A Comparative Look at Teacher Trainings Across Various Movement Industries

Since I am launching my first ever Aerial Teacher Training Program this year (http://www.rebekahleach.com/teacher-training.html), teacher trainings have been on my mind more than ever. A recent concern in the aerial industry the past few years has come from people who have taken a few classes of aerial and then turned around and started teaching with only a few skills under their belt. Those who have done this have come under criticism from more experienced teachers who know that the aerial arts involve much more than a few tricks. But the question has been raised: If someone wants has taken a few classes of aerial (say one month’s worth and they are a quick learner), and this person decides that they would like to teach it, what would be the fastest acceptable route to become a teacher? It’s a big, wide open question that will ultimately be decided by the actions of the industry at large, but I feel discussion is important. I decided to take a look at other industries, and see how they have answered that question. If I wanted to become a yoga/Pilates/gymnastics/ballet teacher, how fast could I become one?


YOGA ~ 2 Weeks – 1 Month
You are probably already familiar with this one. In fact, you may already be a registered yoga teacher! This one is a well known 200 hour program that allows you to register through Yoga Alliance (www.yogaalliance.org). Yoga Alliance “certifies” the schools, and then schools offer the training. The instructors then apply for membership to Yoga Alliance. Yogis must keep the registration current each year by paying dues to Yoga Alliance and continuing to complete contact hours from qualified yoga teachers. Yoga teacher trainings often attract anyone who wants to deepen their practice. It is not necessarily just for those who are going to teach. A typically program runs around $2000. Travel is on top of that.


PILATES ~ 4 Months – 1 YEAR plus prior experience
Pilates is somewhat complicated by the fact that there are mat and equipment classes.  In addition to mat, the comprehensive program includes the reformer, trapeze (not aerial trapeze), cadillac or tower, chair, and barrel. You can get a mat certificate after about 40 hours. However, if you want to go for certification, you must go for it all and complete a comprehensive program. The hours for the full comprehensive program are similar to yoga, with levels of 200-500 hours. Costs for a course of intensive study covering mat work and equipment training can run from $2,500 to $10,000, with the higher numbers including the full repertoire. The certifying agency for Pilates is Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) http://www.pilatesmethodalliance.org, the “only third-party certifying agency for Pilates teachers in the United States.”


Here’s a nice blog on a new teacher’s journey into getting trained. http://www.limetreelife.com/pilates/ The blogger completed a teacher training that included a series of weekend modules. The weekend modules are a combination of learning the teaching skills, practice of the movements, practice teaching, and discussion/lecture. Students generally take between four months to one year to complete their hours of observation and student teaching required outside of the weekend workshops.(This is very similar to what I am wanting to offer through my own teacher training program.)


My Reflections
I find it important to reflect on the fact that in the early days of both Pilates and yoga, a student of the method would work as an apprentice with a mentor for many months, even years, before teaching clients. That was the usual path to becoming an instructor, just as it often was in other mind-body disciplines such as martial arts and gymnastics. Nowadays, it is common and in most cases required to obtain formal training and certification before teaching Pilates or yoga. In turn, teacher training courses are more ubiquitous. The one consolation I have is that many reputable certifying bodies still require students to accrue practice-teaching and observation hours before receiving a teaching certificate. I think that this is one aspect that should never be under-estimated in preparing a new teacher for teaching.


Here’s a blog that gives insight into how the gymnastics industry encourages their new teachers: http://gymnastics.isport.com/gymnastics-guides/how-to-become-a-gymnastics-coach

The attitude of this blog reveals that experience and mentorship is valued in place of teacher training courses. While teacher training courses are available via the USAG, it is only a supplement, and a small one at that. In some ways it makes sense that in a competitive sport, coaches take on the aire of “been there, done that” and that gives them the credibility to take someone to a competition. It is recommended by the industry and common for a coach to have more than 10 years of experience prior to entering full time coaching. A Pilates instructor writes the following: “You cannot teach something you do not know and you cannot know it unless you commit to ongoing practice.” I find it interesting that with sports such as gymnastics, it is more common to find teachers not engaged in the practice, and that’s when they are called “coaches.” The word coach has a different connotation than teacher and to me, implies that they are done with the sport themselves, and now they are turning a new leaf to coach.

While aerial dance is just as athletic as gymnastics in my opinion, I feel that it is leans in a different direction in the way. Gymnastics seem to wreck your body and then you’re done (while admitting there are always exceptions to the rule!). Circus seems to be more of a lifelong activity. You’ll find plenty of people in their 50s, 60s, and up still engaged in the fun of the circus, where aerial dance has its roots. It’s more of an ongoing lifelong activity, and so instructors are just as much engaged as their students. Rather than coaches who no longer do the sport, aerial instructors are going to be just as much engaged as their students, so it makes sense that the way that they progress into teaching is going to be very different. There’s no such thing as someone taking a 2 week teacher training course and now they are going to coach a gymnastics student to the regional competition. You have to live and breath the industry for years. Simple as that.


My Reflections
I found this interesting: There is a Junior Professional Membership for coaches who are of age 16 or 17, and the instructor membership (for USA Gymnastics) is available to individuals starting at age 14.   Instructors of this age are teaching the young kids and acting in assisting roles, but still, it is rare to see someone so young teaching yoga or Pilates, etc. I think that this helps create the environment for mentorship, and a culture of the older coaches passing on their expertise to the up and coming coaches. I would like to see this concept carry over into the aerial industry, and welcome kids who are 15 and older to act as junior instructors. I have seen it at some circus schools, so it is not something that is far out there. I don’t think students under 18 should be taking teacher training courses per say, but I do think we should welcome their help in our studios and mentor them so that when they are older, they are ready.


BALLET ~ 9 DAYS (plus being an expert and nothing less) OR 5 years OR no training

ABT (American Ballet Theater) is well-known in the world of Ballet. Did you know you could become certified in ABT Ballet? As long as you meet the necessary skill level, you can get certified in as little as 9 days. This prepares you for teaching children ages 3 and up and you can be as young as 17 years old. A 6 day course prepares teachers to instruct intermediate and advanced ballet students age 11 – 13+. And another 6 day course prepares teachers to instruct advanced and pre-professional ballet students ages 14+. May I emphasis the skill level which allows someone to do this is not beginner, not intermediate, barely advanced. The skill level required to enter the program is advanced and professional.

Ballet is similar to gymnastics that the most respected teachers don’t necessarily perform any longer. It is part of the culture of ballet to have a teacher who is older and has lived a full life of dance. It is normal and common to have a teacher only verbally cue in class, and never demonstrate, just as a gymnastics coach is likely to do as well.


As far as governing bodies go, the Royal Academy of Dance was the best I could find. The RAD was created with the objective to improve the standard of ballet teaching in the UK and, in pursuit of that goal, a new teaching method and dance technique was devised for the Academy by a group of eminent European dancers. The RAD is one of the largest dance organizations in the world with over 12,000 members in 79 countries, including about 7,500 who hold Registered Teacher Status (Wikipedia). However, if you wanted to teach dance at a local dance studio, no one would ask if you were a part of this or any other organization (at least not in the United States).

In the United States, it is very common for dance teachers to receive a masters degree in fine arts from an accredited institution. This degree typically takes about 5 years or more and typically costs anywhere from $40,000-100,000+ depending on what college you attend. Many dance teachers go on to teach at dance studios or in the public or private school system, at levels ranging from elementary school PE to high school dance teams to college dance companies (or being a professor of dance). It is an interesting mix to say the least. Within the same dance studio, you may have someone with no college experience (qualified simply due to natural talent) teaching next to someone with a masters degree. The main thing that the local dance studio cares about is that the teacher can dance and they can teach. Credentials are great, but experience is valued even more within dance studios. In the school system, you absolutely must have your masters degree in order to teach, so that is why so many dancers receive theirs. It keeps doors open for job opportunities.

10,000 HOUR RULE

It is certainly a hard question to answer: What is an adequate length of time to train a teacher? Those who value their art form of teaching may cringe at the suggestion of two weeks. How can someone conquer the art of [fill in the blank with any art form] in 2 weeks if it wasn’t already in them? I remember Debbie Park (my aerial mentor) once telling me that it takes 10 years to become an expert at anything. I have also recently encountered the 10,000 hour rule.

The 10,000 Hour Rule is the idea that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. For instance, it would take 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day to become a master in your subject. It would take approximately 5 years of full-time employment to become proficient in your field. (hmm…sounds like gymnastics coaches perhaps?)

It really is experience more than anything that will make a teacher blossom. I think that a solid teacher training program includes many hours of practice, as well as time for the teacher to grow to a place where they are confident in the skills. It is likely that a teacher may begin teaching while they are still a student of the craft themselves. It is not practical to require every student be practicing their art for 10 years prior to considering teaching. They simply must be a few steps (of course the more the better) ahead of their students, in recognition that it is all one big continuum of learning at the end of the day.

A wonderful yoga practitioner had the following to say on the subject at hand, “I believe people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I care because this practice, this community cares for me. This same care will lead me to the [knowledge I need]. .. I am a student forever, hopefully well beyond 10,000 hours, but today I teach by the minute.”



Do you think the aerial dance industry should have teacher training programs that are so common they become necessary part of the industry? What is the ideal length? How long should a teacher be practicing in the aerial arts before they take a teacher training? Lots of room for a million opinions!

Honey, Take Your (Aerial) Vitamins Before Play Time Please

When Julianna and I started brainstorming for the Aerial Hoop Manual Volume 1, we realized that there is a distinct difference between correct technique and choreographic choice. I am a fan of saying, “Nothing is wrong [as far as body positions in space] as long as it is done on purpose and with full body awareness.” Julianna is a big fan of saying, “But don’t forget to take your vitamins.”


single knee hang.Still001

Because of my background in dance, I am very experimental when it comes to aerial movement. I appreciate what the Aerial Dance Festival in Boulder, CO has done for the aerial dance world. The idea is to treat your apparatus like a contact improvisation partner and go for it. There is about as much as modern dance in terms of proper technique and relatively little in terms of set moves that get progressively more difficult. Because of my love of modern dance and all pioneers in the field, I love keeping the idea that all positions of the body are okay as long as you are aware of what your body is doing. Every shape can have an expressive purpose, and in this framework, I play. I do very little conditioning or what’s “proper.” The whole reason I have enjoyed writing the books is because it has forced to me to sit down and look at moves in ways in which I typically ignore them.

Our conversation started when we discussing the single knee hang on hoop. I, of course, just wanted to hang out. Up I went on the hoop to just hang ten. Julianna, as sternly as my ballet teacher told me I had terrible feet, said that I was turning my hips out and needed to work on squaring them.

Me: “I don’t need to square my hips. I like working in turn out.”

Julianna: “But you need your vitamins! You can turn out once you have learned how to work in parallel. Working in parallel will train your muscles how to properly engage so that you can go into turn out from there.”

Me: “I am awesome and can do anything in aerial. Let me try this exercise.” Me 5 seconds later: “That’s freakin’ hard! I do need to train this area! My hamstrings are weak! Julianna, thank you for making me take my vitamins!”

Okay, so the conversation didn’t really go like that, but you get the idea. I still hold fast to the idea that anything is permissible, but not everything is a healthy place from which to build a foundation. It is important in training and teaching that you set yourself up with proper technique and form. Train the muscles that are required to support your weight so that when you do choose to disengage and go all over the place, you can do so smartly and by choice, not because of muscle weakness.

There are two important lessons here:

1) Take your aerial vitamins. Example: Train the single knee hang in parallel before working in turn out or disengaging.

2) Don’t be afraid of the things that teachers say are wrong for form. Understand that they are only wrong for the vitamin version. Example: It is perfectly fine to release and go crazy in your knee hang, but if you have skipped your vitamins, you risk working on a weak hamstring, and your body may lack the ability to properly protect you from injury because it hasn’t learned the proper engagement.

For example, holding a hoop with thumbs wrapped is an important technique to teaching a beginner how to hold the hoop. This gives the grip more support and protects the student from precarious wraps. In fact, telling a student anything about their grip is a good thing because they need to get their body awareness to that part of their body and having something to focus on gets the right neurons firing to that part of the body. But, I have met many professional aerialists who haven’t given a second thought to performing moves without their thumbs wrapped. Does this mean we should throw out the old “thumbs wrapped method?” NO! It just means that professional aerialists get to make choreographic choices that may go against everything a beginning student has learned. That’s okay. It’s important to teach beginners so that they know the difference and understand that one day they get to make their own choreographic decisions as well.

Another example is engaged shoulders versus disengaged shoulders. Yes Yes Yes, it is important to have the shoulders engaged during technique training. Are there times when a professional aerialist may make a choreographic choice to disengage the shoulders during a static or dynamic movement? Yes! And it’s perfectly okay because they have all the body awareness, technique and strength required to execute it safely.

These issues can sometimes get a little uncomfortable to some. It is like the ballet dancer finding themselves in a modern class where the teacher is telling them to work in parallel instead of turn out and let go of their centers. It goes against everything they were ever taught! You will find some teachers have very strict standards about what is “right” and “wrong” as far as technique goes. The good thing is that they are teaching great form and keeping beginning students free of injuries. The down-side is that sometimes, they cling so hard to policing form that they do not allow the dance to happen.

For beginning aerial students, I say: Do not neglect your vitamins! You may want to jump straight into choreographic choices because they are more fun and feel better on your body, but you cannot neglect your vitamins! These come first.

For professional teachers, I say: Do not be overly concerned that another teacher is teaching something totally different from the way that you teach it. Maybe it is not always the vitamin strength the students needs, but more often than not, it’s not wrong. It’s just a choreographic choice. Have the wisdom to know the difference.





A major part of our vision from years ago is now a reality! We now have the infrastructure in place for members to login, post videos, pictures, events, list their studio in our directory, and have access to an enormous video library encompassing the moves from all of the manuals by Rebekah Leach and then some!

I want to take the time to tell you just what this site offers, and the intended usage of the video library. The videos will allow you to see all the moves from the manuals in action, with tips now and then pointing out key ideas. They are NOT detailed enough to learn from.

In some ways, they look like instructional videos. The move is shown from beginning to end, key points are highlighted, and at times, even the progressions are all shown. But, here is a list what is missing from these videos:


1) First of all, talking. We do not talk you through it enough for you to learn from. A live teacher is the only one who is qualified to do that.

2) A spotter. Sometimes a spotter gets directly involved, but a huge job of the spotter is to simply WATCH you and make sure that you are making smart choices as you navigate a movement. They can go “hey – stop! That’s not how to wrap that!” Or, when you have wrapped wrong, they can talk you out of a wrap, etc.

3) A ladder. This is hidden off screen when applicable, but at any rate, a ladder is your safety necessity if you are climbing more than 6 feet off the ground. This way if you get all tied up, someone (your spotter for instance) can run over with the ladder for you to climb on while you get unstuck.

4) Diagnosis of whether you are ready for that move. A huge part of your safety as a aerialists is only performing moves that your body has strength to complete. If you are attempting moves ahead of your skill level, you are putting yourself at a huge risk of injury. One of an instructor’s main jobs is to access whether you are ready for certain skills. If you go a studio where you are restricted from learning certain material until you have conquered X-Y-Z, then be happy! They are doing something right at that studio!


Now that we have gone over some precautions, let’s talk about the best ways to use this site:

1) As a student: View the moves that you have already covered in class to review that skill. Many times when first learning, things are a mess. There are a million changes in hand grips, transitions are going everywhere because you are not sure where you are headed in space. Watching the moves here can help you review how to place your body to move efficiently through the move. All moves shown are demonstrated with the utmost technique! For the moves you don’t know, feel free to bring them to your teacher and say, “Can we learn this move today?” Also, we have a ton of conditioning videos that will be coming up on the site. These will be great to add into your home workouts as long as they fit with your level and movement background, etc.

2) As a teacher: Come here to review the material you might teach to your students. You might also see a new variation of something, a way to give your students a fresh look at something, or a way to stylize that you haven’t thought of before. Also, if you are teaching material from this site in classes or workshops, and students would like to take video, you can point them here to review. That way they can stay focused in class instead of pulling out the camera. Also, the content on this site is geared towards beginning and intermediate levels. We can help give you plenty of ideas to help beginning and intermediate students stay interested so that they are not pushing themselves too fast to learn advanced skills before they are ready. We also have a ton of aerial yoga content including sequences that you can use in aerial warm ups in your classes.

3) As a performer: Get ideas for moves to add into your routine. You might learn a new move, or a new way to stylize an old one. You can also get ideas for training with our conditioning and exercise videos. You can also contribute to the community be sharing your own take on moves and how you change up a move to make it unique!


As part of the moves library, one thing we have is a place to write what you call the move. You can write in your own name, and feel free to use a different language. It would be great to see the names not just in English, but other languages as well.

Also, below each video is a place for you to comment and post your own pictures and videos. If you have variations of moves that you teach or perform, please feel free to share! We love contributors in this online community. We also have discussion pages where you are welcome to add topics and posts about topics including teaching, rigging, safety, training, performing, and more.

We are really excited about this new site, and hope you are too! Thank you for your support.