"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."

— widely attributed to Leonardo da Vinci

If you're looking for a form of exercise that's down to earth, this isn't it.

If you want a workout like you won't believe — largely focused on core muscles and upper-body strength — check out aerial dance, a suite of moves on trapeze and "silks," (long, silky ropes) that takes some learning and is FUN.

"It's a freestyle dance where you can be so creative, but you're off the ground! You can fly! It's so freeing. I was exhilarated," exclaims former professional ballet dancer Diane Horbacewicz, who leads an aerial dance class in Ashland.

In aerial dance, you twirl about on a dance trapeze (anchored by one point to the ceiling), a fixed trapeze (the familiar kind), a chandelier (think: a horizontal, circular trapeze) — and also an "aerial playground" consisting of a rock wall, dance wall (you bounce off it in rappelling gear), cloud swing (silks attached at both ends), bungee cords and other toys.

"It's incredible, physically. It tones the upper body. Look at the definition in my shoulders. It's from doing that," says Lorenzo SantaBarbara, owner of Le Cirque Center, where aerial dance is held Mondays from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Horbacewicz, 47, the creator of Ashland's Ecstatic Dance, teaches aerial dance to adults while SantaBarbara teaches children.

Teaching the forms — how to mount the trapeze, stand, hang by your knees, swoop around in circles — Horbacewicz makes it all look very easy, but the truth is that even a finely toned athlete like her has had to step up to the next level for aerial dance's demands.

It doesn't just work the abs, deltoids or trapezius — it immediately puts a total demand on the entire body, a little like what Tarzan had to endure. It induces a combination of glee that kids feel about climbing, they say, and mixes it with the terror of trying something entirely new and well off the ground (there are lots of mats on the floor).

"I felt like a kid — giddy," says 43-year-old Anastasia Gratsinopoulos, longtime fitness instructor at Ashland Family YMCA. "I have tons of bruises from it. It's a different dimension of working out, very different from doing the bench-press we all know well. You get to use all muscle groups at the same time — abdomen, back, arms — I was a little intimidated."

While aerial dancing can trigger fears about speed, height and performance, it's not dangerous (just challenging) and, says SantaBarbara, it builds vascular endurance along with upper-body strength.

It helps to remember that a long workout in aerial dancing is three minutes. If you give it all you've got, you'll be panting after that for many more minutes. But oddly, notes SantaBarbara, if you do it again the same day, your body will have acclimated to it and you won't be so out of breath.

The beauty of aerial dance, adds Horbacewicz, is that it's a form of "grace under pressure," a movement that "totally turns off my mind, so I'm in my body enjoying the movement.

"I don't feel overwhelmed," she says. "You learn it step by step and do what you can do. You get this new language in your body, and all of a sudden it's clicking, and you slowly gain strength to do more."

And that workout comes close to the highest-caliber ballet or figure skating in its beauty.

The aerial dance class on Monday evenings is limited to 15 people for safety. For more information call 541-552-0240 or e-mail diane@danceashland.com.