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 I: The Question

A rambling by Rebekah Leach

I recently had a conversation with an aerial teacher. We were discussing methods of teaching aerial classes and after I had brought up the term “aerial theory” several times, she finally looked me square in the eye and asked, “What is aerial theory?”

It struck me–I do it constantly and talk about it and feel it and sense it, but I don’t have a ready definition. So I decided to write a blog about it to try and sort out my thoughts. I’m also hoping that I might get some responses below. How would YOU summarize aerial theory? It’s a tough question.

First, I’ll start with some history that led me to start thinking about theory in the first place. I was a math major in college. In college, math classes and even departments are typically divided into the pure math side and the applied mathematics side. Applied mathematicians are very practical, out there in the world as engineers, physicists, etc. We appreciate all their contributions of getting us to the moon, helping us to encode computers, etc. Pure mathematicians are typically employed in academia as a career. Or they go on to use their math in more subtle ways (like me). To me, math is more of a way of thinking, of problem solving, a philosophy or a way of looking at the world.

The dividing class for many budding mathematicians is a class entitled Methods of Proof (or something similar depending on the college). In that class, you discover if you can really hack it as a pure mathematician. It’s when math turns into something else. You learn a new way of thinking. If you have a theory, prove it. If you think two equations are really the same thing stated in different ways, prove it. If you see a connection between A and B, show me.

Fast forward 5 years. I find myself working with the aerial fabric for the first time and feel my mathematical neurological pathways firing in my brain. I see how A and B might be connected. I must get up on the fabric and find a connection to prove it. I think you are in the same wrap just rotated another direction, and I’m going to show you so that you will be convinced.

One of the beefs with pure mathematicians is that they get so much in their head that they rarely do anything that feels practical. What does it matter whether Fermat’s Last Theorem has been proven? Why would you spend your whole life to show that no three positive integers a, b, and c satisfy the equation aⁿ + bⁿ = cⁿ for any integer value of n greater than 2? Purist mathematicians are a certain breed of person, that’s for sure. (And I’m one of them!)

Sometimes I feel completely helpless when putting together an actual performance piece (although I am growing in this area as the years go on). I enjoy staying in my head about which wrap equals what other wrap and how else can you get there? Yes, I know I already know 100 ways. What is way 101? Are they all distinct? At what point is it considered a distinct entry? How do we start to count them all to know that we got them all? What’s the best way to order this chaos? This is fascinating to analyze. And for some reason, it never gets old. It only gets more interesting the more that I know.

Pure mathematicians love to analyze. They don’t mind working in the abstract and they are patient with problem solving. It could take years for something to unravel and reveal itself. That’s the beauty of it.

In response to the aerialist who asked me what aerial theory is, I replied, “Well, it’s not always very practical, but occasionally you make break-throughs that are amazing. If your brain hurts, then you are probably working with it.”

But I suspect there’s a better way to define it. Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you! If you’re shy about posting publicly, feel free to e-mail your thoughts to me at info@aerialdancing.com.  Thanks.

PS: Look for a follow-up blog where I write more of my conclusions regarding aerial theory. 

The Artist Athlete Podcast Feature: The Creative Process with Fred Deb (Ep 9)

We are excited to be sharing a podcast feature brought to you by Shannon McKenna. I downloaded about 10 episodes for a recent road trip and immediately felt like I had an old aerial friend with me in the car. It was connection, nostalgic, and funny.  This was the first podcast I ever heard where I could say — this is my tribe. These are my people. It was a weird sensation. One of the podcasts I felt uncommonly connected to was this one that features an interview with my very first silks teacher, Fred Deb. In fact, most of us aerialists in our 30’s who have been doing silks for more than 10 years had Fred Deb as our teacher early in our training. It makes the community really small, and really connected when you stop and think about this. Fred Deb is a beautiful French artist who used to travel to Boulder, CO for the Aerial Dance Festival and teach all us hungry kids the ways of silks. Here is an interview that reminds me that my thoughts were shaped so much by the people that came before me as I arrived into this aerial world. But these thoughts also give you permission to be yourself, to find your own way. It’s a creative art form, after all.  –Rebekah

fred deb


Shannon can’t speak French but you know who can? Aerialist, choreographer, and master teacher Fred Deb. Fred is one of the founders of aerial silks as an apparatus and has been called a “precursor to French contemporary circus.” In this episode, Shannon asks her about her career, the evolution of her teaching, and her creative process. Stay tuned after the interview to hear Shannon wrestle with the question of aerial dance vs circus.

Fred Deb:

Find her on instagram: _fred.deb_

About her company, Drapes Aerians:


Information about the French Aerial Dance Festival: http://www.lesrencontresdedanseaerienne.com/en/2018-aerial-dance-festival/


shannon white silk

Find more podcasts on http://www.theartistathlete.com