PORTLAND – Perched on a 3-foot-wide bar, suspended by ropes 10 feet above the gymnasium floor, Betsy Walker looked down.

“Find your way around the trapeze,” instructor Janette Hough-Fertig said. “So you’re sitting up there — take some time to think about what you would like to do.”

Cautiously, Walker, of Portland, shifted her weight and moved her left hand to the bar, crossing her right hand over to grasp the left-hand rope in an attempt to rotate her body. Hough-Fertig moved to spot Walker just before she dropped to the thick mat below.

“That turning is so hard,” Walker said.

“It’s all about balancing,” Hough-Fertig said.

The fall didn’t stop Walker from trying again on a lower bar.

Walker’s first experience with rotating dance trapezes took place at an aerial apparatus workshop with Hough-Fertig, founder of the Apparatus Dance Theater; and Sarah Huling, a Boston-based aerial silks instructor.

Each of the 17 participants Saturday paid $40 for classes in both the trapeze and aerial silks. Hough-Fertig normally teaches classes at the Acorn Studio Theater in Westbrook, but Saturday’s workshop for beginners was held in the Breakwater School.

Across the gymnasium, Huling demonstrated how to work with silks — thick swaths of fabric hanging from ceiling to floor.

June Roberts of Auburn wrapped her leg around the fabric and used her upper body to lift herself as if she were climbing a rope in gym class. She struggled to get two feet off the ground.

“I don’t think I have the upper body strength,” she said.

Said Huling: “It’s OK, guys, take your time. This is not something that comes natural.”

Huling explained that working with silks requires a lot of upper body and core strength. Roberts tried again, and did better as the morning went on.

Roberts had seen Cirque de Soleil perform with the Portland Symphony Orchestra last year and was entranced by the graceful aerial moves. When she heard about the workshop, she jumped at the chance to give it a try.

“I’m very excited,” Roberts said. “This is hard. … This is a challenge.”

Hough-Fertig has been doing aerial dance for almost 20 years. She has been teaching it for a dozen. She hopes to build a community in Maine for aerial apparatus performances. She hopes the workshops will help get that project off the ground.

“Certain things are hard, but gravity is helpful for teaching,” she said. “If you let go, you fall. Everybody keeps a good hand on the ropes.”

Hough-Fertig offered guidance to participants, but also encouraged them to play around. Experimenting with keeping one’s balance on the bars, transitioning from one position to another, is sometimes a quicker way to learn, she said.

And with all the laughter echoing through the gymnasium, it’s clear the group was having fun. A beaming smile crossed Roberts’ face as she flipped herself upside down, legs wrapped around the silk scarves, back supported by a knot in the fabric.

“It’s like being a kid,” she said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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