Monday, May 12, 2014

Aerial Omily: 'How Do I Get Started?' And How You Keep Going

Circus is hard. That's something most of us grasp intuitively. It's part of the reason it's so amazing to watch. But it isn't just that it takes soooo much strength, or that you have to be soooo brave. You don't actually have to be all that brave in many instances; you just have to know what you're doing. If you understand what you're doing, then you'll know why it's safe. Aerial encompasses a set of skills that there is just no shortcut to learning. You can see by looking at the pros that these skills are a interrelated set that allow you do a wide variety of things once you've acquired them, but there is no class that I've heard of that attempts to teach the skill set the way that you would learn something like, piano, where you start with the tools, and then learn to play songs.

Quite the contrary, when learning to fly, you spend months or years learning 'songs': bits and snatches of sequences, different 'tricks' and 'moves', until one day the separation between these tricks melt away and you see how they're interrelated, and you grasp the theory for yourself. One day you try something funky, realize you're in a knot, and intuitively back yourself out of that knot without giving it a second thought, because you understand how silks work on a visceral level.

Aerial work is taught this way, because, really, it's the best way to teach it. Most aerialists are naturally kinesthetic learners: they learn by doing. They love moving their bodies; it's why they're on the silks, lyra, rope, etc. in the first place! If you sit someone like that down and try to talk to them about  how a hipkey holds you in place, or why you can't come out of full monty the easy way you come out of half monty, she or he is going to be completely lost. Believe me, I've tried it on the husband! Even if the person in question is an auditory learner who really wants to understand this stuff before getting her or himself off the ground, she or he will have absolutely no frame of reference to build this new knowledge onto. I'm not prepared to say that a setup like that could never ever work for anyone, but I'm confident such a success story would be the exception rather than the rule.

To learn aerial, you have to do aerial, and, aerial is hard. So, how do you start? And, the burning question of the ages, once you've started, how do you get good? Aside from praying to the Patron Saint of Flying? You get up there, and you do it. You start low and simple, and you just keep going.
Seriously, this is a thing. There's also this guy, who made friends by doing juggling and acrobatic shows, praying before and after http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bosco.
And, you want my advice (I mean, that's why you're here, isn't it?)?

You're going to see a more advanced student do something, and think "I can do that..." You're going to ask your teacher to talk you through it, and she or he may very well oblige, and maybe you'll do it and you'll think, "Yeah, man, I'm as good as that person!" But, you're not (probably), and if you saw a video of the more advanced student doing the trick, and then a video of you doing it, that would be clear. Learning a bunch of fancy wraps does not a badass aerialist make. You have to make every second in the air look effortless, smooth, and flowing (depending on your character, etc., but in general, unless you're an aerial clown, you'll want some of those traits in everything you do), and you know why? Because it looks good. And you know how you get to that level? By doing the things you already know over, and over, and over, and over, until you can do them in your sleep: until the muscles are there, and the neural pathways are there for you to effortlessly (or apparently effortlessly) move from Point A to Point B, and beyond.

This was first articulated to me in a blogpost by Laura Witwer, after I had figured it out for myself a couple years too late: it isn't about learning tons and tons of new tricks. It's about developing fluidity and style in the air. Four years in, I'm still working on this! Sure, learning 'tricks' is the only way you get yourself onto an apparatus: a climb or mount, a shape, a locked position...but once you have a couple variations on those down, don't push for more before it's given to you, and once it's offered, don't stop working on stuff you've already learned. Don't believe simple stuff has a place in an aspiring professional's toolbox? Think that a move is going to look like itself no matter how you try to gussy it up? Check out these two incredibly different performance photos featuring super basic moves:
I'm rocking a gorgeous basic climb in this performance in September 2012. I look sexy and strong, and you can, too!
I look super cute and spontaneous in this basic fake key from a performance in Spring of 2014! Once you are super comfortable and familiar with a shape or sequence, styling it to make it your own is super easy!
It's so, so tempting to put the latest bad-ass drops and moves you just learned into your choreography, but those moves are not going to show you off to your best potential, because you don't own them yet! Lots and lots of time doing something over and over and over is crucial to the process. This is where open workouts come in. They are essential, and super fun, and the earlier you incorporate them into your training, the faster you'll grow as an aerialist. They're also cheaper than classes, which means you'll be able to spend more time training without dropping a ton more money.

Aside from being your opportunity to cultivate stamina, ease, comfort, and style in the air, open workouts offer the delicious bonus of hanging out with like-minded people! People who, trust me, will nine times out of ten think you are adorable, and will be falling all over themselves to offer encouragement, suggestions, tips, tricks, variations, and new stuff you can try. Just smile, and when in doubt, ask.

That said, it is never ever wise to try a trick you learned from another student at an open workout. Make a note of how this person is explaining the trick to you, thank them profusely for taking time out of their training to share with you, and take your notes back with you to class, where your instructor can decide if you're ready for this move, and then safely walk you through it. The pros learn from each other all the time, and someday you will, too, but jumping into this practice is a good way to wind up with an injury. If you think you might be ready to learn from a peer, first, ask yourself if you feel that you have something at an equal level to teach your potential learning partner. If so, talk to your instructor about it first. On the other hand, if an instructor offers to show you something at an open workout, you can give it a shot if you think you're ready. As with all aerial, you're assuming a risk, so trust your instincts.

That's how you begin. That's how you keep going. And someday someone will say to you, "Wow, that's amazing! I wish I could do that!" And you'll smile and say, "You can do it!" Oh, what a journey we're all on together, and thank goodness, there's always room for one more.

You're in for a long flight. May you enjoy every minute of it!

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