We spoke to Leavenworth local and aerial silks performance artist Julie Istvan about performing circus acrobatics in the air and the road to recovery after a debilitating car accident. There’s no safety net, no rope, and no harness-just lots of strength, flexibility, and what some may call death defying mid-air drops.
How would you explain silks to someone who has never seen a performance?
Aerial silks is a special fabric suspended from the ceiling (preferably a high one) that one would perform aerial ballet acrobatics. There are many different kinds of climbs, wraps and drops that are performed while displaying flexibility, strength and balance.
How long have you been doing silks?
I started doing silks 3.5 years ago
How did you learn?
I found a Circus School in Seattle (Emerald City Trapeze) online. I booked a class and was hooked. My friend Sarah (Piestrup) Scott was nice enough to let me hang my silks in her living room. I started spending 4 to 5 hours per day there, as well as going back and forth to Seattle to train at the school.
We understand that you were in a car accident in 2008 in which you sustained spinal injuries, including a broken neck. It’s pretty amazing to see someone with spinal difficulties and a plate in her neck performing acrobatics that require so much strength and finesse. Can you speak a little bit about the road to recovery and how you were able to overcome injury?
Overall, I have a pretty positive outcome with the surgery I had. Weekly acupuncture, massage and physical therapy helped a lot. It took a long time to get where I am now. I couldn’t really do much for a year and a half. I lost a lot of flexibility and strength in that time. I got back into shape from riding bikes and eating healthy. When I started doing Aerial, I loved it so much that nothing was going to stop me. I started training 4 to 6 hours a day and the rest is history.
How has your neck injury affected your ability to perform?
My left arm has partial paralysis from the spine injury. It is much better after I had my fusion. I am pretty used to it and know what I can and can’t do. Most of my gripping comes from my right hand. You’ll never see me just hanging on with just the left hand. This injury is a like disease; I have my good days and my bad days. Over all, I am very fortunate that I am able to do the things that I love. I believe circus arts have been a really great way for me to keep fit and healthy.
How far off the ground are you hanging and how much of an element of risk is involved?
I have performed as low as 14ft and as high as 50ft. I usually say that it is so dangerous that it is safe. You would have to let go or make a really big mistake in a wrap to have a fall. No, I have never taken a fall. We learn everything low first. You must be confident in what you are doing at all times. There is no harness or safety net. I guess you could say that we are free soloing.
Some of the poses you hold during performances require a crazy amount of flexibility. How are you able to get your body into positions like the splits and backbends? Is this something that comes naturally or is flexibility something that can be learned?
My mom had a ballet studio so I grew up dancing and have always been flexible from that, althoughI am always working on increasing my flexibility. I use some contortion techniques of firing the muscles and then getting into an uncomfortable position and holding it for a minute at a time and then repeat over and over. I stretch for 1 to 2 hours per day.
Where do you perform and how can people see you in action?
I perform at the Suite Lounge in Bellevue, The Last Supper Club and Shadowland in Seattle with a troop of talented ladies. My next show is at the Nectar Lounge with Buzz Brump in Seattle on the 18th of October 2013. I will post all public shows at: https://www.facebook.com/pippabellini?ref=hl.