Senior Avery Welty-Green spends her time after school in the air — literally. While most Grady students head up to debate practice on the C-300 hall or cross country at Piedmont Park, Welty-Green chooses to go 10 feet off the ground. Her favorite hobby is doing silk aerial, a form of acrobatics.
Aerial silks is a type of performance, commonly seen at the circus, where artists climb up suspended fabrics and use them to fall, swing and spiral their bodies in various positions. The aerialists fly through the air, striking poses and figures along the way.
“Avery looks really graceful on the silks, and she really seems to enjoy it a lot,” said senior Leila White, also an aerialist. “Aerial is tough work, but when I watch her do it, I only see happiness.”
Welty-Green became interested in aerial acrobatics after going to circus camp as a child.
“It was always awesome to watch the performances,” Welty-Green said. “So, I started taking private lessons on aerial when I was twelve.”
She committed to aerial after testing out various other sports.
“In elementary school, I played soccer, and then I broke my ankle,” Welty-Green said. “Then, I did karate when I was in middle school and broke my ankle again. I was like, you know what, let’s try aerial, and I haven’t broken my ankle yet! I think it’s a good sign.”
The thrill of aerial kept Welty-Green coming back, but it wasn’t without challenges. The difficulties she faces in aerial are not at all like the ones she encountered in soccer and karate. Over the years, she has learned how to master the tricks she feared when she first started.
“The biggest challenge for me is that I have a phobia of going upside down,” Welty-Green said. “If I’m wrapped up in silks and I’m going upside down, I’m fine. But handstands, where I’m forcing myself to go upside down, I can’t do. It’s been difficult trying to work around that, and it makes some specific tricks hard for me because I have to force myself to go upside down.”
Welty-Green says the key to overcoming challenges in aerial is found in the mind.
“The trick is just to not think about it and just do it,” Welty-Green said. “If you sit there overthinking a trick, you start finding all the ways it could go wrong, and then you give up. If you just go for it and don’t even register that you just did it, then you can do it.”
One of the toughest tricks in aerial, according to Welty-Green, is dropping. In a drop, performers wrap themselves high on the silks before falling to a lower position, trusting the silks to catch them.
“Learning how to do drops was a milestone for me,” Welty-Green said. “It took me a long time to be brave enough to [trust the silks to catch me]. Once you’re actually dropping, it is actually really fun. If you can trust the fact that you’re tangled up and you know what you’re doing, then you’re not scared anymore. It’s just fun.”
In aerial, performers climb the suspended fabric without the use of safety lines, relying only on their training and skills to be safe.
“Usually there’s just a mat below me,” Welty-Green said.
Aerial is a strenuous, physical activity relying on strength and flexibility, but at its core, it is an art form. Welty-Green has to be both an athlete and a choreographer when she practices.
“Usually, when you make a sequence, you take a bunch of tricks that you’re comfortable with or want to work on and think, how can I connect these?” Welty-Green said. “You see which ones are similar, kind of like in a yoga routine. You say, ‘okay, these tricks are all on your belly, so let’s connect them.’ Then you find transitions to go into the next ones.”
Komi Siddiqui, Welty-Green’s close friend, is always awed to see her aerial performances.
“In every [performance], she has a very elegant and refined posture,” Siddiqui said. “She does forms I thought were impossible! It’s super stunning.”
Welty-Green plans to continue doing aerial in college and perhaps on the side in her career.
“I feel like having a job working on a cruise ship doing aerial would be fun,” Welty-Green said. “You get to travel and perform around the world.”
Aerial acrobatics is beautiful to watch, but it is how performers feel in midair that makes aerialists like Welty-Green love it.
“If you get past the fear, it feels like you’re flying,” Welty-Green said. “It’s incredible.”