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Choose an Awesome Aerial Coach Instead of a Sucky One

How do you find a great aerial teacher? Nowadays, anyone can take a few classes, hang out their shingle, and call themselves an instructor; so how do you tell the difference between an awesome aerial coach and a sucky one? Well, Dear Danglers, that’s the question we’re diving into today.

What to Look For

Some things are non-negotiable, and some are purely matters of preference. In the non-negotiable camp:

  • A professional aerial career. If no one has ever been willing to pay your instructor to perform (sorry, gotta be candid here), chances are they’re not that good. Your instructor should have “been around the block” in the biz, and have several years of paid professional work under their belt. Would you trust a dentist who no one had ever hired? Nuff said. (*** there are rare exceptions to the rule – they’re easy to spot!)
  •  A good reputation as an instructor. Ask around! Most aerial coaches are more than happy to give you the names of several teachers they think are excellent, and tell you why.
  •  A low rate of incidents. “Incidents” refer to students falling, injuries, accidents, etc. Trust me when I say that you do not want an instructor whose students routinely drop out of the sky. While the occasional injury is an unavoidable part of any physical undertaking, if your class is “raining students,” find another teacher pronto.
  •  Rigging expertise. Look for an instructor who regularly takes the time to educate you about rigging. You need to understand what’s holding you in the air and why – your life depends on it.
  •  Emphasis on safety. Practice safe silks! You do NOT want an STD (Silk Trauma/Disaster). Your teacher should carefully explain how to wrap things. OK, I’ll stop now.
  • Insurance. Your teacher should be insured by a source recognized in the industry (example: ISERA). This shows a level of professional commitment, forethought, and common sense.

Now, in the “non-essential” category, here are a few things to consider:

  • Pricing in line with industry standards. There’s a place for bargain hunting, but your aerial class is not it. Quit being so danged cheap! If you have most instructors charging around $35 for a single class in NYC, and one is charging $20, this should send up a big red flag. Price makes a big statement about who you are and what your instruction is worth.
  • A large movement vocabulary. You want a teacher with lots to teach you. Or, train with several good coaches – this is a great way to expand your repetoire of moves and get different feedback.
  •  Chemistry. While technically not essential, you should have reasonably good chemistry with your instructor. Some may favor a driven task-master, some need a rah-rah coach, some like a super-technical teacher. Find someone who’s style fits with your personality.


What to Avoid Like the Plague

Well, pretty much the opposite of what I detailed above! Avoid inexperience – that teacher who’s only been studying for a year or two is NOT qualified to teach you. A poor reputation, cheap classes, students dropping like flies, all things to avoid like the plague.

Hope this helps! As always, if you liked this content, share it and add a comment below! Sign up here to get articles on aerial training delivered straight to your inbox each week.

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19 comments on “Choose an Awesome Aerial Coach Instead of a Sucky One”

  1. Kyla Reply

    Great post! Too many students forget to pay attention to safety and rigging, which, in my mind, is more important than any trick he or she may learn. I hope a good instructor will incorporate information about safety and rigging in his/her lessons to make students as safe as possible.

  2. Ludwig Reply

    Nice blog about choosing an instructor.
    Regarding instructors teaching their students about rigging.
    I produce a portable aerial rig.
    It has been scary how little some aerialist, requesting to buy a rig, know about rigging.
    Even ones that claim to be performing professionals.
    Sometimes they know so little about rigging, some even sound totally clueless, that I am quite reluctant to sell them a rig. Fearing that they will screw up the set-up or safety checks.

    I fully agree that a good instructor knows all about rigging equipment and that they train their students to be knowledgeable about rigging as well.

    Thanks for the blog.


  3. Lewitwer Reply

    Thanks Kyla and Ludwig! I couldn’t agree more on the importance of rigging instruction. So many aerialists blindly trust others to rig for them, don’t ask questions, and don’t care to understand the mechanics of what’s keeping them in the air. I know it’s a problem when I go into a venue, look at a really poorly rigged point, and am told, “Well, no other aerialists have ever had a problem with it.” (???!!!!) Rigging, inspecting your equipment, and learning to recognize when you need to bring in a professional is so essential. Thanks so much for the feedback – much appreciated!

  4. T Reply

    One thing I would like to add (in a more eloquent way than I can come up with) is a teacher who understands the bounderies of body contact. When I’m spotting a student, I make them aware that I will obviously try to avoid touching all uncomfortable situation spots, but if they’re in danger or falling, I will do all I can to prevent a major/fatal injury. Also having said that, I think teachers should also create a very seperate line for the amount of appropriate body contact when teaching versus outside of class, so no student feels uncomfortable.

  5. Lewitwer Reply

    Absolutely T! I can think immediately of an instructor here in NYC who had inappropriate “touchy” boundaries with his students, both in and out of class. If contact with your teacher leaves you feeling icky, find a new instructor!

  6. Mary Reply

    Another curiosity question on this 🙂 If a person has no desire to perform, but yet they are able to get to a highly advanced level through their training, what is the industry’s opposition to that person teaching? I don’t see why a performer shoud be considered more qualified to teach students and a non-performer not being as qualified to teach students if they have the same skill level, endurance level and fitness certifications/ knowledge… Especially since most people who desire to perform do so for the opportunity to express their own personal creativity and “SHOW” the art form… and most instructors desire to teach so they can GROW the artform by helping others learn it, build confidence, get healthy and fit and achieve their goals. I was just curious about this topic 🙂 I’m just trying to soak it all in and learn as much as I can from whom ever is willing to share information with me 🙂 Thank you again! 🙂 Love all these blogs!! Great food for thought and golden opportunity to ask questions and get input from such an experienced and respected aerialist!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Good question, Mary! I don’t disagree with you. If not performing is a personal choice, I’m totally good with that. BUT, I personally wouldn’t train with that teacher if performing was a goal of mine. Circus is a performing art, like ballet. We create and rehearse with the idea that one day we will be performing our work in front of an audience. There’s a lot more to performing in front of people than just showing up and doing your piece – layer upon layer of theatrical and choreographical decisions, creative structure and editing, performer etiquette, understanding the psychology of your audience, etc. If someone is teaching a fitness-oriented circus class and is qualified to do so, awesome! That instructor will match up beautifully with students who want exactly that (though it has been my experience that once students reach a level of proficiency, they really want to strut their stuff in front of a crowd – and who can blame them? 😉 ). Hope that answers your question! 🙂

  7. Mary Reply

    Yes, that was a great way of understanding the industry better. In one of your blogs, you talked about the “goals”. My goal is to ONE day give others the opportunity to earn this beautiful art. I would LOVE to perform, but since I am by myself here in this town, I don’t have the slightest clue on how ot market myself, insurance and liability concerns, safety of the rig points in different locations, how much to charge, etc. Not that I am ready to perform now at all, but one day I would of course love to do this. Not having a mentor to walk you through the process of putting together a routine that looks polished and pleasing to watch and teaching you about the differnt set of concerns that go along with performing, that makes it tough, I was just curious if ONE day I happen to get good enough to teach, would it hinder me in a major way or be looked down upon in the industry. GREAT information and now I have a much better understanding of what you were explaining in the blog. i totally understand the logic now 🙂 🙂

  8. Kathy Reply

    I had a circus teacher who would go to her own “advanced” class, learn new moves, and then come back and teach them to her students. She would have to refer to notes to remember which way to wrap things, and more than once left me hanging as she tried to figure out how to configure the wrap from the opposite orientation (standing watching me vs. doing it herself). It was horrifying, and I’m embarrassed to even admit that I finished out the classes I’d pre-paid for. She’s now founded her own “circus school” for kids. OMG

  9. ohwell Reply

    ^to Kathy’s comment above and to this article…There’s a teacher, locally, who teaches DROPS to newbies during their first/second aerial class (!) Basically, once the person can (barely) climb and invert she immediately teaches all kinds of drops to people, some of whom are very horrified, including adults, kids and teens. Kids usually don’t get scared that much since they often don’t have the capacity to grasp the consequences of a bad fall. This person has high personal incident rate (within two months, one fall from incorrectly wrapped drop + broken bones, and another broken bone from performing a trick without conditioning/preparation; also, using one damaged carabineer for rigging). She’s very pushy in terms of making unwilling people to perform drops and very quick and sloppy in terms of explaining the wraps/giving no time to memorize them. Unfortunate Kamikaze drop case comes to mind. Speaking about horrible…Teachers should demonstrate some basic skills, including safety, rigging, and injury prevention test, just like trainers in most gyms have to have some kind of certification, including working with previously injured people/rehab. From all the injuries, especially tendonitis, I’ve seen caused by negligent, ignorant coaches, there’s a need for this…there should be some basic professionalism requirement. I can’t believe some people teach kids.

    • ohwell Reply

      PS: and when this individual recently got a job teaching kids, do you think the true causes of broken bones had been disclosed to the facility owners? Of course not. Also, this person does regular “teaching” practice on a rig that had been deemed, by more than one person, unstable/unsafe/having structural problems–you should see the shaking as this thing is ready to fall apart. Not to mention teaching double drops off very low height with people nearly hitting ground. NO MATS/crash pads while teaching drops to newbies, yes, 1s/2nd aerial class! This person also does not know the difference between aluminum and steel hardware. One has to be careful choosing a teacher! The thing is: for a person new to circus, it’s really hard to make this evaluation. My personal advice–to add to the article–is to watch for these things: 1) good aerial teacher will make you climb your silk/rope a lot at the start of the lesson–this is a great warmup, this increases silk endurance and is good for injury prevention/rehab 2) will not make you do drops too soon, and if they see you being uncomfortable with a trck WILL NOT push you towards completion of it and will recognize you need more conditioning or other preparation or spotting 3) put heavy emphasis on conditioning exercises and will request you do them at home as well (leg raises, inverts or straddle ups, pullups, one armed hangs, scapula pullups, etc, etc) 4) will ask you about previous injuries, “shoulder issues”, etc, when you start to identify your potential problem areas 5) will be willing and eager to explain safety of their rigging, materials used–will be able to know the difference between properties of aluminum and steel carabiners–properties of rock climbing ropes if they’re used (static vs. dynamic)–was the rigging point certified/inspected by a qualified person? (rigger, civil engineer, contractor, etc)–estimated breaking load on rigging point (2 ton minimum is a good way to start and 1:20 safety ratio). 6) Adequate, THICK, mats/crashpads are in place for drop practice and in general teacher makes sure all people have mats under them during any training. Just few things to begin with. Broken neck or head isn’t worth it.

  10. Kit Reply

    I’m interested in your perspective on this as an aerial instructor. When considering aerial classes, in addition to looking for a coach that is good at teaching technique, what is standard/ideal class structure? For example, I’ve had classes where there are:
    • 4 students/1 coach/1 hour/1 silk: teacher worked independently with each student on their level
    • 12 students/1 coach/2 hours/2 silks: teacher worked independently with each student on their level
    • 12 students/2 coaches/1 hour/4 silks, 2 trapeze: teachers would assist one student at the time on same sequence, while other students took turns practicing on their own
    • 15 students/1 coach/1 hour/2 silks, 2 lyra, 2 hammock: each student had 1 chance to do the same sequence on each apparatus, and the rest of the time we had to complete a list of conditioning
    I guess I’m curious how aerial instructor decide on class structure. I feel that structure inevitable also plays a role in learning. Is it just personal preference and financial considerations, or is there an ideal class structure for optimal learning? Are there any red flags that any of these classes are not structured correctly? Or is there no right answer, and it is just different learning styles based on performance/fitness goals and training level? Thx.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      No right answer! Depends on who the teacher is, who the students are, why they’re coming, etc. I do think each class should have: a warm-up, conditioning, and vocabulary/technique building, but beyond that it’s wide open!

  11. Amy Reply

    Is there a certain certification for Aerial Silks? Do you recommend any for instructors?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Hi Amy! There are no official certifications for aerial silks instructors. That said, it’s always great if a teacher has taken an aerial teacher training course and/or have additional certifications like Pilates or personal training.

  12. Bella Reply

    So I’ve been training for a year with several different teachers, and while they’re amateurs themselves (two of them are actually going to professional school in the fall!) I’ve never felt unsafe with them and leaned so much with them. I do live in a small town where that’s what’s available, but that’s worked for me, and the awesome community of people surrounding my studio 🙂

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