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.




In Our Circles, In Our Circles: How to Spin Without Losing Your Lunch

The following article is from one of the awesome aerial instructors in our teacher directory, Heather Hammond. Heather is Chief Entertainment Officer  and Head Instructor at Heliummm Aerial Dance & Entertainment in New York City. She recently coached and added new aerial choreography to Lincoln Center’s Monkey: Journey to the West. www.heliummm.com for more info.


A concerned lyra student asks:  Mama Silk, how can I not toss my cookies when I start spinning? I almost threw up on the subway platform after lyra class last week. Help!


Good question, concerned student!  The short answer regardless of apparatus is: build up slowly, and practice till you get your sea legs (I mean your air legs). But let’s investigate the spin phenomenon a little closer:



Your brain gets information on its position in space from visual (eyes), kinesthetic (touch) and vestibular (inner ear) sources. When conflict arises from what you see, what you feel and what your brain perceives, you end up feeling crappy.

With respect to your ears, there are  three of semi-circular  canals in each ear, one for each plane of movement (up/down, left/right, front/back).  These fluid-filled canals in your head tell you which way is up and which way is left and right so you know if you’re standing up or lying down.

Semi-Circular Ear Canals

When you spin, the fluid in these canals will spin around.  If you stop suddenly, your body stops, but the fluid in your ears is still going.   You think you’re still spinning, but your eyes are telling you that you’re not spinning. Your brain gets very confused and you feel sick. And, the ’tilt and rotate’ combination frequently used in aerial choreography is extremely challenging for the brain’s processing systems.  The scientists call it ‘aberrant  vestibular inputs’. Tourists call it “Stop slamming on the brake, cabbie!” Aerialists call it ‘Oh, my God! I’m so barfy!”

south park queasy

Scientists think some of these phenomena may harken back to our caveman days.  The same inner ear balance mechanism that is responsible for seasickness also handles the body’s ability to detect ingested poison; the signals sent to the brain when a person is spinning or seasick are the same as those sent when a person has eaten something dangerous, and the body’s protective response to poison is vomiting. Therefore, when you’re seasick, you vomit. Same goes for smells. I always feel worse at shows with lots of sensory overload: flashing lights, loud music, food odors (or worse, somebody else’s body odor), diesel fumes from generators, etc, are likely to make me feel more barfy.


  • Freshen your breath.

I got this tip from an old boyfriend who was a bosun with the Canadian Navy.  If it works for the sailors, it can work for us aerial beauties.

Keep a small travel toothbrush in your training bag, or some sugarless gum so you’re all minty before you spin.  [Remember to spit the gum out BEFORE class.]

  • Smell something pleasant.

Keep a small handkerchief that’s been scented with lavender oil, or some other smell you associate with comfort. Breathe in the scent to help clear your channels.  Move away from strong odors. [Or nicely tell your classmate to please go buy some anti-perspirant].

  • Train yourself to ignore your brain.

With repeated practice, you can train your brain to ignore the conflicting input it’s getting from your fabulous aerial gyrations.   Astronauts do it, and so can you.

Start by spinning slowly, right side up, then upside down, WITH YOUR HEAD IN A FIXED POSITION. Look at something stationary, like your hand, or the lyra.

Then repeat, with a soft focus, and then with roving eyes, right side up and upside down. Add  head tilts, and finally head rotations while you’re spinning.

With repeated practice, you’ll find the method that works best for you. Some people swear by staring at a fixed point. Others prefer a soft focus, or even closing their eyes. I have a straps routine that involves orbiting and spinning and inversions and head tilts all at the same time.  When I haven’t done the routine in a while, I always get a little barfy the first few times I rehearse until I get my sea legs again.

  • Stay hydrated

Keep your fluid intake high. Water is best.  Avoid de-hydrating drinks like coffee, Red Bull.

porcelain god toilet barf Don’t come to class, rehearsal or performance hung over.  It’s unprofessional and dangerous.

  • Eat Right and Light

Eat light, easily digestible food before rehearsal or performance. Time it so you’ve digested before turning upside down. Avoid fatty, spicy stuff, unless you’re OK with the consequences.

  • Spin at the end of class or rehearsal

Save the spinning until the end of class or rehearsal. This way if you do get naseous, you’ve already worked on stuff.


Prevention is really the best medicine. Once you feel like crap, it can take a while to come back to normal.

  • Candied ginger

candied ginger

Delicious and nutritious (except for all that sugar). Keep a bag handy, and indulge as needed.

  • ‘Unspin’

When you touch ground, step off the mat and away from the apparatus and turn in the opposite direction to unwind. Or spin slowly a couple of times in the reverse direction.

  • Hop

Hop up and down while staring a fixed spot on the wall.  This may settle the liquid in your ears, and align the physical and visual input.

  •  Lie down

Sometimes I just like to lie down on my back, with my knees bent and my feet flat on the floor.

  • Dramamine

Spinning stimulates the cholinergic system,  producing: sweating, increased stomach acid, a desire to, um, ‘go’.

Dramamine is now available in two forms: dimenhydrinate and meclizine. Both are anti-histamines that help reduce the cholinergic reaction. Take as directed on the package – they can cause drowsiness, so don’t down it for the first time before driving to your gig, or right before you perform. See how you do on it in an un-pressured setting, first. And no post-ingestion imbibing, unless you’re taking the subway home.

  • Antacids

Keep a roll of Tums or Rolaids in your bag. Zantac and Pepcid are other good choices.

What works for you?

Mama Silk is always looking for new tips and tricks. Let us know what works best for you, so we can share it!

So spin, my darlings, spin. And create many beautiful things.


Mama Silk (and Lyra)