When Robert Sullivan decided to take his yoga practice up a notch three years ago, he didn’t realize that would take him 20 feet off the floor. Dr. Sullivan, who has a fear of heights, had mistakenly signed up for a class in aerial silks. Unlike aerial yoga, which is typically done while hanging in silks three feet off the ground, aerial silks requires you to climb 15 to 20 feet high and perform circus-worthy feats.
Rather than run, he stood captivated by the level of strength, flexibility and discipline the practice required. An anesthesiologist based in Frederick, Md., Dr. Sullivan thought he was in good shape. To climb the silk, you have to pull and crunch the body up and then wrap it around your foot so you can stand and continue climbing. “It took two months of conditioning for me to gain the grip and core strength to climb,” the 49-year-old says. And it took nearly a year for him to overcome his fear of heights.
He faced another fear last September when he performed with his studio, Luna Aerial Dance and Performing Arts in Frederick, Md. “I do not like the limelight,” he says. “I get stage fright.” Dr. Sullivan performed a routine with a teenage classmate, and when he led off with an upside-down hang, he heard the audience gasp.
Growing up with asthma, Dr. Sullivan says he was far from athletic. His aerial training has given him newfound physical confidence, and performing has awakened a long-dormant creative side.
When the coronavirus forced his studio to close temporarily, Mr. Sullivan panicked. “Aerial is the exact opposite of riding a bike,” he says. “One week off and you’ll feel shaky starting again.”