The Fuzzy History of Aerial Silks

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Aerial silks, also called tissu or fabric, is a relatively new art form the origins of which are disputed. The first purported mention of it was in a small French newspaper article written in 1959. The article reported that a student at a circus school presented an incredible act using a long piece of fabric. The act was so impressive that it gained local media attention and eventually gave rise to a whole new acrobatic discipline.


Some say that André Simard of Canada founded aerial silks. He was appointed as the acrobatic research and development specialist at a relatively unknown, newly minted circus called Cirque du Soleil in 1987. André Simard combined his background in Olympic level gymnastics, fine art, and clowning to come up with new, innovative ways to impress audience members with acrobatics. Whether or not André Simard invented aerial silks, he certainly transformed and developed aerial arts into what it is today. He took aerial arts from being athletic displays of acrobatics to a performance art form that incorporated facial expressions and body movements to tell stories and evoke emotions.

Isabelle Chasse's aerial contortion act from Quidam Photo Credit: Cirque du Soleil

Some say that aerial silks was officially recognized at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in 1995, where Isabelle Vaudelle did an act that marked the public debut of aerial silks as a specialty in its own right.


Others assert that aerial silks was officially recognized in 1998, when Isabelle Vaudelle and Isabelle Chassé presented their Aerial Silks abilities in Quidam, a Cirque du Soleil show that ran from 1996-2012.


Then we came across the photo below of an aerialist by the name of Amy LaVan. Good ol' Google said the photo was taken taken during a performance at a vaudeville theater in the early 1900’s. Hmm? Now we're very curious about the story behind this photo!




Amy LaVan | Photo Source: thecircusblog.com

It's apparent that a clear and linear history of aerial silks is rather fuzzy...


It is only recently, in the past 7 years or so, that aerial silks has started to become popular as a fitness option for non-Circus professionals. Aerial Physique is proud to be at the forefront of the movement to make aerial accessible to all!


Watch Isabelle Vaudelle’s 1995 act here.

Watch Isabelle Chassé’s Quidam performance here.

Read a New York Times article from 1998 reviewing this show here.





Other Sources:

https://www.thecircusblog.com/?p=33848

http://www.aerialists.org/beautiful-dangerous-art-aerial-silk/

https://www.gg.ca/en/honours/canadian-honours/order-canada/andre-simard-cm

https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/press/news/2018/daniel-lamarre-andre-simard-are-appointed-to-the-order-of-canada

http://www.circopedia.org/SHORT_HISTORY_OF_THE_CIRCUS

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