The bruises and burns I get on my hand from hanging on ropes and ribbons in the sky are more like medals to me than discomfort. Having trained in rope mallakhamb from the age of five, I’ve gotten used to them now. I now coach five to 45 year olds on how to perform aerial silk, and have even taught people as old as 75. My greatest achievement has been winning the Shri Shiva Chatrapati Award at 21, but my most favourite thing to do now after my classes are done is to take a long, cold shower, and change into my comfy shorts.
Aerial silk is a performance art, which involves a perpendicular suspension of tissue or fabric on which one or more people perform aerial acrobatics. It’s an art form that I’ve always loved, and I love coaching others too. I think I’ve learnt to fly before I walked. The happiness I get from erasing peoples’ fears about hanging in the air is incredible. The teams that I coach in my academy Fly High (in Mumbai) are now themselves taking part in national level competitions, besides performing in London, USA, Germany etc.
But aerial silk is also not something to fool around with. Your mind can’t be at two places when you’re floating and twisting in the air. The most important thing to take care of in these classes is safety, mobility and flexibility. So the costume is a very important aspect of performing. One needs to be dressed fittingly to minimise injuries. Clothing is limited to leotards, cotton shirts and leggings, and tights. Designers generally make costumes for performances, and the best thing to perform in? Jumpsuits and leotards. Spandex is the primary material in these clothes because it’s the best for elasticity. Since it’s an acrobatic sport, one would tend to sweat a lot in these clothes, which is terrible during the summer. For other things like workshops, practices and classes, I stick to my own clothes, which are made of the same material.
For a recent performance, we had gotten jumpsuits stitched, with a dhoti, but it was all sewn together and the dhoti was strapped at the performers’ ankles, because we couldn’t have the dhoti fluttering around our legs. It was a performance on Shiva, and hence the dhotis. Our costumes change based on this. I also don’t accessorise much with performances, because they would just get in the way and could make one lose focus or grip. One risky knot could lead to a very bad fall. Staying in such costumes for an extended period of time in the Mumbai heat is a lot to take, but I love my work so much that I can ignore the hassle. I’ve also gotten used to it over the years.
A lot of times, during my classes, I wish I could change and wear shorts. Which is why it makes it all the more better when I go home after a good, productive day —- I can change out of it and just cool down. Since I don’t get to wear other clothes very often, when I do wear dresses and denims everyone comments on how different it is to see me in normal clothes. I’m not a very fussy dresser otherwise. I don’t accessorise much, that’s not my thing. My favourite thing to wear is shorts and a light T-shirt. I seldom wear ethnic clothes — I save those for traditional occasions and functions.
Even though aerial silk requires us to wear leotards, quite a lot of people who watch the performances, displays and workshops do pass comments saying that the girls should be more covered up. This ticks me off a little because it’s not that they’re trying to make a fashion statement; they’re doing it for the sport and for their safety. Which is what I tell them when I overhear things like this. I’ve never faced any such pressure from my family at all, considering that I was trained by my father, Uday Deshpande. My in-laws are very accommodative too, as is my husband. They sometimes ask about whether I could cover up more and perform, but that’s to reduce the bruises and scars I tend to get.
Performing and coaching are things I love from the bottom of my heart, and clothes be damned, I’ll continue doing it for as long as I can.