s full-core engagement. And not just the middle abdominal muscles that most people think of when they think of core. This is a shoulder-to-hip concept — you’re working back muscles, shoulders, hips. You have to have a strong form to apply the technique.”

She noted that many of her clients add aerial arts as a supplement to their existing workout schedule, since the practice can target unique muscles not utilized otherwise. 

“A lot of people come in and give it a try and say, ‘I can’t do this,’ and we tell them, ‘Have you done this before? Then there’s no way you can be good at it yet.’ You’re using muscles that you’d never use driving a car, sitting at work, or even on those isolated machines at the gym. Your brain isn’t sending signals to use those particular facets of those muscle groups, so you have to build up to it.”

Robyn Burns, of Chesterfield Township, has been practicing aerial silks since January of last year. She started with Lyra before that, and even dabbled a bit in the trapeze and pole — yes, the pole, as in the traditional platform for exotic dancers.

“I have 14 years of dance training under my belt, and I’ve always been interested in gymnastics and especially aerial silks since I saw a routine in a Cirque du Soleil show when I was a teenager,” she said. “I decided to sign up as a way to gain a new hobby and get in shape and develop strength and muscle.”

Burns said she’s gained lots of muscle, particularly in her upper body, in the short time she’s been practicing.

“I’m in the best shape of my adult life because of it, and I’ve gained a good crop of really close friends that I can hang out with after work and play around with on the fabrics,” she said.

Camaraderie is a huge part of why aerial arts are a growing trend, according to Pfeiffer. There’s always a pal nearby to give you tips and cheer you on as you climb higher into the sky.

“You’re getting feedback from another person, and that verbalization to improve your form and encourage you helps,” she said.

The acro yoga class at Aerial Dragonfly Movement Studio is particularly good for clients who want to strengthen their body and spirit alongside someone who can offer a little encouragement, since the poses involve partner support. Later this October, when the studio offers aerial yoga, Pfeiffer suspects lots of new students will come in looking to take their practice off the mat and into the air.

“You’re able to work through poses for balance and strengthening,” she explained. “It’s more dynamic than some other forms of yoga.”