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Category Archives: Training

Shut Up, Feelings! Disappointment in Artistic Life

First, let me thank the effervescent Sarah Novotny for today’s title – girlfriend is wicked funny.

Now, let’s talk about feeeeeeeeeeelings. Nope, we’re not going to do any navel-gazing, armchair psychiatry, or crying; but we are going to talk about disappointment, art, and the business of art (which sometimes seems like it has absolutely nothing to do with art). Do your feelings help you? Light a fire under your behind? Make you go all “Black Swan”? It’s an important conversation, so grab a glass of wine, and lie down on the couch.

Getting Some Perspective

Everyone on the planet has moments of disappointment, but does it ever seem to you that as an artist you have weeks of it? If you’re a performer or a student in hot pursuit of a dream that seems a bazillion miles away, I’ll bet you’re struggling with some right now. Didn’t get that move in class? Didn’t get the gig? Made the mistake of watching yourself on video a little too soon? Here are some things to keep in mind that might take some of the sting out:

1 – It’s not personal. Speaking from the other side of the casting couch table, I can very confidently tell you that if we do not cast you in a show, or if I give you some tough correction in class, it isn’t personal. Unless you’re an a$$hole, in which case it is.

2 – You have no idea what they’re looking for. Sometimes, we need a killer stage presence more than perfect technique. Sometimes, we need really tall people. Sometimes we need someone who’s really, really easy to work with. Do you see what I’m getting at here? You’re not going to be right for every show, so find your strength and WORK IT – when I need someone who can juggle flaming badgers while wearing stilettos, I’ll call you.

3 – You may need to step up your game, or consider some alternatives. Sometimes, it is you. Maybe you need more training, or your competition was particularly tough. Maybe you’re not strong enough to do that move, limber enough to kick yourself in the head, or you’re a complete PITA to work with. BUT – you can always get better.

4 – Make it all work for you. Let that disappointment light a furnace under your tush! They didn’t ask you to audition? Nerts to them – you’re going to train your patootie off and they will have missed the best aerialist this side of Texas. Get stronger. Get better. Get going.

5 – Success – true success – takes time, and crazy effort. The most valuable thing you can bring to the table is an accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. When do you shine? What do you need to improve? What is working? What is NOT working? It takes courage to ask these questions, and even more to answer them honestly and make the changes they demand.


If you’re not failing big, at least occasionally, you’re not trying hard enough. If you’re failing all the time, ask the hard questions and figure out why. Sometimes, we have to be willing to let go of what we thought our dream would look like, and let it build into something better and more perfect for us. It’s a lot like the difference between squeezing into clothing off the rack, and slipping on a couture gown made just for you. So take that disappointment and make gold. Make magic. Make mistakes, and make ‘em big.  Love and pull-ups, Laura




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When In Doubt, Boobies Out – Posture & The Aerial Performer

If you look like a spastic turtle doing the backstroke on silks, or you’re 25 but look 85 in your trapeze video, friend – you have an Aerial Posture Problem. What’s up with that? What is proper aerial posture? Does it matter beyond aesthetics? Are you destined to resemble an arthritic tortoise forever? Let’s point our boobies skyward and find out.

Proper Aerial Posture 101

Generally speaking, you get an A+ if you:

  • Press your shoulders down away from your ears – you want a neck like Cleopatra, not Beatrice the Sharp-Toothed  Buzzard.
  • Now, take those shoulder blades and engage them down and back towards the center of your spine, as opposed to allowing them to round forward (Quasimodo back!). Shoulders should feel firmly pulled into their sockets.
  • Lift your chin, and lightly tilt your chest up. Let your boobies point skywards, ladies! (Well, not that much, but “When in doubt, boobies out!”).

The effect should be elegant and regal! In addition to making you look smokin’ hot, great posture in the air helps protect the shoulder joint and upper back, reducing the risk of acute or overuse injuries. Everybody wins!

Why Posture Matters

  • A graceful carriage is lovely to look at! Just by dropping your shoulders an inch or opening your chest, you could go from drabulous to fabulous in 3 seconds! Werk.
  • Poor alignment places a lot of stress on your joints (particularly the shoulder), and can result in overuse injuries like tendinitis/bursitis, and severe muscular imbalances that will haunt you for years.
  • Good posture is more efficient. Efficiency = more energy to spend on rockin’ out with your bad self!

So, while you don’t need to climb with a book on your head (though I’ll give you mad props if you do), you will want to cultivate lovely lines in the chest and neck. Video can be super helpful here. So, make like Emily Post, grab a couple of cucumber sandwiches, and get crackin’ on that posture! Making the world more beautiful, one back, chest, and neck at a time. Love and pull-ups, Laura

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On Being a Good Circus Student: An Ode to Teach-ability

What makes a “good” student? IS there such a thing? Is your crappy attitude getting in the way of your training and making your teacher crazy, or are you the student your coach can’t wait to work with? Take my little quiz and find out!

Deep, Dark Circus Confessions

Oh, Dear Danglers, I have a confession to make (savor this moment, because it won’t come often). Remember that little post I wrote about circus being hard and not expecting instant results? Yes. Well. Ahem…. I may or may not have disregarded my own advice, and pitched a crying, screaming hissy fit in German wheel class when I felt I wasn’t progressing fast enough. BUT, in my defense, my mojo had fled about half an hour before (it was scared), and I’d been working really hard and I hadn’t eaten because I’m on a diet and….. yeah, you’re not buying it either. So what should I have done when I hit that wall of frustration and was ready to spit nails and start a bar fight? (Hint: it wasn’t swear, snap at my coach, or bitch slap somebody. I did a lot of the first and a little of the second, but only thought about the third – that’s gotta count for something, right?)

So, are you a superty awesome student, or a giant pain in the ass? Let’s find out!

True or False

  1.  I accept instruction and critiques graciously and enthusiastically.
  2.  I take the work seriously, but almost wet my pants laughing when so-and-so’s pants fell off while doing the Full Monty (that was funny, yo).
  3.  I understand that mojo comes and goes. It’s elusive, like a ninja.
  4.  I try to leave my crappy day/crazypants/BO at the door.
  5.  I smile and laugh, laugh and smile. When I do it while twitching, people back away and I get more silk time.
  6.  I take myself super seriously. I tell myself that I will DIE if I don’t get this trick today. Because I will. I know I will. And I’m NEVER GOING TO GET THIS, AM I?  YOU CAN TELL ME THE TRUTH! I CAN TAKE IT! I SUCK, DON’T I?
  7.  I often infer that there’s some secret that my teacher is not telling me that’s preventing me from getting that trick – it has nothing to do with practice. (Tell me, bitch! Before I cut you!)
  8.  I often cry, get really mad, and sulk. I do my best work when I’m really pissed off.
  9.  I frequently argue with my coach when he /she give me corrections. They love that.
  10.  I find complaining to be an excellent mode of expression.

If you answered TRUE to 1-5, congrats! You are a superty awesome student. If you answered TRUE to 6-10, there’s room for improvement. Get on that.

The Nekkid Truth

At the end of the day, it’s really about an Attitude of Gratitude, isn’t it? I am so grateful to be learning so much from someone so skilled. I get to use (and break) my body in unexpected ways, play with others who are just as “eccentric” as myself (that’s the nice way of putting it), and roll around in a giant hamster wheel and call it art.

There’s freedom in allowing yourself to suck, even when you want so badly to be good. From here on out, my only response to correction will be “thank you”. When I want to scream, I will throw up my hands (or maybe just throw up) and laugh instead. I will love this flippin’ apparatus wastefully and extravagantly, and put my focus squarely on the work where it belongs, instead of on me (where I really want to put it). Join me, won’t you? Everybody wins. I’ll see you and your awesome self in the air! Big love and pull-ups, Laura


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But I’m On Vacation! Training On The Road

Well, Dear Danglers, as you read this I will be winging my way to glorious Belize for some much needed R & R (and a little work, of course!). Naturally, I thought this might be the perfect time to have a little chat about training while you travel. Should you work out (yes), rest (yes), or hit on the cabana boys (definitely yes)? Here’s the skinny.


When To Train

Been too busy at home to get proper workouts in? Are you somewhere amazing and gorgeous with luscious hiking trails, heavenly promenades, or superior snorkeling? What a perfect time to train without “training”! Sometimes, it’s enough just to stay active. I don’t belong to a gym here in NYC (all my extra money goes to working on German wheel – seriously), so when I see a fully tricked out gym, my heart goes pitter-pat. Do what sounds good to you on any given day!

When To Call It a Week

If you’ve been training like a crazy person, especially if you notice your body is more prone to injury or you’ve been getting sick a lot lately, it’s time to take some time off. I promise – a week off is not going to undo years worth of training; in fact, if youve been working hard, taking a week off to let muscles recover, inflammation subside, and little ouchies heal can do more for you than a workout ever could. So go on – slather yourself in Hawaiian Tropic, order a Mai Tai, and set your sights on that waiter who clearly has designs on you. I mean – spend several hours in meditation and prayer. Yes, that is what I meant.

What To Do

Whatever you want – go crazy! If there’s no gym, see what’s available in the realm of outdoor training (or the “Earth Gym” as I call it). Stuck in Podunk-ville, USA with exactly no palatable options? Log into and check out the free workout videos. Find a pull-up bar (aka playground), do some push-ups, and have a little dance party in your hotel room (pull the shades so nobody calls an ambulance thinking you’re having a seizure).

Most of all? Enjoy yourself. Luxuriate in the miracle of a body that does such incredible things, and give it what it needs! Big Love from Belize (and a wink from Raoul, my favorite waiter)!


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Aerial Yoga – It’s A Whole New Down-Dog

Hey peeps! ImaginAerial is livin’ la vida loca down here in Chatanooga, TN for SETC. Sooooo, guest blogger Michelle Dortignac schools us on the benefits of aerial yoga for us dangly-type folks. Enjoy! Love and pull-ups, Laura


Michelle says:

With the increasing popularity of all things “aerial,” a new type of fitness class has emerged on the scene – Aerial Yoga.  At first, it may appear that Aerial Yoga is simply a basic “aerial hammock” class, which leads many aerialists to overlook adding these unique Yoga classes to their training routine. 

But, look again and aerial performers will find the numerous benefits Aerial Yoga has to offer.

No matter what the style, when a person practices Yoga, they consciously and purposely activate their parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system is the part of us that deactivates the fight-flight-freeze instinct.  In other words, the practice of Yoga is the practice of actively relaxing

How on Earth could the practice of “actively relaxing” benefit an athlete who is searching to get stronger and more flexible?  Let’s take a look:


Let’s face it – everyone has a natural fear of heights.  The higher you go, the stronger the fear kicks in.  And when you add on the pressure most people feel when performing in front of an audience while trying to remember choreography and avoid any costume malfunctions…  Even though its fun, performing aerial acrobatics can also be quite stressful. 

A good Aerial Yoga class trains students how to actively relax while moving around on an aerial apparatus.  Obviously, this would be handy for aerialists of any level. 

In addition, if practiced regularly, Aerial Yoga helps students readjust their idea of what is a “neutral” stress level.  Many of us have adapted over time to an elevated level of stress, leaving us no longer aware of what neutral feels like.  If you can reset your stress level to zero before you walk into the gig, you’re already one step ahead.


Perhaps you’ve noticed when a person is in that state of “fight-flight-freeze,” their movements are quite jerky, not smooth.

So, if you can learn how to be relaxed (in your mind) while still being active, you will take the jerkiness out of your movements and find more fluidity.  You will be able to transition easily between moving quickly, moving slowly, and pausing.  From the audience’s point of view, you will look like you have more control of your body, and that you have grace.  Check it out.  The next time you go to an aerial show, take note of which performers look more professional, and why.   


Our fight-flight-freeze instinct activates certain muscles that would help us fight, flight and freeze – namely, it elevates our shoulders to protect the neck, rounds the shoulders forward and tucks the tailbone to protect our vital organs, slides our heads forward to assist with running, and tenses our thighs/hip flexors to either curl us into a ball shape, or to ground our legs for running and fighting.

For many of us, living with an elevated stress level causes those muscles to stay chronically tight, pulling our spine, neck and limbs out of natural alignment.  When we return our bodies into a more natural alignment, those visual “lines” we strive for in performance begin to emerge.

In addition, some of the muscles that stay chronically tight through living with an elevated stress level are also used to climb, invert, lock into a hip hang, etc.  Those muscles can easily and quickly get over-used, making it harder to develop strength, and sadly, easier to sustain an injury.  If we can return our bodies to their natural alignment, it is much easier for us to sculpt our body into the desired shape of an aerial performer.

MICHELLE DORTIGNAC is the founder of Unnata® Aerial Yoga, and has been teaching Unnata Aerial Yoga since January, 2006.  For more information on the style and where to find classes, visit:


Think It Through: How To Improve Your Aerial Performance in 10 Seconds

If you skip out of class on Tuesday night and don’t give aerials another thought until, well, the next Tuesday night, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful ways to improve your aerial game: visualization (…cue Enya… go for chanting Tibetan monks….standby for healing crystal chakra vibrations….). No, I haven’t gone all woo-woo on you, but I AM going to share with you the secrets of the Universe how you can literally think your way to aerial awesomeness. Read on, mah peeps!


Why Bother to Visualize Your Work Outside of Class?

Because everything you do begins with a thought. Now, whether it’s an awesome thought, or an OMG-I-can’t-believe-I-just-did/ate/tapped-that! kind of thought is another matter entirely. Aim high, people! Some items for your consideration:

  • what you think about expands. Thinking about alfredo sauce and Ring Dings will “expand” your behind (because you will eat them). Thinking like a skinny b*tch is likely to have the opposite effect. See how this works?
  • visualizing creates mental “roadmaps” that translate into physical experience. I don’t know the science behind it all, but I can promise you this: run your moves in your head and your body will follow at your next session.
  • mental rehearsal strengthens your commitment & resolve – you will come into class ready to OWN THIS THING! Let’s do it.

Methods to the Madness

Here are a few things that work for me:

  • if you’re having trouble with a particular move or correction, go through it in slow motion in your head. See yourself executing it flawlessly and smoothly. Now, speed it up slowly in your brain. Mentally run it until it feels like you’re not even “thinking” about it. Try to feel it in your body.
  • if your stamina is le poo, figure out why (click here  and here  for some possible reasons). If you’re not breathing properly for instance, visualize your sequences and see/feel yourself breathing deeply throughout. Use word cues (“breath” or “rest” for example) in your mind and in your rehearsal to prompt your body to follow.
  • if you’re rehearsing for a show, put that music on your iPod and run run run run that piece in your head. I do it walking to and from the train – use any and every opportunity to get it into your brain.


The brain is a lot like a muscle: if you’re not used to using it in this way, it’s going to feel funny at first. Stick with it! You can visualize yourself right into all sorts of amazing stuff! Lemme hear you – how have YOU used visualizations in your aerial work? Progression? Healing from injury? Leave a comment, I’d love to know. Love and pull-ups, Laura


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Incredible Inverts – How to Get A Straight-Legged Straddle Without All That Swearing


Miss Hannah Risner's Perfect Invert

Sweet heavens, ya’ll better be glad I don’t use a Swear Jar during class – you’d be broke and I’d be a millionaire. What move is most swear-worthy? When do I hear the grunts, groans, and colorful metaphors galore?  Whether you call them inverts, straddle-backs, or demented flying monkey swings, it’s tough to get that crisp, tight, straight-legged straddle we’re aiming for – slightly bent legs, droopy tushies, and funky feet can make it feel like we’ll never get there. Take heart, Dear Danglers – help is on the way!


Anatomy of a Sassy Straddle

There are several “pillars” of aerial work – pull-ups being one, inverts being another. A crummy invert sets the stage for sloppy work (and makes your butt look heavy – NOOOOOOOOO!), so it’s worth putting in the time and effort it takes to execute clean, snappy straddles. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • strong upper body position to start – arms are either bent with elbows to your waist & hands between the boobies, or straight overhead (much more difficult).
  • clean “take-off” – legs sweep cleanly around the fabric. DO NOT kick your fabric out of the way – it doesn’t look nearly as ninja-fabulous as you might think, just spastic.
  • quick tap of the legs together, then a strong fan outwards and overhead – no pause or tempo (beat-back) – this is a Very Bad Habit. Don’t make me get my taser.
  • straight legs (bent “frog” legs are acceptable when beginning, or when used as an artistic choice)
  • high, elevated derriere (no droopy drawers or saggy assets!)


How to Get There – Aerial Straddle Training Tips

  • Beginners – you’re ready to start training inversions when you can hold yourself reliably with bent arms on the fabric. At first, it’s kind of a get-into-your-straddle-any-way-you-can situation. Remember – don’t flail or be spastic – not sexy. Keep working, you’ll get it.
  • If you think your hamstring flexibility (or lack of) is messing with your position, work consistently on stretching them out.
  • Mixed level/advanced – now, we WORK. Get into your full straddle position. Lower down SLOOOOOOOWLY, keeping your legs straight, and bending your arms back to your starting position. Again. Again. Again (you get the picture). By reverse training your inverts, you’ll not only strengthen the essential muscles, but you’ll get a grea idea of exactly when your “ugly moment” is happening so you can be aware of it.
  • Tip: think “energy out the toes” – you have to engage the whole leg, and everything radiates outwards from your core. Think about laser beams shooting out of your feet (hum the theme from “Star Wars”, it helps).
  • Now – EVERY time you train, add 5-10+ straddles into your conditioning, switching sides every 5 reps. Come down and do a little straddle dance – you’ve earned it. May I suggest the song “Rump Shaker”? Werk it out.

And that’s how we do it! How are you doing on the 30 day straddle challenge? If you haven’t started, what are you waiting for? Are you gaining inches? Lemme hear you! Love and pull-ups, Laura


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21 Days Of Pull-Ups!

Why do we care about pull-ups? Because they’re the single most important conditioning exercise for aerial work (click here & I’ll tell you why). A few rules: 1) don’t hurt yourself. Work hard, but be mindful of pushing to injury. 2) Use a chair underneath you to assist as necessary, helping you to complete the full range of motion. 3) be exceedlingly conscious of maintaining proper form: lats engaged (shoulders pulled down and away from the ears), joints in line. If you experience anything more than normal muscle soreness and fatigue, stop immediately and consult a medical professional.

Now. Who says girls don’t do pull-ups? GET BUSY.



Day 1 – Regular forward grip, hands a little wider than shoulders. 10 reps.

Day 2 – Chin-ups. Palms facing you, directly in front of the shoulders. 10 reps.

Day 3 – Palms facing in (if your pull-up bar allows this). 10 reps.

Day 4 – Halfsies – from totally straight arms, pull half way up. 10 reps.

Day 5 – Halfsies – from half-way up, pull up the rest of the way. 10 reps.

Day 6 – Rest.

Day 7 – Regular pull-ups. 10 reps.

Day 8 – Slooooooooooooooooooooow pull-ups. 3 reps.

Day 9 – Chin-ups. 10 reps.

Day 10 – Sloooooooooooow descent – from the top of the pull-up, lower down very slowly. 5 reps.

Day 11 – Rest.

Day 12 – Palms facing in. 10 reps.

Day 13 – Wide grip pull-ups. 10 reps.

Day 14 – Stand under bar, facing side. Palms facing in. Pull-up, bringing head to one side of the bar, then the other. 10 reps.

Day 15 – Halfsies – chin ups, straight arms to half way up. 12 reps.

Day 16 – Halfsies – chin ups, half way up to the top. 12 reps.

Day 17 – Rest.

Day 18 – Regular pull-ups. 12 reps.

Day 19 – Regular chin-ups. 12 reps.

Day 20 – Palms facing in. 12 reps.

Day 21 – One-armed chin-ups. Palm facing you, grip your wrist with your other hand for additional support. 1 rep each side. Don’t hurt yourself.


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