When I’m not feeding guinea pigs or spreading hay for chickens or writing, you can usually find me on two pieces of fabric hanging upside down. If that sounds strange, maybe you haven’t heard of silks. Or aerial acrobatics.

WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Meredith Price Levitt

I first discovered this lyrical movement just over 20 years ago at Burning Man in the Nevada desert. It took me another 12 years to find a local teacher at the gymnasium in Tel Aviv. In 2014, six weeks after my second cesarean, I attended my first class in aerial silks. Lucky enough to learn with one of the first and best circus acrobats in Israel, Einel Gury, I was immediately hooked. Literally and figuratively.

Almost 40 at the time and with a severely weakened core from major surgery that cut straight across my abdominals, it took me nearly three months to complete what we call a ‘straddle.’ The movement entails climbing up the silks and then swinging your legs backwards over your head while holding on with both hands above your body. If it sounds difficult, that’s because it is. If it sounds fun and exhilarating, that’s also true. It’s also addictive.

There’s nothing more energising than climbing up to almost nine meters in the air, tying yourself up in a very specific sequence of knots and then ‘dropping’ back to earth at lightning speed. It defies gravity. And once you do succeed, you feel strong and empowered.

Aside from the positive mental benefits, aerial silks and rope also have their fair share of physical upsides. In order to truly succeed, you have to work on full-body strength, flexibility, balance and coordination. A far cry from the bore of lifting repetitive weights at the gym, this exercise builds muscle mass in an organic way.

So as far as addictions go, this is one of the best. The downside is that it has relatively complicated requirements. You need height (a lot of it), safe rigging and – perhaps most importantly – other acrobats.

Training alone is not only no fun, but it can also be pretty dangerous. So when I left behind dozens of amazing acrobats in Tel Aviv and my beloved teacher to move to Portugal, this was one of the most difficult and important elements in my life to replace.

Here in the Western Algarve, I was lucky enough to find one other acrobat with her own backyard rig. After seven years of training alone, Italian Nadia Fasola welcomed me to her home and homemade training ground in January of 2020. Outside the small village of Barão de São Miguel, the first time I drove to Nadia’s house I got terribly lost and ended up on a backroad with no internet connection.

Eventually, I arrived and never left. For the last three years, while I have looked for a property and racked my brain over a structure that would fit in my own home garden, Nadia has been the rock in my silks foundation.

A little over a year ago, two more friends and local mothers joined our group, Polish-born Luiza Maszczynska and fellow Southern American Claire Lehto from Texas. With the momentum and energy of four, we train together three times a week, keeping each other strong and balanced. In May of 2022, we attended a workshop in Porto together. Run by fellow Italian and professional acrobat, Gianluca Gentiluomo, we drove five hours for an exceptional weekend class.

The synergy was so good that Nadia decided to create the first retreat here in the Algarve with Gianluca teaching.

At the beginning of October, the first Algarve Aerial Experience happened in Barão de São Miguel. Three European acrobats joined us. Petra Engl from Vienna, Diana Lingua from Germany and her mother, Carmen Lipp from Luxembourg.

With an age range of 34 all the way up to 65, our group was absolutely perfect. Although we varied widely in skill, knowledge, regularity of training and performance experience, Gianluca managed to teach all of us something. From extremely difficult one-armed rollups to elegant hip locks and beautiful sequences, we spent an intense week training from 8:30 am until 7 pm.

By the end of the week, we were all stronger, happier and more flexible. It was a successful start to something that will keep growing. As Gianluca put it with such accuracy and beauty, “it’s important to communicate with the audience what’s happening in this lost and wonderful part of Portugal.”

Meredith Price Levitt is an American freelance writer and total aerial junkie. She’s currently building a hexagon engineered for local aerial classes for kids and adults, circus parties and aerial retreats. The House of Honey is Coming soon!

If you’re interested in finding out more about aerial silks and rope here in the Algarve, send me an email at meredithmprice@gmail.com or contact us on Facebook at Algarve Aerial Junkies.

For more information about our amazing teacher, head to his Instagram