Aerial Taxonomy Explained

Here it is — the blog you’ve been waiting for. The one where I reveal all my secrets. Before I do, a little backstory to give motivation:

When I used to tutor math, I would start by giving a speech at the beginning of my tutoring session, “I am so good that I am bad for my own business. My job is to work myself out of a job by giving you all the tools you need to do this on your own. You don’t need me and I’m going to show you. You can do this on your own and if I am successful, I will be out of a job here and on my way. That’s the goal.”

Teaching is about letting the student become the master. In my case, I feel that if I can just get students to *think* a certain way about aerial, then the whole world will open where they will no longer desire classes to teach just skills. They will hunger after classes as a means of communal research, training, fun and exploration, and not at all about teaching trick, trick, trick, trick. Aerial is about something much more fun and exciting — it’s about creating and exploring! And this is why I teach using the methods of aerial taxonomy. The “tricks* I teach are the classics, the basics, the standards. The fun part is the layering, the discovering of the millions of ways to manipulate and weave in between the classics. It’s not fun to go steal how someone on Instagram weaved and twisted and turned. It may be inspiring to see that things can be done a different way, but it could also be done YOUR way if you took the time to research. There are enough variations for us ALL to have our own unique pathways, threads and weaves in and around our apparatuses. Stop being someone else. That’s what this is about. Let’s start teaching the TOOLS to create and each be pioneers of the art form.

The following is from a workshop I give called “Aerial Taxonomy 101,” but I’ve recently started incorporating the language into everything I do. You will start to see classifications of this sort in each of my upcoming books, starting with the Aerial Sling Manual Volume 2, which will be out by the end of 2019. These are all important terms to know and understand in the science of classifying aerial skills.

Aerial Taxonomy Terms


If we are drawing the analogy to the animal kingdom, then skills are your animals. Our job in aerial taxonomy is to classify and put each skill into categories, drawing out the underlying similarities between apparatuses, etc.

Each skill can be defined by four elements: (1) the underlying base position(s) you are in, (2) what actions got you into your skill, (3) what shape you are in and (4) what apparatus you are on.

For example, the following skill can be classified as:

leg rollup 10


apparatus: fabric

base position: footlock

action: roll-up

shape: bowsprit lean


Base positions are the skills which grow other skills. The branches from which the leaves emerge.

Base positions can vary from studio to studio, but the overlapping Venn diagram would include skills that everyone can agree are “must-knows” on each apparatus. For example, a footlock on silks is a classic base position, as is catcher’s (aka open thigh wrap), s-wrap, hip key, etc. These are skills that everyone can agree on that every aerial fabric student should know. Each are independent of one another and help build the rest of the vocabulary.

Skills such as crossback straddle would not necessarily be considered a base position for the sake of aerial taxonomy, but rather a combination of base positions. Crossback straddle is a combination of the base position of crossback and footlocks.


These are a subset of base positions. I won’t go into this in detail here, but root positions are helpful when you are trying to boil down all base positions into as few elements as possible. Root positions can be thought of as the tree trunk which grows the base positions, which are the branches; which grow the leaves, which are the skills. More on this in my workshop.


Shapes help describe the orientation of the body while in a particular skill. For example, I could be inverted under a hoop (a base position) and make a wide variety of shapes. I could be in a meathook, a straddle, a pike, a ball, the splits, etc. None of these really affect my location in terms of my contact with the apparatus, but they can affect my tilt, orientation, and general look of the skill.

Some examples of some well-recognized shapes:

Arch Back (Global Extension)
Arm Straddle (aka Nutcracker)
Back Balance
Back Planche
Back Planche Split
Bird’s Nest
Cuddle (sleeper)
Cupid (Press-Out)
Front Balance
Lay Out
Man in the Moon (Profile Sit)
Neck Hang
Plank (Straight-body of various directions)
Scissor Legs
Toe Star
Tuck (aka ball)
Vareki (aka arched arrow)


Actions are the transitions of aerial. They tell us how we got from the trunk to the branch to the leaf. Did we walk, run, skip or crawl? I have placed these in “classes” in order to study them more in-depth as categories.

For example, my favorite action class is knee hooks. On any vertical apparatus, you typically have six classic knee hook options: (1) same-side regular, (2) opposite-side regular, (3) inside reverse knee hook, (4) outside reverse knee hook, (5) inside 2-knee hook, and (6) outside 2-knee hook.

It is a very interesting study to take this list and apply it on top of each base apparatus in term. For example, try each of these 6 knee hooks atop a hip key. What do you get? (In one of my workshops, we go through all these examples, and find some fun connections!)

Some other examples of actions of aerial:

lean out
pike (crease/fold)
sink (trash can)
heel hook
flex foot (ankle) hook
knee hook (reverse, inside, outside, 1 or 2 knee)
leg thread
knee thread
arm thread
(note: arm and knee threading are all a part of the threading class)
key over
flamenco grip (part of the grip-options class)
angel roll
hip block
shoulder block
roll (roll up, down, sideways, etc)
stuff-it (soft bar only)
wedge (press-support)
grab overhand
grab underhand
sickle block (golf club foot press)
skin the cat
toe grab


This category is pretty straight-forward. However, I do want to note that often times, I will use terms like “We are in silks-land now” even though we are working on a sling. For example, if you climb up high enough and put on footlocks above you, you are really in “sling-land” anymore. That’s a fabric skill that is being placed on sling. So, sometimes the apparatus where the base position is rooted is different than the apparatus where the skill is being applied.

Let it be understood, that even though I don’t study footlocks as a base position in sling, I am never opposed to using them there. That is part of the fun, the exploration and the creativity. It’s one thing to classify the classics. It’s another to start breaking all the rules. :)

In Summary…

My aerial taxonomy goes more in-depth than this introduction here, but I hope that this gives you a good overview for understanding my categories of study. Like I mentioned above, you can expect to see these classifications come more to the fore-front of coming manuals as I work to create a universal language and curriculum for the aerial arts. I hope to maintain great consistency across all the aerial apparatuses, and provide the study of each apparatus that highlights the unique properties of each, allowing you to cross-train and break all the rules as you may.



Why You Should Care -> Aerial Taxonomy

I’ve been on an “Aerial Theory” kick lately and so you are getting some of my thoughts through this current blog series. In my last blog, I coined a term = Aerial Taxonomy. Just like biologists are concerned with classifying animals into kingdom, order, phylum, etc, it’s time aerialists got more organized with their classification system for aerial skill sets.  This blog is concerned with why you should care. My next blog will be concerned with a set of guidelines that I follow when setting scientific-aerial names.

Aerial Taxonomy = The branch of science concerned with classification of aerial moves.

1. Having clear aerial taxonomy helps to classify aerial skills.

Well, this is the definition. Yes.

2. It helps to speak a similar language within the community.

I really appreciate being a part of the “creating a common language for aerial arts” Facebook group. It helps to see what people are calling things from different parts of the country. (I can’t imagine what it’s like in other languages — if anyone knows, you’ll have to let me know.)

If we can hit the more descriptive names when we cross-reference and cross-train, this can help us communicate more effectively across the professional aerial industry. When students move and pick up training at another gym, it is helpful to have similar names from place to place, at minimum for the basics of aerial.

3. It helps to raise the professional aerial community to higher standards.

When teachers get together and talk teacher-talk, it is extremely helpful to have proper names rather than say “I teach the purple bomb, then the sparkling twirl, etc.” Even if your local vernacular differs from the scientific name, anyone who seeks to be a professional aerial educator should learn the scientific names to be able to communicate among other professionals. This is analogous to calling a cat a “cat” versus “felis catus.” There’s a time and a place for both.

4. It helps to understand the connections between moves.

The more that you can abstract the concept behind the skill, the more you are able to see how skills across the board relate with one another, both in technique and through transitional pathways. You can then use conceptual connections when exploring unfamiliar territory and you can use transitional connections to enter and exit skills in interesting and unique ways for choreography.

If you have studied rope or silks for any length of time, you are starting to see how vital hitches are to your understanding of wraps. They pop up everywhere and do so many things! It’s helpful to have a consistent naming system for all these hitches (more next blog).

To give another example of this-> I have a skill on sling that I have named the “hip corset.” It is where the sling crosses behind your back and tightens around your hips. This very same wrap can also be put on the thigh. In that case, I am using the term “knee corset.” By using the term “corset” in both places, I am helping to highlight the similarities between the wraps. This can help students to see the underlying concepts as well. I will be writing more on this in the next blog.

5. It helps you to read new moves faster.

When I watch moves that go around on social media, or — most useful of all —  when I’m watching my students during their learning process, I can immediately tell what they are doing and why things are working the way the are (or not working the way they are supposed to).

6.  It helps you to uncover and discover uncharted territory.

This is the number one reason I am an Aerial Taxonomist/Researcher/Aerial Scientist & Classifier —> It gives you a systematic way to organize skills and thus you can find ones that are hiding just beneath the surface but no one has found yet! This is my favorite part. Even if they are things that have been done, seeing a new way to do an old thing or see a connection to another puzzle piece is fascinating.

I’ve included a video below so that you can see my brain in action. In this video, I go from a pedal press arabesque into an arabesque with silks together into a hip-blocked skater, into half-catchers and finally into catcher’s. It’s all in the family of half-catcher’s. By seeing that the wrap on the leg was a “catcher’s-crossing” I could see the transition was possible. The theory lies in the language that we use. I will write more on this topic in my next blog. Thanks for reading. :)

PS: Remember, if you like this kind of thing, we have almost 1,000 videos now in our video library that spans sling, silks, trapeze, hoop and rope!!! Sign up for a paying membership to view the whole library!!


What is Aerial Theory? Part II: The Answer

Last blog, I (Rebekah here) rambled on paper about what could be the meaning of “aerial theory” a term that I use all too often without thinking about. Here, I’ve settled into some thoughts and coined some new terms to explain myself and the ways in which my “aerial brain” operates. 

Cats Cradle.Still014
According to my google searches, theory is defined as  “a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based.” In general, people feel like they are in theory land when they are discovering a concept that transcends the individual skill itself. It is something abstract that you get to walk away with and a tool that you can then apply to unfamiliar skills. New skills become less daunting because you pick up a bag of concepts which allow to see that so much of aerial is the same. The same wraps, the same concepts, the same ideas keep getting applied in new ways, on new apparatuses with different tempos to a new song. Studying those underlying concepts is what aerial theory is all about. But, like anything, there are many different fields of study. Here are the top 4 examples of “Aerial Theory Fields of Study”:

Aerial Technique Theory

The Theory of Aerial Technique could be defined to be a “system of ideas intended to explain how to perform aerial skills, especially based on general principles independent of each skill itself.” I am now realizing that most people are talking of this field of study when they generally speak of aerial theory. Dara Minkin’s latest book, Proximity, is intended to study this exact concept. If you learn a back balance on sling, theoretically, the concept then will transfer to all the other apparatuses. Dara systematically goes through what she calls “archetypes” of aerial, using sling as her base apparatus, to uncover all the various places we traverse as aerialists.
When you are good at technique, you understand how one concept transfers to a new, unfamiliar wrap or position. Whenever you have an idea that you can abstract from one move and take it to another, especially that of your body mechanics and muscle engagement within a wrap or move, you are looking at the theory of aerial technique.

“The concept of aerial theory (which was first really introduced to me at NECCA) to me is the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the skills. Why they work, why they don’t, how you can change them, and how they connect to each other.” – Krissy Benson

Aerial Teaching Theory

The Theory of Aerial Teaching can be defined as “the set of principles on which the practice of teaching aerial is based.” There are so many ways to approach teaching a new skill! Making those individual choices and why we choose one pathway over the other is all part of the theory of teaching. Do you show the whole sequence and then break it down or do you show all the piece and then put it all together? Did you know these teaching structures have names (in this case, part->whole versus whole->part teaching)?

This is the kind of fun stuff we get into in Teacher Trainings. There are so many ways to approach teaching  and theories about how to organize or structure your lessons to best meet the needs of different populations of students. A great resource to introduce you to some theory behind teaching aerial is  Julianna Hane’s Aerial Teacher’s Handbook. That book will help you get started in this track of study. If you like to geek-out with others about teaching theories, you should look into live teacher trainings! See our Born to Fly Teachers website for more information.

Theory of Act Creation

The Theory of Act Creation could be defined as “the system of ideas that helps you construct an artistic expression that conveys an idea, a story, a mood, etc through a series of skills choices and quality of movement.”

One act creation theoretical question I have been exploring recently is how to appear grounded while being in the air. I love the genre of hip hop and break-dancing. A few years ago, I tried to create a piece that took hip hop to the air, and I struggled! Without having the ground to push off of and pound on, I struggled to find a way to feel grounded and hit those beats while floating in space. This is an example of studying the theory of aerial act creation. I would love to see more developed in this field.

*NEW TERM COINED* You heard it here first….

Aerial Taxonomy Theory

Taxonomny is defined as “the branch of science concerned with classification.” So the Theory of Aerial Taxonomy is “the system of ideas intended to explain how skills are classified, and connected to one another.”
This is the land in which I live and love most. I value the other systems mentioned above, but the system in which I thrive is solving the puzzles of finding new pathways and connections. This involves a lot of organization and a mathematical brain. Being in this category assumes that technique is perfect and that teaching of the moves is done. I first got involved with this theory because of my thirst for finding new and interesting transitions for the sake of interesting choreography, but I have somehow found myself sucked into this world of constant discovery. I feel like a scientist that is a remote part of the world finding a new species of organisms and doing their part to classify them. That’s what I do. All day. Everyday. (or so it feels.)

I have been working on my own theories in this realm for quite some time, and while I haven’t published anything on the topic quite this explicitly yet, I finally am doing so because I will be giving my first ever lecture on the topic at the upcoming Aerial Theory Summit, hosted by Aerial Horizon in San Antonio, Texas. Catch me there amongst other great theory-brains. Go here for more information. 

Next blog I will be writing more about Aerial Taxonomy and why you should love it too!