10 Progressions of the Hip Key

Posted on: November 22nd, 2014 by Rebekah Leach

This Fall we are all about Rope (a.k.a. Corde Lisse) here at AerialDancing.com. We’ve been uploading new Aerial Rope videos to our site. Now and then we like to release one of our videos so that everyone can enjoy the in-depth coverage of common aerial moves ~ see the end of this article for a video covering the progressions of the hip key. These progressions are not “THE” progressions. They are simply A way to approach different points along the pathway of mastering the hip key. There is a lot to absorb. For some items, take or leave ‘em, but we hope you learn something new about training the hip key!

If you love the depth of these articles, you will love when the Rope Manual Volume 1 gets released 2015!

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Progression 1: Hip Key From the Ground

The first task is to allow the student to feel what it feels like to be in a hip key. A common misconception is that the hip key is a locked in knot, or at least is a lot more secure than it really is. As a teacher, you want them to understand that it is their body placement that holds them and will be controlling the tension. If they move their hips towards the ceiling, they will fall out of the hip key. Many beginning students are surprised by this fact because they have seen everyone hang out in a hip key as if it’s a footlock-type secure knot.

When teaching, you want to give students chewable bits. There is a lot to the technique of the hip key, but the first thing I want them to be concerned with is as basic as possible. Once they weave the rope under one leg and over the other, I want them to try to meet their outside hip to the pole of the rope. It is important to cue the hips. If you just cue the body, as I’ve seen inexperienced teachers do—“Lean over” they’ll say—then some students won’t get the hips all the way over as they lean with their head and rib cage. They will fall out and be confused as to why they are not staying in the hip key. It’s called a hip key for a reason.

Progression 2: Work on Tightening up the Hip Key

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This can help a teacher troubleshoot for students who are sliding out, but it applies to everyone. In the hip key, if you bring the top leg forward (towards the nose) while the bottom leg moves away from the torso, you will tighten the hip key. This also puts the body in a position to better use the obliques which in turn helps lift the torso and you can maintain what I call the “lifted hip key.” More on this as we progress.

Progression 3: Add a Rope Over the Shoulder

Now, this is an interesting progression because in some ways it’s actually a regression. But, hear me out. Adding the rope over the shoulder gives more tension so a beginning student will be able to get into the hip key and be in the position with less effort. This is a great modification for the first time you teach a hip key from the ground. Some teachers start with this from the get-go. I don’t like to and here’s why: It’s like training wheels. There are many students who don’t need them. They are fine with the simple, straightforward hip key from the start. As a teacher, I like having a back-pocket tool to be able to help break-down a move if it’s necessary. I don’t need to start at the most basic level for every student. Not every student needs to be that babied.

Even if I didn’t teach the rope over the shoulder at step one, I like teaching it once a student has a handle on the hip key because I know they won’t be using it as a crutch. And if they have the rope over the shoulder, they are now preparing for the fifth progression, which will allow them to better explore the leg positions of the hip key. I don’t mind if they use the crutch while they focus elsewhere (focus moves away from the hips at progression 5). The reason I put this here is that it’s another way to play with the hip key. Now is also a great time to instruct a student to practice on their bad side. Having the rope over the shoulder can help assist them if they are struggling on their bad side.

Progression 4: Work on Controlling the Level of Tension/Squeeze

The next task that I give students is to see if they can fully control a descent all the way to the mat by controlling the level of tension at the hips. If they move their hips towards the ceiling (the movement is so slight, it’s hard to even call it a movement), they will start to slide. Pulling back in towards the rope will tighten them back up and put the brakes on. At first, you will see that students can slide, but can’t put the brakes on! That’s all part of expected learning pathway. It is one thing to let the tension go. It is quite another to let it go with control so that you can get it back in a moment’s notice. I want students working on this level of control before they move on with their hip keys.

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There is also another hidden technique that can start to be revealed at this last step. It helps to be in a “lifted hip key” as you slide to the mat so that you can hover before reaching the mat. If you are in a regular hip key, with the head hanging down below the hips, the head will hit the ground first, and it’s not so fun. If you encourage students to maintain a lifted torso, so that the torso remains above the hips, they might find they can control their tension level and feel like they are able to get the feeling of hovering. This will prepare them fabulously for future hip key roll ups. If they are mastering this step, you have had great success with teaching hip key technique! So far, so good.

Progression 5: The Pathway of the Legs

Once students have control of the hips (demonstrated by success at the fourth progression), I feel comfortable moving on to teaching how to control the rest of the body. The next focal point will be the legs. As an aerialist enters the hip key, it is nice to see the clean technique of straight legs that draw the widest, biggest circles they possibly can through the air as the legs circle into the hip key like the hands on a clock. To help them do this, I like to use the rope over the shoulder and start with a solid grip of the knee on the rope. As soon as they are ready to go, there is a very key moment that I look for: The inside leg presses forward (with a beautifully straight leg) so that the rope slides up to land under the gluteal fold. With the rope tucked nicely in this position, the outside leg reaches out first and then up and over into the hip key. The focus is the pathway of the legs. If you don’t emphasis the pathway, these students will end up the way many amateur aerialists have in the past – with very flat hip keys that lack the buoyancy and life that they could have! Set up good habits now.

Progression 6: Go for Height!

In the fifth progression, I emphasized the leg reaching. It helps to have a straight leg so that the reach is visible; however, the reach isn’t really happening in the legs. It really happens in the hips. So, now I don’t care if they go back to entering the hip key with bent legs, but I want to see the space get created, and then get sunk into. In this step, the task I give is to start with a high knee squeezed onto the rope and then repeat progression 5 but without the rope over the shoulder. If they squeeze the knee high on the rope, it’s really easy to slip the outside leg under the rope; this leg lifts so that the rope slides into the crease of the body and then hips (or the leg if it helps) reaches out & up & over as the student rotates into the hip key. Like it was addressed as progression 5, the leg on the rope pushes forward to ensure the rope lands right under the gluteal fold during this whole transition. You can see why it’s important to give a bit size chunk to chew on each time you address hip key technique. There’s a whole heck of a lot to think about!

Progression 7: Side Swings

So far, we’ve addressed the hips, legs –which really was more hips – and now we are ready to move on to full body integration. This mainly involves the biceps and side body. To get the party started, let’s start with leg swings to the side. From standing on the ground, grab the rope and swing sideways with your outside leg going behind the rope and the inside leg going in front. This is to prepare for the scissor action that is about to come. What you want to look for in the swings: The rope should meet with the top of the thigh of the outside leg (the one that’s swinging behind). Once the rope gets as high as possible between the legs, you are ready to swivel those hips into hip key.

Progression 8: Scissor into Hip Key

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Once this scissor action is taught, it is common to see a student lose everything they learned about hip control of the hip key. If a strong foundation is present, it won’t stay lost! (This is why progressions and building foundation is soo important.) Remind a student to press the inside leg forward to get the rope under the gluteal fold (not under the knee!), and lift the outside hip high as you go around to get the rope at the top of the leg. Work on getting the second leg as high as possible as you go around. You can give students the visual goal of trying to tap the rope with their toes as they circle around. Encourage them to reach reach reach for a circle of the legs as wide as possible. Push students (gently) to their limits so they can do their best!


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Extreme Version Combo with Straddle Inversion & Meathook Over

The ultimate test of hip key technique is to stop in a full inverted straddle, windshield wiper over into meathook with the rope tight enough so that you don’t slide too much as you sink into the hip key position you are in. By the way, this is an excellent prep for meathooks. I save this progression for advanced students who have been working on hip keys for a long time. Don’t teach this one to your beginners!

Progression 9: From the Air – Start Easy

We’re almost there! We’ve done all the ground work we can do. Now it’s time to take to the air! At first, only allow students to do one climb. They are still new at this, and you don’t want them too high. After one climb, the first leg comes around; you can either hook your knee on the rope OR you can use this opportunity to grab the rope with your feet and help place it over your second leg. This is easy in terms of strength, but hard in terms of technique. (You may have seen this move featured in my fabric books. I elaborate more on this technique there. )

Progression 10: Put it all together

The last task is to windmill those legs into the perfect hip key, and demonstrate full control of the hips as you slide down the rope, starting and stopping on command. Congratulations! You have made it through the hip key progressions. If you fully took advantage of what each step had to teach you, your hip key should be pretty darn amazing!

Here is the video demonstrating these progressions on rope (can easily be transferred to fabric):

Not All Bones Are Created Equal => Not Everyone Splits the Same

Posted on: October 26th, 2014 by Rebekah Leach

Have you ever heard one of your students say they don’t feel a stretch at all, but just that things feel stuck. One person recently put it this way, “When I’m in a seated straddle I can not forward fold over the center at all, there is no pain or stretch, when someone puts pressure on me I begin to feel something but it is very faint.” Our bodies are not all created equal and this article is going to highlight where some of those differences come from – particularly in the hip joint.

When someone can’t do the splits, we want to jump to the classic conclusion that they must be tight and inflexible, but that’s just simple not true. It may be true, but we can also be misled by anatomical variations of the hip joint.


femur inclination

In the pictures above, do you notice the differences at the top of the femur? The ball on the end of this femur goes inside the socket of the hip joint. These two people are not going to squat the same, nor obtain the same flexibility level in their splits safely. One of these people will be able to perform a wide straddle with no issues. The other will experience pain and feel much comfortable in a narrow stance.


Above are two pelvic girdles. The person on the right might run into a block when trying to perform a forward fold in pike position. Below is a side view looking at the hip socket. One is pointing straight out and the other is pointing down and towards the front. Again, this lends itself to people having different positions where they are immediately comfortable and other areas where their bodies are sending them messages that say “Don’t go in that direction!”


Of course it would be great if every student could get perfect 180 degree splits in every direction, but if we honor the way our bodies are made, this simple isn’t anatomically possible for everyone to do safely. In the end, our goal should be to get to know our bodies better and to use our strengths, improve our weakness, and work safely to find the edge of our individual abilities and potential. Very few people are at the edge of their limits, so its important to keep working and not make excuses, but it also important to recognize anatomical limits that may exist! Most importantly, the race to flexibility is against yourself – never against the next person. Don’t compare your range of flexibility to anyone else’s. Embrace who you are and how God made you – bone structure and all.

 Photos used with permission from Paul Grilley.


7 Teaching Progressions of the Basic Climb

Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by Rebekah Leach

This Fall we are all about Rope (a.k.a. Corde Lisse) here at AerialDancing.com. We’ve been uploading new Aerial Rope videos to our site. These videos are available to our full access members, but today, you get a taste of what they get to enjoy every day. Below we have a video covering the 3 variations of the basic climb. The basic climb is so basic that it gets easily overlooked in its complexity. You may not think twice about teaching it. You might think it’s a 10 minute affair to teach- but no! There are levels of complexity and an effective teacher will plan out the steps towards the basic climb weeks before arriving, and then build on technique and variations to challenge the student’s body awareness as they climb. If you want to set your students up for success in the basic climb, keep reading. If you love the depth of this article, you will love when the Rope Manual Volume 1 gets released 2015!

Before we jump in to teaching techniques -> note that this information applies to teaching both rope and fabric. The video below demonstrates the basic climb variations on rope, but you could just as easily be on fabric.

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Progression #1: The Basic Stand with Bent Arms

When they first learn the basic wrap, I have students hold with bent arms as they wrap the basic wrap on their feet and stand. This position is known as the basic stand. I judge their level of accomplishment by whether or not they can open their hands (blocking on the rope so as not to fall backwards). If they can relax their grip, then they are adequately squeezing with their feet and this is what is required in a solid basic stand.

Progression #2: The Basic Stand with Straight Arms

Teach students to hold the rope with straight arms as they perform the basic wrap from the ground. Once they have the basic wrap on their feet, they have two options to stand; they can either (1) pull straight up to stand with arms bent or (2) perform a roll through the spine to stand on their wrap with bent arms. It’s common for newbies to skimp on the roll through. Push with the hips, then roll all the way up until the head rolls back. It is the last thing to come up. Newbies can act like their head is going to fall off, and not want to tilt it back. Let it release and then pull it back up so the motion flows. It doesn’t have to be big and juicy, but make it work. An effective roll up uses very little arm muscle. It’s all about initiating the movement with the hip push. Once the hips are over the legs, it just becomes a matter of stacking the rest of the body at the new level in space.

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Progression #3: Perform 2 Basic Stands in a Row

Once a student is successful in the straight arm from the ground to basic stand, they are ready to climb, but don’t tell them that! It can be a powerful tool to simply instruct students to perform a second basic stand while they are in a basic stand. This is especially powerful for students with the preconceived notion that they will be bad at climbing. If you say, “Let’s climb,” they might set up a mental road block. But, if you simply say, “Let’s add another basic stand,” they are simply repeating a step that they have already conquered. This proves to overcome the mental road block with a high success rate! (Special thanks to Amy Tynan for highlighting the importance of this teaching tool.)

Now, students will be gaining height, so be sure to prep them for the exit prior to having them climb. Clearly demonstrate either the hand under hand slide descent or the inch worm decent.

Progression #4: Roll Up Climb

Do you realize that there are at least 3 variations of the basic climb? It can be effective to include all three as you teach this climb. You might not teach all 3 in one day. It depends where the students are at in their level of ability and how fast they soak up information. Sometimes it’s good to approach the basic climb only one way when first learning, then add variations later when the students are ready to hone their technique. The variation I like to start with is the Roll Up. The roll up can be slightly more complicated then the basic straight arm climb, but it is the easiest in terms of strength if students know how to utilize their roll up efficiently. That was the reason it was important to lay the right foundation back at step 2 of the progressions.

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Progression #5: Emphasis Retrogrades

When I first teach a climb technique, I have students use their favorite descent (whatever they worked on in progressions 3). But, once they have the hang of the climb, I emphasis the one thing I emphasis whenever and wherever I can: the RETROGRADE. Retrogrades are one of your biggest teaching tools. They allow you to give students a chance to puzzle things out and really think about steps. Generally, I try to avoid showing retrogrades. I like to ask students to figure it out. Say, “Now, try to come down the fabric reversing how you went up.” Students have to use their critical thinking skills to analyze exactly how they go up so that they can reverse it. One of my favorite parts to teaching the roll up climb is the retrograde descent. Check out the video below to see the retrograde in action.

Progression #6: Basic Straight Arm Climb

In terms of strength, this climb comes next. Here’s the cuing that I prefer on this one: “Keep your nose close to the rope. As you rise, use your hands to pull your body close to the rope, and use your leg power to stand.” Too many students neglect using leg power in this climb and can fall off alignment as they stand. Watch for the whole spine standing straight and tall and moving upwards as one unit. The retrograde of this climb is the inch worm. If students are having trouble with the roll up when you teach it back in progression 2, teach this variation before progression 5. These two climbs are so similar, the order doesn’t really matter. In fact, for the manly men, I skip the roll up altogether.

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Progression #7: Add a Pull Up

With monkey boys in your class, they may naturally perform this variation without your prompting simply because they love using the power of their upper body strength. For them, progression ordering may look a little different because you’ll have to teach them how to harvest the power of their legs, and reserve the energy in their arms that will be important for stamina in performances later on down the road. To perform this variation, start with straight arms and basic wrap just like normal. Only this time, after standing, reach those arms up and pull up. As you pull up, perform the wrap and stand on the wrap. In this variation the legs might not work very hard at all because the emphasis transfers to the arms. Again, reach up and pull up prior to wrapping. In the retrograde of this climb, slide the legs while the arms reverse pull up to lower down.


The reason that I save the pull up variation for last – even though for some it may be the most intuitive climb – is because I want to teach students how to use their whole body and how to use it efficiently. This way, when they are performing a 10 minute aerial piece and they have to climb the rope for the 5th time, they understand how to use their body so that they don’t always have to use their arm strength. They learn how to effective use their leg power or the power of the hip push to make their height gains.

Other Teaching Notes

It should go without saying that proper shoulder engagement should be used throughout teaching all climbs. I’m not a big fan of the cue “Pull your shoulders back.” It encourages too much arching and can pull the rib cage forward too much as the student tries their best to obey the cue. My preferred cuing is “Relax the shoulders down into neutral.” This allows students to release tension in their neck, where they don’t want or need it. It sends the message that the shoulders should be down, but not excessively. The check for proper alignment is to see if the student’s shoulders look the same on the ground and in the air. Nothing should be changing from walking around to performing pull ups in terms of how the back, rib cage, and shoulders all align with one another. All the muscles should be working to maintain the alignment that they approach the rope with. No significant changes should occur in the upper body. This doesn’t mean things aren’t working below the surface, but the goal is to keep the appearance of relaxed and neutral.

One last note that should also go without saying – but let’s be thorough: Have students (and yourself!) practice the basic climb on both sides of the body. This includes both the feet switching and which hand is on top. You can take an entire climb up with rope on the same side and repeat on the second side or alternate as you go. Variety not only helps the body, it helps build body awareness as well. Be disciplined to always include both sides in your training.

Hopefully, this article has brought something new for you to think about. Keep in mind this method of approach is not THE way. It is A way. Incorporate the teaching techniques that work for you, adapt others to fit your style, and throw the rest out. It’s important that teaching fits the personality of the teacher and the level of the students. Your students might be completely different from my students and might require different methods of approach. I am constantly changing the way I approach teaching new moves, and you can too!

Happy Flying!


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