Faculty Feature: Sheena Hilton Takes On Aerial Acrobatics

Initially, it was her interest in extreme sports, like skydiving, that spurred Sheena Hilton, Instructor in Chemistry, to begin taking trapeze lessons about a year ago. But after learning her first move, the knee-hang, Hilton discovered that flying trapeze was truly a form of artistic expression.

A year later, Hilton still continues to take lessons. Since her introduction to flying trapeze, Hilton has flown to practice routines in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.

In May 2013, Hilton decided to expand her repertoire and began to take aerial silks lessons. Silks is a type of aerial acrobatics performed by artists hanging from a special fabric. Drawn by the notion of simultaneously building strength and grace, Hilton became captivated by silks—even more so than trapeze.

“Silks [have] become my main hobby, while trapeze has sort of taken the back seat. They’ve flip-flopped, and I’m glad that happened. [With silks], there’s more of a long-term goal. You can work towards a routine,” said Hilton.

She continued, “I like silks because it’s so different from what I do on a daily basis. It has that avenue for expression, and it incorporates the idea that I really like of ‘being strong.’ Pure strength is just something I want… to be able to do pull-ups and all of that. Silks make strength beautiful—it’s strength and flexibility and this artistry all combined with the fabric. It just makes it really beautiful, whereas sometimes I think strength, particularly in women, is not appreciated, and it’s something that can be seen as beautiful.”

“For me, it is much easier to express myself in silks than it is in trapeze. When I hear a song that’s meaningful to me, I often think, ‘could I do a silks routine to that?’ Right now I have a long list of potential silks songs that would take me a lifetime to get through!” Hilton added.

Currently, Hilton is working on a routine that she choreographed to Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work.”

Describing the song as both pretty and sad, Hilton said that she knew she wanted to choreograph a routine to this song from the moment she began to take silks lessons. Hilton’s brother sang the song at her aunt’s funeral, giving it sentimental value.

“The song really molded my perspective on the routine. It was actually therapeutic to choreograph a routine to it. I would listen to the song a lot, and I would say, ‘This move would fit so well with this part of the song.’ For example, I’m going to end the routine curled up in a ball, because the last words of the song are ‘just make it go away,’” said Hilton.

Silks and trapeze have also benefited Hilton in her role as a teacher at Andover.

“It’s good to be on the other side of things, particularly in something that is not my area of expertise. Being a student in something that is so foreign from what I do on a daily basis reminds me of what it’s like for students in my chemistry class, whose favorite thing in the world might not be chemistry,” she said.

Hilton believes that practicing trapeze and silks is a good way of alleviating stress and spending quality time with friends.

“I used to say last year that I was so stressed that I needed to start jumping off of things. [Trapeze and silks are] just so different from what people do here that it takes you out of your zone and you’re really focused on doing whatever trick that you forget about what’s going on,” Hilton joked.

She added, “I wish that more people would want to go, because it’s fun to have someone else with you. In fact, when I went to trapeze in Los Angeles, I took my roommate from Andover. It’s nice to share something that you love with other people.”

In addition to perfecting the execution of her silks routine, Hilton has set one other athletic goal as she continues to pursue extreme sports.

“One day, I would love to train for American Ninja Warrior,” she said, laughing.