Rope acrobatics has gained traction in recent years as an up and coming, unparalleled style of aerial acrobatics seen in popular world-wide shows such as Cirque du Soleil.

Aerial Rope: What Is Rope Acrobatics?

Mostly known as a circus act, rope acrobatics is where performers combine postures and movements to create what seems like a gravity-defying routine on a single hanging rope.

Also known as corde lisse, or ‘smooth rope’ in French, this type of acrobatics is practiced around the world by performers seeking to impress their audience. 

What appears to be a regular rope is actually a web, a rope-like apparatus made of soft cotton, which makes the activity easier on the athlete’s hands than a traditional rope.

Corde lisse traditionally features one performer on the rope at a time, but sometimes two people will perform an act on the same web. 

Corde lisse is a popular form of acrobatics in traveling shows such as Cirque du Soleil. There is also an abundance of circus and aerial arts schools that offer training in rope acrobatics, such as the National Institute of Circus Arts

Is Rope Acrobatics Similar to Silk Acrobatics?

Although very similar to silk acrobatics – where performers use two long strands of fabric to climb and do holds or drops, corde lisse is different in that there is only one piece of web (the cotton, rope-like apparatus) that acrobats use, making the feat more challenging. 

The web is made with a loop on one end that is woven in, with some having a metal reinforcing core for added strength.

This loop is used as a secure fastening point to attach the apparatus to a mounting point on the ceiling.  The technique of splicing rope to create a loop began with Spanish Web performers as early as the 1300s!

Get Started with Corde Lisse as a Beginner

You can get started to become a rope acrobatics performer by joining the circus school near you, simply do a quick Google Search and you will see some.

If you are worrying about the age limit or too old to start, that’s totally okay! Many of these training program have courses for all aged, and you can even participating the program while having a day job.

Above anything, you will get trained for a strong foundational level of strength, especially in your core and arm muscles, is the most important component for rope acrobatics.

Since there is no safety harness and only a mat underneath the rope to cushion a fall, having the strength to hold your body off the ground for extended periods of time is the biggest challenge performers face and this is before even attempting any dangerous moves.  

The Basic Moves for Beginners

Below are a few basic training moves for beginners to get comfortable with the rope and also to get better core strength before getting into the more advanced skills (video above). Many of these are similar to silk acrobatics.

  1. Rope Climb

With your hands firmly secured, bend your knees and wrap the rope around one foot, using the second foot to hold the rope steady against the top of your base one. Use the foothold as a foundation to help move your hands up the rope, straightening your legs and re-adjusting the foothold as you move up. You can also use the foothold to safely make your way back to the ground.

  1. Gaining momentum 

With a strong grip on the rope and your feet off the ground, you can practice swinging your legs back and forth to get used to the momentum needed to carry out more complex tricks. By getting used to the feel of swinging on the rope, your body will be more familiar with the movement once you want to try spins or flips.  

  1. Sideways holds

Once you become more comfortable on the rope, you can begin experimenting with static holds. Holding your arms out in a T shape, bend at the waist so your wingspan is parallel to the rope. Grab the rope with each hand, allowing it to run straight behind your head. Engaging your shoulders and upper body, try to straighten one leg out perpendicular to the rope, followed by the other. 

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