Junior Sama Rao swings from a silk. Photo Courtesy of Sama Rao.

Palo Alto High School Junior Sama Rao relies on nothing but a piece of cloth to support her weight as she hangs in the air. Rao is an aerial silks gymnast, which requires her to be suspended up high with nothing but a piece of silk holding her up.

Rao began going to a circus camp when she was 10 years old. She started with ropes and continued practicing aerial skills at Camp Winnarainbow, a circus and performing arts camp in Mendocino County. At Camp Winnarainbow, campers can take classes in many circus aspects like tightrope, trapeze and juggling.

“In eighth grade, I decided I wanted to do it outside of camp,” Rao says. Once Rao began doing ropes outside of camps she saw other kinds of aerial skills and realized she wanted to try silks.

Silks is a circus art where a performer does drops and falls,  moving into  different poses with the aid of a piece of silk. There are horizontal and vertical wraps that vary in their difficulty level.

“I like silks a lot more because even if you aren’t graceful, it looks a lot more graceful,” Rao says. “It looks beautiful.”

Rao does silks at San Francisco Circus Center and Trapeze Arts in Oakland.

However, because of the time commitment that going to San Francisco and Oakland takes, Rao has little time to manage training and schoolwork.

“For the past two years, I went every other weekend,” Rao says. “This year I’ve gone once or twice because of homework.”

Although Rao is too old to go to Camp Winnarainbow as a camper, she continues to  go as a counselor in training.

“Teaching other people how much fun they can have is part of the reason I love it,” Rao says. By teaching other kids about aerial silks, Rao is able to pass on her passion for silks.

“I really like the adrenaline rush,” Rao says. “Because when you are at the top of the silks and you fall, you know nothing bad will happen.”