IF YOU'VE been lucky enough to see the dazzling Cirque du Soleil aerial performers in action, you will have an idea of the skills demonstrated by Svila and Petra, and appreciate their dramatic visual impact.

Audiences around the world are increasingly dazzled by professional artists, who have trained for many years to acquire the strength and finesse, as the aerial arts are becoming ever more prominent at major events.

However, it is possible to learn some of the techniques just for fun – and in a safely controlled environment. To do aerial work, it helps to have gymnastic and balletic ability, combined with strength and flexibility – plus a good head for heights. Judging by the increasing numbers of training programmes for young people, aerial skills are fast becoming as popular as ballet and gymnastics.

My daughter was a member of Playbox Theatre which ran fantastic classes and workshops in many of the techniques. It was one of my daughter's favourite activities through school years. Dangling upside-down was real therapy! What I particularly loved was how the productions wove the circus techniques into the stories.

The story features detailed descriptions of how Svila would prepare for the ‘drop’, whereby the performer climbs to the top of the silk, completes ‘catches’ (specific ‘wraps’ for drops), and then lets go, tumbling almost to the floor as the silk unwinds. (You may recall the BBC One Acrobats ident featuring three women in white on red silks which uses some of these moves.)

In the story, you’ll see share the insights and experience of a advanced practitioner in silks, rope, circeaux, trapeze and trampoline. Extra details, such as fabric burns, blisters and muscle fatigue from aerial training, are all quite authentic, as is the exhilaration of devising a new ‘trick’.

 The skills are not just for soloists. Many require a high level of trust between performers at all levels. The aim of the series is aim is to capture the excitement and daring of the action hero, in the context of a more feminine performance art that is both beautiful and spellbinding.

Here are some principal aerial acts:

Aerial hoop
Also known as ‘Cerceaux’ and ‘Lyra’, it’s basically a hula-hoop suspended in the air. It is usually made of steel. The act itself usually combines static and swinging trapeze skills with held poses and postures.

 A long piece of cloth with the centre suspended from above from the theatre rig. The act involves one or more performers in held postures, wraps and drops. They are also known as ‘Tissus’.

Cloud swing
 A cloud swing is an aerial apparatus that hangs in a V-shape with loops on each end fastened to mount points. Hand and foot loops are used for hand and foot dives. The act features static and swinging trapeze moves, including drops, dives, holds and rebound lifts. One variation is the ‘Mexican cloud swing’ whereby the artist uses their bodies to tie knots in the swing, rather than the loops.

Corde lisse
Basically, a smooth rope, often made from cotton about 25-30mm thick, with a loop on the top. Performers climb the rope to carry out postures, wraps and drops.

 This kit takes the form of a large rectangular frame, fixed or freestanding. A pair of artists are involved, the first being the catcher, and the second being the flyer. The catcher hangs by the knees from the frame, while the flyer swings holding on to the catcher’s hands. The flyer lets go at the top of the swing and is re-caught in mid air. The flyer usually starts and end standing on the frame above the catcher.

Russian swing
Rather like a playground swing, this has the seat is replaced by a platform, hanging from four solid arms. In the right hands, the Russian Swing can catapult a performer over 30 feet in the air.

Shoot-through ladder
This is a specialised piece of kit resembling a metal ladder turning around a central point. A trapeze replaces some of the rungs. A flyer balances the ladder, while a second performer does static or swinging trapeze skills on the trapeze bar. The trapeze flyer can swing or ‘shoot through’ the ladder.

Spanish web
 This is similar to the corde lisse, with extra loops for hands or feet. Performers can spin round in dramatic fashion. Assistants can turn the web, spinning the flyer.

 Straps, also known as ‘strops’ or ‘aerial ribbon, takes the form of two suspended narrow lengths of fabric. Artists slip their feet into the loops and the act involves balletic poses and postures done in the straps, along with dance moves performed on the floor away from the straps.

There are various types, but all trapezes comprise one or more suspended horizontal bars attached to an overhead point. The static trapeze is not used for swinging, and is positioned two metres off the ground. An act features poses, hangs, drops and rope skills. The swinging trapeze is higher. The flying trapeze is a double trapeze, involving leaps from one to the other – and strictly for the very advanced.