Why do we call it an aerial ‘vocabulary’?
Ultimately, even though it is physical pursuit, Aerial is a language. And any language consists of an alphabet, made up of letters which sound and look a certain way. Without these basics we could never form words, sentences, phrases….in other words be literate!
Becoming articulate as an aerialist is much the same. Think back to what it was like to learn a new word as a child. You first had to learn the letters - how to sound them out and spell them. Now apply the same process to learning a new aerial skill. Ask yourself these questions:
Which letters are involved? i.e What are the essential building blocks of the skill?
How are the they spelt and what do they sound like? i.e How do I physically create those shapes and what is the quality or type of movement required?
What order do the letters go in? i.e How do I sequence these building blocks?
Once you know the letters that form the word, and you can pronounce them and spell them, you have a new word at your disposal! And from here you can decide how you want to use it. For example, does it go into a sentence (combo) with other words (skills)? Do you want to say it differently, i.e. change the way it sounds? Perhaps you want to say it slowly, or quickly, extend certain parts of it or even try saying it with a different accent (style).
You can see why the analogy works! Aerial vocabulary is no different. But why do we stop there?? Simply having heard of a word or being able to read it doesn't mean that you know it! Does being able to say it but not being able to spell it mean that you know it? Or does knowing how to say it, spell it, read it AND form a meaningful sentence with it infer that it is now part of your vocabulary…?
My opinion is that true knowledge infers both information AND application.
But a lot of us only go that far - we acquire word after word without learning how to form meaningful sentences (or paragraphs if you take the analogy to its fullest!) and so we end up with a lot to say but no real power to express it. My hope as a passionate lifelong learner, teacher and performer is that we will start to embrace aerial knowledge as a body of text and not just a list of tricks. I try everyday to install this in my students and embody this in my performances; we need to value expression and articulation as much as we value acquiring more and more skills if we want to become a more articulate aerial community!
Forget about the new skinny or the new sexy. Strong is strong. Actually it's not even new. It's also probably the most disappointing answer to the most commonly asked questions I get in class. No one wants to hear they're simply not strong enough yet.
It's the same thing we've known for years. Strength underpins everything. Note: I'm not talking about conditioning. Strengthening is based on gains, an increase in capacity, in order to lift, or lower or hold. Conditioning is maintenance, restoring balance and making sure joints, ligaments and tendons are protected against the strain of vertical toil.
My students ask..
How do make I it look better? Strength.
How do I invert when I'm spinning so fast? Strength.
How do I control the exit properly? You guessed it, strength.
Sorry to burst your bubble, you may not wanna work on strength, but you have to.
Oh so you just wanna be creative? You're gonna need strength for that. If you want to be inventive and find positions nobody's ever stumbled upon before how do you imagine your body is just magically going to be prepared to control and hold those positions?
Strength moves aren't your thing? You're just flexible? You're gonna need strength for that too, unless you wanna have hip surgery at 40.
You don't wanna get big? Ok, you let me know when your muscles start busting through your shirts and I'll let you get out of strengthening ;-)
The benefits of strengthening may be obvious and well documented but we seem to have trouble applying this knowledge. Strength helps you make the best of your flexibility, it improves execution, it helps you train control which in turn lends itself to creativity and invention and it conditions your body for the inevitable wear and tear of this wonderful monkey business we call aerial.
So why do we neglect strengthening? In short, we get bored. We don't see the point, we need something to show for our efforts straight away and learning a trick is so much more tempting because it's a much easier way to asses our gains. But eventually, the cracks in your armour will show, your improvement will plateau and the discontentment sets in.
Which is why I strengthen seasonally. That way I get a chance to enjoy my skills, create routines, play with presentation - because I know the time for drills is coming. For me, winter is for strengthening, it's a time when performance work is quiet so I'm in the studio more and I get to focus on leveling up with the goal of emerging in Spring, a better version of myself. Let me encourage you to do the same - it's a great process. Pick a skill you're not strong enough for and set yourself the goal of being able to achieve it in 3 months. When you break it down into small, achievable steps and work towards it steadily you'll be amazed at what you can achieve!! Happy Strengthening!
Are you human?
You are? Oh good! Just checking. Because if you are you'll be able to relate to this.
Ever come to class, all ready to smash out some new skills only to find that nothing is working? Suddenly a foot lock off the ground seems like a foreign movement to you? Heck, you can't even remember how to climb?!! Keep forgetting the same step in a sequence over and over again? Can't understand why last class you did 5 straddles with straight legs easily and today you can't even do one? It could be anything!
But chances are - its you.
And the sooner you stop fighting the problem and wondering if you have some mysterious thing wrong with you, we can address the issue at hand.
Chances are, you are human.
You can't have a great class every class.
You see the reality is this. You bring to your aerial pursuits ALL that is you. Your bad habits, tendencies, personality and attitude. Your way of looking at life. Your body with all its beautiful abilities, strengths, weakness and pathology. The minute you submit to learning a new skill, you immediately have to contend with YOURSELF. And everything that brings up.
Maybe you didn't sleep well last night, maybe it's been a tough day, week, year. Maybe you have to confront the fact that you’re too impatient, or you're being too hard on yourself, too stubborn or simply bringing an unhelpful attitude into your training. These are the tough things of aerial. Accepting that learning involves YOU. (Ok straight leg straddles are hard too but this feels personal).
Good news is, you're in good company. (Unless you train with robots, that can really get you down!) But seriously, it serves NO purpose to get down on yourself, unless you do something about it. Which is exactly what you’ll hear me say.
The classes that don't feel good are often times the ones where you're actually gain the most knowledge. Your body is learning how to do the skills you thought you were done learning, even when you're tired. Your body is learning how to automate so your brain doesn't have to think about it.
As your teacher I will always be here to listen, to help you analyse and to give you advice if you want it. Ok maybe not on your love life, but if that's what's stopping you succeeding I'll do my best. And once we've had our little moment, I'm here to help you move on a do something about it. And I mean that in the nicest possible way :-)
We all do it. Obsess over crazy difficult new tricks. I call it 'shopping'. It's a buzz we need just like retail therapy. Whenever we get stuck with our usual stuff, instead of working on strength, flexibility , endurance, form, spin technique or the myriad of other things you could focus on, we shop for new stuff. It's the circus equivalent of shopping for new clothes when what we should really be doing is going on a diet. It's human to want something new, but the obsession with new tricks can undermine our discipline to work on making what we already know, look better. Instead of looking for a new little black dress, we could make ourselves a great outfit from what we already have in our wardrobe. I know, not romantic at all, but it's a perspective shift you'll encounter at some stage in your aerial journey and it's one of the only ways I've found to tackle the inevitable discontentment with ourselves, especially in this world of constant exposure to the new and shiny.
Mastery is something most of us never really reach, because society places such a high value on quantity rather than quality. Excellence is so out of fashion. It isn't trending. We appreciate it when we see it, but assume it's for the elite few, the extra-gifted or insanely disciplined. Excellence is not about what you do its about how you do it. It's my everything. It's what I value, therefore it affects how I teach. Please note excellence is not the same as difficulty. I am not talking about every student becoming an Olympic level athlete. I'm talking about dedication to perfecting your craft within your personal potential.
Things that get in the way of valuing excellence..
Time. We fight time instead of using it. Time gives us strength, it allows us to stretch. It is the key ingredient to making "head knowledge" drop into muscle memory. It makes concepts we struggle to hold in our conscious mind and allows them to become auto-pilot. It's what makes theoretical information transfer into physical demonstration. It transforms mechanical steps into evocative performance. But so often we think we have to have something to show for the time we put in, instantly! In order for time to serve you, you must first submit to time. Let time do its thing. This shift in my own perspective has allowed me to learn from injuries and set goals without fear of them being unrealistic. It has changed my impatient, elitist nature to one that embraces the road toward knowledge.
Comparison. If you know me well you would have heard one of my favorite quotes by now, "Comparison is the thief of Joy". Coming from a background of elite gymnastics, I have seen the effects of young girls being pitted against each other, vying for Olympic selection and what that can do to an immature psyche. When I left the world of competitive gymnastics I thought that mindset with all its outcome-based criteria would fade. Instead I came across it again and again and the more I encountered it the more I felt discouraged and despaired of finding true joy in my accomplishments. I couldn't see that by constantly comparing myself to others and their achievements, I was robbing myself of the joy that was available to me in each moment. I see this play out in my students journeys sometimes - the initial spark of Joy they felt when they first learnt something new fades into discontentment as they discover how much there is to learn. We become junkies looking for a new buzz. The only comparison I encourage in my students is between themselves when they started compared to where they are today.
So how do we learn to value something that goes against our nature? Stop feeding the comparison machine. Stop fighting time. Make small goals, work steadily towards them and celebrate each small win. Get creative!! Try practicing your usual repertoire to different musical styles, you'd be amazed at what comes out of you when you slow things down or speed them up. A lot of invention is sparked by necessity. Restrict yourself. Force yourself to go left when your body normally goes right. Try making a trick into a descent, try making two tricks that don't fit together, into one trick. Try closing your eyes when you climb, you'll find out quickly how much beauty there can be in purposeful, deliberate movement.
I say this not because I want to discourage you from stretching for the next best thing; aiming for harder moves is a great way to stay motivated in your aerial journey. It's just not the whole journey. If you get to where you want to be too quickly, you risk not discovering the tools you need to find contentment in your pursuits. The cure for consuming endless tricks isn't to stop aiming for them, it's to contribute to the body of knowledge yourself! There may not be anything new under the sun, but let me tell you there is nothing quite like the joy of discovering something that's new for you, by yourself. Not by copying but by exploring. Our anatomy hasn't changed in years, but each of us expresses our physicality in a unique way. I believe the discovery of your aerial abilities goes hand in hand with discovery of your self. So start enjoying the journey! Look around and enjoy the view. After all, we all get high from aerials ;)