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Author Archives: Lewitwer

Should You Go to Circus School?

Blue Trapezium EditSeptember is here, friends, and with it, the start of a new school year! Even though I haven’t seen the inside of a formal classroom since Methuselah was a boy, there’s something about September that makes me want to buy a pencil box and enroll in something. It might just be me, but judging by the uptick in my classes each September, I suspect I’m not alone.

Many of you have written with questions about whether you really need a structured program if you want to pursue circus professionally, or if you can design your own curriculum and still get ahead. Not surprisingly, much like circus, there’s a lot of room for flexibility (HA! Did you see what I did there?) and creativity.


“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.”

– Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”


It Depends on What You Want to Do

When you picture yourself performing in that far-off future, what do you see? Are you twirling on fabric in all your spangled glory for a corporate event? Are you in street clothes and performing with 7 Fingers or Eloize? Are you busking on a sidewalk in France? Swallowing swords on Coney Island? Teaching and running a successful aerial fitness studio? Touring Asia with Cirque du Soleil? Each of these avenues can unfold in ONE career, if that’s something you want. Only interested in corporates? Sweet – you have a niche! Are you more sideshow than side split? Break out the bed of nails. There IS no correct path to becoming a circus artist (it ain’t med school) – you’ve got options.

What Are My Circus Education Options?

  • Circus “College”
  • Pro-track Program
  • Choose Your Own Adventure

 

Cirque Face B&WCircus College

When most of us think of “circus college”, we think of structured 3-4 year programs, similar to regular college, but with a lot more sweat, sequins, and physical therapy. In this type of program, your first year is usually spent learning everything from hand balancing to trapeze to unicycle, the goal being to a) help you determine a specialty and b) create a strong multi-skill base, resulting in artists with tremendous range (ex: a trapeze artist who juggles, tumbles, does lyra, silks, and a bit of contortion).

Example of Circus College – Ecole Nationale de Cirque

This is a great option if you are at the early end of your career, and hope to join up with established circus companies (or create your own). For a great example ensemble work beyond the biggies (Soleil, Eloize, 7 Fingers, etc.), check out Flip Fabrique – that’s a cast of 6, not 40.
 

 

Pro-track Program

Pro-track programs are usually 1-3 years, and are a popular choice, offering intense, focused training in a variety of disciplines. They are generally more flexible than “circus college” tracks, and a fantastic option for many students.

Examples of Pro-Track Programs – NECCA Professional Circus Performance Training Programs, Aloft Full Time Training Program

A Pro-Track program is a great option if you’re at the beginning of your career (or looking to reinvent your work), and hoping to join ensemble shows, corporate performance, or pursue circus education as a career.

Choose Your Own Adventure

The world is your oyster, friend! I knew – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that I wanted to be a fabric artist (this was back in the olden days before everyone was a fabric artist). I didn’t want to learn flying trapeze, unicycle, juggling, tumbling, none of it – I  wanted to do fabrics fabrics fabrics. ** So, I worked privately with top coaches in Montreal, and did exactly that!

When you choose your own adventure, you put together your own curriculum, perfectly suited to your interests and goals. The downside? You don’t know what you don’t know (ex: should I have theatrical training?), perhaps don’t have access to the top instructors in each area, and this type of training can cost more than a program, depending on where you are. It’s also easy to get side-tracked, and discouraged about your training, especially if you’re surrounded by recreational folk. The upside is that you get to do exactly what you want to do, it may take less time, and you can fit training around a full-time job, or a traditional college.

This is a great option for people starting a little later, working around a job, school, or family, performers looking to add only one or two skills to their repertoire, or pursuing skills that fall outside the common circus curriculum (fire, for example).

Examples of Choose Your Own Adventure – training with ME (or your local aerial/circus studio), traveling for intensives and workshops, supplementing with dance and theater classes, business classes, specialty skills workshops and courses like Sideshow School.

** Side note – the days of only having one act are long gone (in fact, they only lasted a brief moment). If you really want to work, make sure you have an aerial act AND a floor act. Two aerial acts (with flexibility on additional apparatus) can work in a pinch, but I wound up with the career I had only because I teamed up with my better half (Angela Attia) and we could provide two double acts and additional solos between us.

 

In closing, there’s no one path to becoming a circus artist. In fact, the skills are only 50% of the equation (yep – you heard me right). The rest is sheer hustle, business savvy, people skills, and creativity. BUT, hopefully this helps you get a sense of your options – a program or school is a great option for some, but certainly not the only way. Brainstorm your options, evaluate your resources, and see what is the best fit for YOU! Love and pull-ups, Laura

Recommended reading: “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau
 
 

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Help Us Save Circus in NYC!

the museIn addition to the usual questions I get asked (“Why do you look mad?” – I have resting grumpy face. “What’s that smell?” – I’m trying out the hippie crystal rock deodorant like I do every summer. And it’s not working, the way it doesn’t every summer. “Why do you have that sharp knife and a murderous look in your eyes?” – because you have interrupted my watching of “Sherlock” and my Benedict Cumberbatch fantasy. RUN.), I am asked one thing above all else: “Why don’t you open your own space?” (deep breath) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (more breath) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Well, Why DON’T You Open Your Own Space?

In NYC?! Are you crazy? Here’s why: it’s insane. It’s an insane amount of money, an insane amount of paperwork, an insane (and never ending) amount of bureaucracy, an insane amount of insurance, an insane amount of organization and administration, the list goes on and on. When a person or company takes that on, they are …. insane? OR – utterly dedicated, amazing, tireless, and deserving of our support, love, and admiration – because that sh*t is hard.

What’s Happening Now?

It should be no secret that opening any business – especially a circus business – is tough going in NYC, even for company veterans. The number of permits, initial outlay, insurance at a time when only one company will TOUCH the five boroughs of NY, staffing, and more, makes this daunting for the most stalwart businessmen. But, in Brooklyn NY, a small group of die-hard circus folks have tried to “plant” some circus, and it’s up to us to help them grow.

The Muse has been a circus home for dozens of artists, a safe place to learn everything from aerial arts to acro, and a supportive community for all of us. After they were put out of their old studio by a big magazine (thanks, gentrification), they found a new home a bit further out in Brooklyn. But, they’ve hit on a bureaucratic snag! Read their statement below.


Hello, beautiful circus community,

Thank you! The outpouring of questions and concerns we have been receiving about the Muse warms our hearts. We know that everyone has questions and though we would love to address all of you individually, it seems easiest to answer collectively.

The Muse was unexpectedly hit this weekend with an exceptionally expensive amount of permits and space upgrades. These are all things that were in process previously. However, what we thought we had months to make happen now has to happen in a matter of days.  The Muse was not prepared for this expedited process, and if we do not come up with the funding in time the city will close our doors.

We are now trying to raise $15,000 in the next 20 days to save our circus home.  Support in this time of crisis is greatly appreciated.


 

Be the change you want to see. We cannot wait for someone else to do this. If we want circus in NY, we have to support it – not just with our lips, but with our hearts, our bodies, and our pocketbook. Do you think “supporting the arts” is for folks with ALL the moolah? Nope! It’s for you and me. So, here’s what you can do to support circus TODAY!

Action Steps!

If you’re a circus person in NYC, buy a one year training pass for $1000 – that’s less than $20 PER WEEK! If you train in New York, you know how good a deal that is.

Spread the word – share this blog post on your social media network, with your friends, absolutely everywhere you can think of.

Pay what you can. $5? $10? $20?

Go see some amazing circus at the House of Yes on Aug 24th & 25th! Honestly – it’s worth going just so you can take a selfie in one of the bejeweled bathrooms! Click here to snag a night of glitter and awesomeness. 

If we all pull together, we can make a difference! If we want our community to expand, flourish, and continue to be a place where we learn, shine, grow, and teach, WE have to make it happen. I’m thankful every day that people are crazy enough to plant circus in New York. <3 Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

 

Aerial Rigging – What You Don’t Know Could Kill You

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Laura and Angela with a big old bunch of biners!

Aaaaand we’re back to the aerial teaching thread! (Did you miss the first few posts? Catch up! Click here and here. )

Today friends, we’re chatting about what EVERY aerial instructor (and student, for that matter) should know about aerial rigging. I quite genuinely don’t care if you “only teach for XYZ Studio and they handle all of the rigging” – you have a responsibility to yourself and your students to know the basics. See a hole in your knowledge (or your fabrics)? Fix it pronto!

Rigging Basics

As a coach, you should be able to:

  • Identify equipment & it’s proper use.
    • It’s not enough to know the name of your apparatus (and, for the record, tissu is the curtain you climb, tissue is what you blow your nose with).
    • You should know the industry terms for ALL your equipment (shackles, carabiner, span set, swivel, rescue 8, etc.).
    • You should understand how each piece was designed to be used (including contraindications), and be able to select the “right tool for the job”.
  • Understand common rigging terms such as bridle, basket, choke, etc.
  • Tie common knots such as the bowline, figure 8 loop, and clove hitch.
  • Maintain & inspect equipment, and keep a rigging inspection log.
  • Have written standards in place for retiring equipment.
  • Understand of how shock loads in dynamic movement affect the body & rigging (ex: are you teaching a drop to double ankle hang from a dead hung rig on a low-stretch fabric? It’s back to basics for you, m’dear!)
  • Explain clearly and concisely why we do not rig and teach from trees. 
  • Teach your students about what they’re hanging from. Take every opportunity to educate your behbehs on equipment inspection, hardware, angles, knots, etc.

 

Now – if I walked into your studio and asked you, or the instructors that work for you, any of the above questions, would we have an awkward moment? From some of the conversations I occasionally have, my guess is yes…. But, it doesn’t have to be this way, friends!

Closing the Gaps in Your Aerial Rigging Knowledge

So, you’re not rock solid in a few areas (or more than a few). What do you do?

  • Become a pro-active sponge. Be relentless in your pursuit of rigging knowledge, and take gaps in your understanding seriously. DON’T be an idiot and pretend that you know more than you do – that’s how people get hurt. Not sure what you don’t know? Then….
  • Take a workshop. Brett Copes, Jonathan Deull, and many other EXCELLENT aerial riggers have started offering fantastic workshops for aerialists. If they come anywhere near you, run to sign up – they’re worth every penny and more.
  • Hit the books! Here are some of my favorites.
  • Get up close and personal with a rigger.
    • If you’re on an event with a professional rigger doing your set-up, ask them to walk you through the rig (they will probably offer anyway). Don’t be afraid to politely ask questions! In ye days of olde, when I was on tour, we had some phenomenal riggers (Tracy Nunnaly and Bill Auld) who not only answered all our questions, but went WAY out of their way to educate us about everything from angles to equipment.
    • Schedule a private lesson. Many riggers will teach a one-on-one or group session in basic rigging for a very reasonable fee.
    • Cultivate a good relationship with several excellent aerial riggers – you should have at least two on speed dial.
  • Scour the interwebs. You can find a number of great resources! A few of my favorites include:
  • Be more social. The Safety in Aerial Arts FaceBook group is a great place to read up on best practices, ask questions (please search before you ask – you’re probably not the first person to have your question), and connect with top riggers in the industry.
  • Have a regular rigging training/refresher for your instructors. Invite Brett or Jonathan to do a rigging workshop in your space, and/or hire a certified rigger to come in once a year to a) do an inspection of your space and b) make sure all your instructors have a solid understanding of what’s keeping everyone in the air.

 

Rigging is kind of important (!!!), but green instructors often consider it peripheral – preferring to focus on trick-collecting and pointy toes. You can’t see me right now, but I have on my serious “Laura Means Business” face. RIGGING IS NOT PERIPHERAL KNOWLEDGE, IT IS ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE. 

Your mission for this week? Pick out one thing above and order it, sign up for it, learn it, do it, schedule it, juggle it, etc. I’m going to brush up my knots an make sure they’re still tight and right. What are YOU going to focus on? Do you have a favorite resource I didn’t mention? Comment below! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

  

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Surviving Summer Circus

A bridge too farAs a former southern lady, I do not sweat, I glisten. As a circus performer, I sparkle, and swear like a sailor when the fabric gets too friendly, the bar gets caught in my armpit, or the hoop slides right into my hoo-hah. CIRCUS! Circus comes with it’s own set of challenges when the weather gets warm, and if you want to avoid looking like an electrocuted squirrel, you might want to anticipate some of them.

Feindish Fabrics

First, hold your nose. Fabrics get universally whiffy during summer, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dirty (mine stay April fresh for 24 hours, then revert to wet dog and armpit, even with no one on them). Unless you see fumes coming off them, put a clothespin to good use and get climbing.

Friction will be your worst enemy when the weather gets steamy. Humidity makes fabrics so, so sticky, and fabric burns flourish. How to make it work:

  • Cover up! No matter how hot, cover that bod unless you want to leave a lot of skin on the apparatus. (Please note: I do NOT want you to leave a lot of skin on the apparatus. That is gross. Cover up.) Layers that you can take on and off work best.
  • Ask your coach about “humidity work-arounds” – tricks to make everything from foot knots to drops less sucky in the heat.
  • Modify your workout. Minimize or modify slack drops, sliding, or other high-friction moves – save ’em for, well, pretty much any other time of year.

 

Tyrannical Trapeze, Heretical Hoop

It’s more friction-filled fun! Ropes, taped bars, so.much.joy. This is also prime time for clothing to wrap around said bars during dynamic moves (hip circles, for example – don’t train alone!!!!). Don’t be afraid to play with un-taped or powder-coated bars, or switch up tape brands to find one that works a bit better in the heat. It’s also worth mentioning that metal apparatus are, well, metal, and will get supremely hot if left in the sun.

 

“DON’T TOUCH ME” Acro & Duo Work

Know what’s lot’s of fun? Spooning and bench-pressing another person when it’s 90+ degrees in the studio and you’re both sweating like piglets. It’s so gross.

  • Work with a towel nearby – dry off often.
  • Use grip tape as needed, and play it safe when slips are likely.
  • Pay special attention to personal hygeine – don’t torture your partner.

General Summer Circus Safety

Training circus in the summertime can be a hot, sticky, stinky mess, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. You may get to work outside, or train differently than you do the rest of the year. There’s something weirdly, disgustingly satisfying about sweating so much, and muscles often loooooove hot weather.

There are some important guidelines for summer training though, mostly in regards to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This is a VERY REAL danger, and can sneak up on you quickly. Practice safe summer circus by:

  • Drinking lots of water (duh). Every time you come down, grab a few sips. Resist downing a half gallon and then going upside down, though – it may come up faster than you can. Sassy Suggestion – freeze your water bottle (leave some room so it doesn’t explode), then bring it to class and nestle it in your bosom as you rest. You’re welcome.
  • Make good use of a fan – go stand in front of it whenever you come down.
  • Feeling a little too hot? Sit out your next turn or two. Get some ice or a cold soda can, and press it to your pulse points (wrist and back of the neck in particular).
  • Watch carefully for any dizziness, faintness, lack of sweat, cramps, very red cheeks, confusion, nausea, shortness of breath, etc. Heat-related illness can come on quickly, and requires prompt medical attention (delays can be fatal) – read this if you train outside or in a non-climate-controlled space.

 

Train hard this summer, and revel in your sweaty, stinky self! Be safe, and have fun. Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

The REAL Reasons You’re Not Progressing in Aerial Class – Why Aren’t I Getting Better?

Photo by Masaru Watanabe. Me actively avoiding instruction.

Photo by Masaru Watanabe. Me actively avoiding instruction.

Well, why aren’t you getting better? Totally legit question! With some mostly legit answers. Training is hard, pointing your toe is hard, adulting is hard. Not eating the other half of your child’s cupcake that’s in the fridge not ten feet away is hard. Legit. But what is really standing in the way of your training? (hint: it’s not what you think… or maybe it is)

Reason #1 – You’re Slacking

Yes, you, friend. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it. A little slacking here and there keeps you from becoming a very tense, neurotic mess. #FunToBeAround Sometimes, you cannot – cannot – muster the energy to give 100%. Know what? That’s OK. It really is, especially if you’re a recreational circus-er. BUT (you knew there was a but coming, or a butt), we are creatures of habit. Is 70% a habit for you? Are you writing things down? Videoing your training? Holding yourself to a standard that will result in progress? Because if you’re not, mystery solved.

Write down corrections, take notes, video if you’re allowed. Repeat.

Reason #2 – Your Teacher is Letting You Coast Because You’re a Pain in the Ass When You Get Corrections

Yup – secret’s out! Sometimes, we let you coast. To be fair, there are a number of reasons we might do this: maybe you’re overwhelmed and very sensitive today, or someone else needs more attention at the moment. This should be the exception, not the rule – and if it’s not, have a chat with your coach and ask for more feedback. But sometimes…

… you get a Laura in class! I am the WORST at taking corrections. I will argue, pitch hissies, and fight for my own limitations – it’s honestly a wonder anyone ever bothers to try to teach me. In fact, one day, in German wheel, my coach had had it up to HERE, and said, “Ok. When you’re ready to be a student, you let me know.”….. (crickets)…… (more crickets)….. (it got awkward)……

I got schooled, and rightly so. If you won’t accept feedback from the person who is trying to teach you, don’t be terribly surprised if they stop throwing good stuff your way. Also? You might want to watch that tone (“duh” your teacher a couple of times and watch the fun dynamic that unfolds).

Repeat after me: “Thank you.”

Reason #3 – You’re Never in Class

The number one thing you can do to get better? Show up. Spotty attendance will get you spotty results. Period. Consider too – if fabric class is the only physical exercise you’re getting all week, or the only strength training you slog through, expect a longer road.

Supplement with all sorts of things – Pilates, weight training, toning videos, hire a trainer, whatever. Just pursue strength! Move that booty.

Reason #4 – The Fire is Out

I get this one, I really do. Our relationship with our apparatus is a lot like relationships with people – you’ve got to keep it romantic. Are you in a rut? Not excited to come to class? Not only have I been there, I’m currently there. But, there’s one thing that never fails to get me going again: A GOAL. Revolutionary, I know. We get bored because we get predictable; our brains are wired to crave stimulation (new stuff) and the thrill of the chase (getting something you’ve been working on). You may not always burn with passion, but remember that you’re an active participant in the “relationship”. Spice it up.

Feed your passion by picking out new moves, putting together a piece, scheduling a meeting with your coach to set some goals, or going to see a circus show (video or YouTube if there’s nothing near you). Whatever gets your heart racing.

Reason #5 – Your Teacher Shouldn’t be Your Teacher

That’s right, I said it. Not all teachers and students have good chemistry together. If you and your teacher don’t have a love connection, or things just always feel tense, try out a new coach if that’s an option.

Additionally, if your inner compass is telling you that you’re not getting very good/safe training, the corrections consistently don’t ring true, or if your teacher seems to be winging it, moooooove along. There are lots of coaches who are fabulous, and lots who have exactly zero idea what they’re doing. Train with the former.

Find a new coach if the two of you lack chemistry, or if they’ve got some work to do in the teaching department.

 

If you’ve hit a plateau, or just don’t feel like you’re making ANY progress, talk to your coach! They will have suggestions for what you can focus on, and hey – circus is hard. If you think you’re going to be inverting like a pro in 6 weeks, you may need to manage your expectations.

What gets YOU out of a rut or propels you forward? Comment below! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 
 

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Tilt Festival in Birmingham, UK!

Hello Dear Danglers! If you’ll be in Europe this summer, consider checking out Tilt Festival. Details below – I love a good circus festival!

When: July 18th-24th

Where: Birmingham, UK.

What: Aerial & Physical Theatre Festival

Activities: Shows, classes, etc. Sarah Holmes will be teaching silks & rope, plus there’s trapeze, hoop, Chinese pole, Cyr wheel, wall running, yoga, performances, talks…..the list is endless!

Info:  www.tiltfestival.com (please contact Rogue Play Theatre directly with questions)

 

 

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

What the Heck IS Proficiency in Aerial Teaching, Anyway?

Photo by Brigid Marz.

Photo by Brigid Marz.

I’m so glad you asked, Dear Dangler! If you missed the first post in this series, click here; otherwise, carry on.


Proficiency – a high degree of competence or skill; expertise.


We live in a pretty DIY time, with resources positively oozing from every nook and cranny of the internet. With a click or two of my keyboard, I can learn to re-caulk my shower, save my dying succulents, get that stain off my new white shirt, and learn advanced moves on aerial silks. All in an afternoon!

Something I find myself coming up against in the USA again and again is our disregard (and sometimes blatant contempt for) expertise (great article here). WHY should I hire someone to re-caulk my shower if I can do it myself? Well, in this case, it depends on how nice I want it to look and how much time and effort I wish to spend. Besides, the worst thing that could happen if this goes terribly, terribly wrong (and, if you know me and home improvement projects, it definitely will) is that I get a really messy, caulk-y shower and my husband gets cranky.

What about things like aerial silks? Does it matter where we learn it or who we learn it from? (I’ll give you a hint: YES. It matters quite a bit.) We expect that the person imparting the knowledge has a firm grasp on what they’re teaching, and isn’t just winging it with a “How To Do Aerial Silks” manual and a YouTube video. And by the by – if you don’t expect that, perhaps you should. Raise your standards.

Realistic Levels of Proficiency in Aerial Coaching

The first question has to be: what are you teaching and to whom? Let’s be very candid – teaching summer camp kids three moves on a static trapeze is a far cry from coaching at Ecole Nationale de Cirque. I generally think of it in the following levels:

  • Three Trick Tallulah – You know a handful of moves inside and out, and are able to teach and spot them with confidence. You do not call yourself an aerial teacher, but you are comfortable putting on this hat for an hour every day at camp.
  • Assistant Teacher Alastair – You are on the teacher track, and actively working as an assistant under the guidance of a teacher training program or a well-established professional instructor. You’re not ready to strike out on your own, but are working to increase your understanding of spotting, methodology, essential technique, communication, and other teaching essentials.
  • Recreational Rainbow – You have hung out your shingle as a Teacher to the Masses. You have a thorough understanding of the foundational moves on your apparatus, and how to teach them in a variety of ways to suit different learning styles. You understand the how AND why of technique, are well-versed in applicable anatomy and injury prevention, and are confident in modifying moves for varying bodies. Your students are primarily recreational.
  • Professional Petunia – You mostly train folks with aerial stars in their eyes, or very serious students. You have an incredibly broad vocabulary, and are an innovator in your field. You are an aerial problem solver – from technique to choreography. You demand excellence, and know how to get the very best out of each and every student. Your resume is extensive.
  • Elite Eloise – You are a badass. You are the teacher we all aspire to be, and will jump at the chance to train with (Master Teacher). You live and breathe this apparatus, and have for years. Your teaching resume is a mile long, and you are very well respected throughout the industry. You are a first-class leader and expert, and I probably stalk you on social media.

 

Many of us probably fall somewhere between two levels. Where would you be? If a professional watched you teach and evaluated your class, would they agree? Note: if you’re very nervous about being evaluated by experts in the field, you probably know that you have some work to do. Pay attention to that feeling – it’s like an arrow pointing towards what needs improvement.

Staying Within Your Scope of Practice

When I got my personal training certifications, there was a phrase that was frequently bandied about: “scope of practice”. I love – LOVE – this phrase, most often used in the medical field. To me, it’s the bedrock of honest teaching. If we co-opt it for aerial instruction, the premise is simple: teach what you know well. It varies for everyone – whether it’s 5 moves or 500. For example, I hated open drops when I was in circus school – hated them. Consequently, I only really worked on a hand full, and I consider many of them to be beyond my scope of practice. I teach the ones I’m supremely confident in, but, beyond that, it’s a no-go, even when my students beg and plead and bring me pie (but keep the pie coming, guys – someday I might cave!). Pretending to know more than you do, not understanding that there are areas beyond your scope of practice and not knowing what they are, or “winging it” puts your students in very real danger.

False Advertising

hell nawM’Kay. Shade warning (for additional shade, please see below). If you know yourself to be a Three-Trick Tallulah, but advertise yourself as a Recreational Rainbow or a Professional Petunia, we’ve got a false advertising problem. If you think it goes unnoticed, newsflash – it doesn’t. Now, most of the time, I think it’s an issue of ignorance – Tallulah just doesn’t know that she’s got a lot more to learn. But if you’re doing it deliberately, that’s not OK, and here is the face I make when I encounter this. Now that you know better, do better.

So yes – proficiency is a Big Topic, and this is a Little Blog. Here’s my action step for the week – please join me if you feel so inclined! I’m going to go through my general progressions and curriculum, give everything the “scope of practice” check, and identify 3 areas that could broaden my practice (open drops for sure, roll-ups, and planches over here). What are your areas? Post them in the comments below!

And now, for no other reason than it came up in my feed as I was searching “shade”, here is your daily dose of Ru Paul, to be watched in 6 inch heels. Werk! Love and pull-ups, Laura


 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

What Makes Someone Qualified to Teach Aerial Arts?

Well, Dear Dangler, I’m so glad you asked! As you can imagine, it’s not a simple answer, but good news – it’s not astrophysics either. So many new instructors think it’s just about turning a lot of tricks, which makes seasoned veterans a little lot grumpy. There’s a bit more to it!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be addressing each area in a series of blog posts. The main goal is to spark reflection and conversation, and point us all in the direction of resources that can shore up our weak spots (and make no mistake – there’s not a teacher alive that has no weak spots). Today’s list is not meant to be exhaustive, but more of an outline of what we’ll be jumping into. I can’t wait!

Core Areas of Competency in Aerial Instruction

For the purposes of the blog, I’ve narrowed it down to the following areas, listed in no particular order. Imagine a pie chart, in which each piece is essential and delicious. Mmmmm….pie…. This is geared towards individual aerial teachers and those hired by studios, as opposed to the studios themselves (for a great list of standards & guidelines for studios from ACE, click here). Again – this is a general outline, not a curriculum, hold your emails for the moment.

  1. Aerial skills
    1. Proficiency on the apparatus being taught
    2. Understanding of essential technique
  2. Rigging
    1. Basics (can identify equipment & it’s proper use, understands common rigging terms such as bridle, basket, choke, etc., can tie common knots such as the bowline and figure 8, etc.)
    2. Equipment maintenance & inspection, keeps a rigging inspection log
    3. Standards in place for retiring equipment
    4. Understanding of how shockloads in dynamic movements affect the body
  3. Spotting & Safety
    1. Comfortable with a variety of hands-on spotting methods
    2. Understands and informs students of contraindications for moves
    3. Solid base in injury prevention for the chosen apparatus
    4. Certified in First Aid/CPR
    5. Utilizes appropriate matting
    6. Has a student rescue plan and an emergency plan in place for each space in which you teach
    7. Upholds a set student/teacher ratio, particularly in regards to situations involving hands-on spotting
    8. Has aerial teaching insurance if not teaching through (and covered by) a studio
    9. Understands and enforces the space needed for the execution of moves (minimum/maximum height, area around apparatus)
    10. Requires students to sign a waiver, and ensures that they are well-informed as to the risks involved in aerial work.
    11. Pursues an environment & culture of safety.
  4. Communication & Environment 
    1. Strong verbal cuing skills
    2. Consistently conveys authority, and enforces risk/behavioral agreements with students
    3. Comfortable advocating for student safety
    4. Nurtures and strives to create an atmosphere conducive to learning
    5. Has and upholds a strong policy on substance use/abuse
    6. Clearly communicates boundaries and expectations when teaching a new skill
  5. Pedagogy & Methodology
    1. Employs a well-thought-out curriculum
    2. Teaches established, commonsensical progressions
    3. A written mission statement or teaching philosophy
    4. Consistent evaluation of new and continuing students
  6. Anatomy, Physiology, Kinesiology, & Continuing Education
    1. Has a good understanding of basic anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology (what it is, what it does, and how it moves)
    2. Actively pursues continuing education in related areas

 

Where to Next?

ACTION STEP check out the ACE Safety Program, and, if you meet the criteria, get the process started! If you don’t meet the criteria, start addressing that. For the record, I am not affiliated with ACE, just a member. But I DO think that the safety program is a phenomenal step in getting the aerial community on the same page, and hey – there’s power (and influence) in numbers. If you do nothing else, read their Circus Arts Program Guidelines; they are incredibly comprehensive, and well worth a read.

If you’re a well-established teacher, let’s also take this opportunity to review our practices & procedures, identify areas that need improvement, and get on that! I will be spending the next few months working on my verbal cuing, and brushing up on my anatomy. What area will you be working on? Comment below! Love and pull-ups, Laura

HUGE thanks to Bev Sobelman and Liz Cooper who are (very patiently) allowing me to bounce ideas off them, and kind enough to offer their wisdom and insight! It takes a village, yo.

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Anderson Cooper Got on a Lyra and the Internet Lost Its Mind

OK aerial community – raise your hand if you’re still banging your head against your desk? Yep – me too. In case you’ve been under a rock (or are doing one of those “social media cleanses”), here’s what has us all hyperventilating into paper bags.

 


 

“This is a disaster waiting to happen.” – Anderson Cooper


If you’re an established aerial instructor watching this (through your fingers), you are dying right now. You are absolutely on fire inside. Ever since I first watched this, I’ve been pacing in my apartment trying to get away from the AAAAAAAAAARGH inside my head and chest, and wrap my brain around the only possible conclusion: we have collectively lost our damned minds.

What’s the Problem?

M’Kay. I’m going to put my professional britches on.

This video does not demonstrate the best practices commonly adhered to in the aerial community in the areas of safety, competency, and responsible instruction.

Let’s look at the facts:

  • Thin panel mats are inadequate in this situation. Generally speaking, thick crash pads are a better choice for use under bar apparatus.
  • There is no hands-on spotting. This is a post all it’s own; there are studios in NYC who prohibit hands-on spotting for reasons I will never fathom – beginners need hands! Beginners do incredibly stupid things because they’re beginners. My hand on their leg during a knee hang doesn’t just prevent them from straightening their leg – it calls their attention to their body in space, encourages correct positioning, and reduces panic (read: terrible choices) . My hands have caught trapezes swinging towards faces, held students when they lost their grip, given form corrections, squeezed little messages of encouragement and comfort, and, you know, reduced the likelihood of serious injury by using established and effective spotting techniques.
    • Note the un-spotted knee hang in the video around the 2:00 mark. Do you see how high Anderson’s feet are? Do you know how close he was to falling directly on his head? Now, note the “dismount”. This is very, very common for beginners to try, and can result in broken/sprained necks, knocked-out teeth, dislocated shoulders, broken/sprained arms & hands, and more. An instructor with hands placed firmly across his legs could have side-stepped the whole issue. More importantly, a seasoned instructor likely would have seen that coming a mile away.
    • Now – this is the one that had us ready to spit nails. See that un-spotted top bar knee hang at around 3:24? Look at Anderson’s wide, unsupported knee placement, and note how high his feet are. He is not connected with his hands. His mic pack drops off (distraction), and he has already gone for an illegal dismount. And now, we’re going to “take a leg off”. I’m just going to leave that here and let all of that sink in for a minute. Excuse me – I need to go back to banging my head for a moment.
    • But wait – there’s more. From about 4:00 through the end, Andserson Cooper makes aerial coaches across the USA freak the F out. There’s so much here I CAN’T EVEN WRITE ABOUT IT! I just keep hearing words like concussion, broken neck, shoulder dislocation, no more teeth….
  • This sequence is inappropriate for beginners – even strong ones. Foundations and progressions are things – REAL things. Essential things. One movement or skill builds off another. Jumping ahead in aerial coaching is like jumping ahead in your “How to Assemble Your IKEA Dresser” instructions – skip the first steps and it’s going to be a sh*t-show no matter what.
  • The verbal cuing is inadequate. Without a visual, the sentence, “take a hand off” is too vague for the beginner student. They may interpret that same sentence as: take both hands off, take your leg off, sit up, etc. When your student is upside down, confusion can quite literally be deadly.
  • Demonstration is best done PRIOR to the attempted execution of a move. Beginners need to come at each move by seeing it with their eyes, hearing you talk about it, and having an opportunity to ask questions BEFORE attempting a move.
  • There is no mention of contra-indications, muscular engagement, or even a “don’t let go or you’ll fall on your head” discussion.
  • Your authority must be clear from the beginning. Many students – especially media personalities, groups that are “doing this crazy aerial thing” for fun for a day, and those who have no idea how much they don’t know, require a firm hand. Add to that a high level of physical fitness, and you have the student that makes you clench your nether-bits. These students have no idea what they’re doing, but they’re strong enough to get themselves into real trouble. Stir in a dash of the “clown factor” (someone doesn’t want to look silly, so they play the clown to stay in control), an you have a student you’ll need to be glued to for the entire session.

Yeah, OK – All That. But What’s the Real Problem?

The real problem is that there are people teaching who have no business teaching. They are not ready to teach. They have taken a few years of classes and assume that they are ready because they can turn so many tricks, or they’re a dancer or personal trainer who got “certified” in this cool new workout, or they’re in a small town with no aerial instructor, so…

There is no meaningful certification for aerial teaching readiness in the USA. There are some excellent teacher trainings for experienced aerialists (NECCA, AirCat Aerial Arts, I’m looking at you), and ACE/AYCO are making excellent steps in the right direction with their safety program, but no real certifying body. This leaves us with a big problem. It’s not a new problem, nor is it an easy one. We tried to address it here in NYC by founding NYATA (NY Aerial Teachers Alliance), but were quickly overwhelmed by the scope of the issue. Add to that the fad of fitness spaces trying to tout circus as the next great fitness craze, and dance schools all over the US wanting to add an aerial component to their curriculum (but not hire an actual aerial teacher), and the fact that we do not value expertise in this DIY country, and it’s easy to see why we are so. damned. angry.  The public has no way of knowing whether a teacher is safe or qualified.

What the Hell do We Do Now?

I’m not done writing about this, but – ha ha – I have to run and teach my classes. I’ll pick this up tomorrow. BUT, I’d like to leave you with this.

Before we get too far up on our high horses, and make this woman the poster child for all that is wrong in our teaching industry, we may want to pause and remember that we have created this. I have, and you have. This is a community problem, and we have allowed it to happen. We have seen it coming, watched it unfold, and now it’s here on our doorstep.

My question for you is this, aerial community. What shall we tackle first? We have an unprecedented opportunity to turn this from a thing that makes our hair collectively fall out, into a triumph for our community. Every aerial teacher safe, qualified, competent. Comment below – if we want change, we can’t wait for someone else to make it happen. Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

 

The Annoying Hand Injury You Didn’t Even Know Was a Thing – Skier’s Thumb

Do you train on squishy mats? Do you do handstands, push-ups, or other gymnastics on a squishy mat? Do you routinely wrestle finely-muscled athletes in a tub of Jell-O on a squishy mat? Just asking on that last one (send photos). If you do any of these things, you could be unknowingly courting a hand injury that I didn’t even know was a thing until it happened to me – SKIER’S THUMB (cue ominous music).

 

What is Skier’s Thumb? Why Might I Be at Risk?

Skier’s Thumb is a more common injury if you ski. Before you ask, no – I don’t. And if I did, it would probably look something like this.

 

 

It’s a soft tissue injury to the ligaments in your hand, most often occurring when skiers fall, splay their hands, and land on their poles – pushing the thumb back with force. Know how else you can get it? Yep – you guessed it! Training on squishy mats. What’s really unfair? It can develop over time. Merp.

If you’re an aerialist, you’ll notice a lot of tenderness around the base of the thumb, pain while gripping, and perhaps referred pain in the wrist. Your grip between thumb and forefinger will be weaker, thus diminishing your overall grip (so not a good time to do that “trapeze over a shark tank” act you’ve been dreaming of). It can also come with a hefty dose of thumb pain in any direction.

 

How Can I Prevent It?

Well, don’t train splayed-hand moves on squishy mats! Also – don’t ski (or at least don’t fall down).

What constitutes a squishy mat? Any mat where your palm is lower than your thumb when you’re doing a push-up. Sprung gymnastic floors are great, and firm panel mats or hard foam floors are usually OK. Soft mats like crash pads are horrendous, as are most mats that are going to feel nice and soft if you fall down on them. For the hand muscles to properly engage, the thumb and fingers shouldn’t be bent back.

 

Dammit – Too Late! How Do I Treat It?

Get thee to the doctor for a proper diagnosis! They’ll likely recommend the usual (ice, rest, NSAIDS), and if there’s a complete ligament tear, surgery, with PT to follow.

Mine sneaked up on me a few years ago, and EVERY TIME I see someone training gymnastic movement on a squishy mat (handstands, cartwheels, etc), I have to fight the urge to tackle them and ACE bandage their thumbs. But that would be weird, so I wrote about it instead.

Keep those hands healthy – they’re kind of important in the work we do! Also – I wanna see that shark tank act. Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.