The silky way: Upper St. Clair resident educates, entertains with aerial acrobatics
Cirque du Soleil can be spellbinding, if not a downright life-changing experience.
“Although everything was mesmerizing in the show,” Holly Kirby said about attending a performance several years ago, “the aerial silk act was just insanely intoxicating.”
The Upper St. Clair resident, who recently had opened Pittsburgh Dance Center in Bloomfield, needed to know more about the acrobats showing their skills far off the ground using long pieces of strong fabric.
“I had never seen it,” Kirby recalled. “I didn’t even know how to Google it. I was Googling ‘curtain dancing.’ I had no idea what it was.”
Five years later, she is teaching the discipline to plenty of eager learners through Pittsburgh Aerial Silks, an extension of the dance center.
“It has exploded,” she said about the interest her classes have generated. “I have nine teachers, whom I’ve all trained myself. We run classes every single day, and we average 20 per class.”
Kirby and her students have spent the summer setting up displays at various festivals, including the recent South Fayette Township Community Day at Fairview Park. There, they set up a pair of apparatuses, one stretching skyward about 20 feet, to demonstrate what they can do.
Student Allison Wolter and her mother, Jill, traveled from Morgantown, W.Va., to join Kirby to perform using the silks, along with a large ring, called a lyra, and an aerial hammock .
“I’d seen something similar to this and thought, oh, that’s so cool,” Allison, 15, said about her introduction to the discipline. “At the time, we lived out in California, and there was a gym about 10 minutes from our house. So I started taking classes, and it’s probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.”
As for Kirby, she eventually found an aerial silks instructor, Leslie Friend, who is based in Cleveland.
“She taught me fundamentals and some safety,” Kirby said. “I installed my first silk in 2011 in my own studio, and practiced every day. Sometimes I only lasted 10 minutes. Sometimes it was a half hour. I just had to work it out.”
By March 2012, she was ready to start instruction, with five people attending the first class. Since then, she estimates that about 4,000 students have passed through the ranks.
Kirby’s background is as a professional ballroom dancer, and the Pittsburgh Dance Center continues to offer an array of terpsichorean classes. In the meantime, she is expanding her aerial silks offerings, with plans to open a second location in September at Green Tree SportsPlex, “to bring it out to the South Hills.”
“I’m now able to think long-term,” she said. “Before, it was just short-term. My short-term goal every day was to get past the soreness and get on the silk. And then, each week, let’s add another student to class. Let’s give it away, if we have to. Five years ago, there was such an element of people didn’t know what it was.”
They do now, and that serves as vindication for Kirby’s foresight and dedication.
“People said to me, and I have been quoted over and over: ‘You’re crazy.’ And I said to them every time, ‘Trust me on this.’ I said it every single time. I have very few gut feelings, and that was one of them.”