Yelmites Elaina Brainard, 14, and Bailey Sowers, 15, have been busy.
Together, they form the Wings Aerial Acrobatics aerialist duo and have been performing at most of the recent festivals in the area, including at Rainier Round Up Days and Yelm Prairie Days last weekend.
They hang from 21-foot silks, doing flips and twists along the long, smooth fabric, as well as performing on a hanging hoop, or lyra, and on what is called an aerial hammock.
After doing competitive gymnastics for a year when she was 10, Elaina began traveling around Colorado as part of Salida Circus when she was 11.
Among the jugglers and other acts, Elaina said she would perform at corporate events, fairs, festivals, block parties and private events.
“It was fun,” Elaina said.“I performed for free most of that time and then I started getting paid toward the end.”
She added that doing festivals is actually harder than the circus was, based on there being less time between routines.
When the military took Elaina’s family to Yelm a little over a year ago, she met duo partner Bailey, who happens to be the daughter of Elaina’s landlord. Bailey has been a competitive gymnast since she was 9 years old.
“I started teaching her aerial,” Elaina said. “She has a warehouse, which is like 25 feet (tall), so we (practice) directly from there. It’s just been going ever since.”
Bailey already had an interest in doing aerial thanks to a former gymnastics coach’s participation in the discipline, so Elaina’s arrival in Yelm helped her fulfill her wish.
“I think I’ve progressed a lot in the past year,” Bailey said. “I’ve always wanted to do aerial (arts), so when Elaina moved here, it was really exciting for me because I got to finally learn it. … I like showing everybody what I can do, because it’s not something you can see every day.”
Elaina said Bailey has exceeded her expectations in the past year and teaching her has ignited an interest in coaching, a pursuit she is now completing as an assistant coach at Spanaway’s Akasha Aerial Arts.
Elaina said she felt like aerial is a sport more than anything else, and gymnast Bailey agreed.
“Aerial takes a lot of upper-body strength, a lot of shoulders, a lot of time,” Bailey said. “It also takes patience and pain tolerance. It hurts.”
The aerial hoop is the most painful of the disciplines, Elaina said. It’s a solid steel bar and a performer completes many moves that require impacts on that bar. Those acts often leave bruises. This makes the hoop the most difficult to perform tricks on, Elaina said.
“Like, on one trick, I fall onto my knees and then I do a backflip off the hoop, and I twist midair during the backflip, and I regrab at the bottom,” Elaina said. “I would say that’s probably one of my most difficult tricks, because if you don’t get the timing right, you just fall right on your back, or head.”
Bailey’s most difficult trick is also on the hoop.
“My hardest thing is probably my drop,” Bailey said. “I (start) on the top of the hoop, and then I let go and catch on the bottom of the hoop.”
When hanging from the silks, Elaina said her favorite trick is the “pencil drop.”
“You kind of start in like a star, and then you straighten out and you roll down the silks really quickly,” Elaina said. “You roll all the way to the bottom, like in a straight body.”
Yet doing a discipline like aerial comes with its own set of challenges.
“I actually got stuck in a knot on the aerial hammock,” Elaina recalled of a recent incident. “I actually tied a knot and was stuck in it, so they had to lower me down so they could untie me. With silks and hammock you get stuck a lot, at least I do. You’re trying to create tricks and you just end up in a knot and you have to try to untie it while holding yourself up.”
And holding oneself up takes a great deal of strength, a fact that Bailey is no stranger to thanks to her gymnastics career.
“Both gymnastics and aerial take a lot of work and body strength,” she said. “Gymnastics takes a lot of lower body strength, as compared to aerial, which takes a lot of upper body strength. They are similar in the flexibility required.”
Ultimately, Elaina and Bailey said they just like to leave an impact on people’s lives.
“Aerial, in itself, is really rewarding, especially when you are performing, you see people enjoying it,” Elaina said after she and Bailey displayed their talent to the Nisqually Valley News. “You train so much. It’s really hard and it takes a lot out of you. Making people happy (is) really rewarding.”