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. 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)


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.



Steel Vs Aluminum

I hear aerialists say all the time not to connect an aluminum carabiner to a steel carabiner, or vice versa, but no-one can explain why that is.  Can you shed light on the subject?

-Philadelphia, PA


This is a hot button topic, so I’m not going to try to cover the whole thing from top to bottom.  This seems to be prominent amongst “Circus” folk, and comes from a very small thing made into a big thing.


So here is some info:

The “reason” not to use Aluminum touching Steel in various applications is that there is a chemical reaction between the two that will cause the chemically weaker Aluminum to degrade faster than the Steel.


That being said:

— When I heard of this, I asked an Engineer and a man who’s expertise is Metallurgy (who was brought in special by NASA to evaluate why the Space Shuttle blew up) and both told me there is “no risk unless your equipment has been sitting together at the bottom of the ocean for 1000 years or so”.

–Steel and Aluminum are used together in building Airplanes and Submarines… two of the highest Safety Regulated things on the planet.

–I work for a “Big Company” and we have from 300-600 pages of inspections we perform each week on our Rigging equipment due to Liability and a High Safety Practices Standard.  We don’t have one page of documentation that says not to use Steel and Aluminum together, nor has it ever been raised as a concern.

–I have not been able to find any documentation from the Manufacturers (Petzel, Black Diamond, Rock Exotica…etc) that states any sort of warning indicating any risk in using Steel and Aluminum in conjunction.  These companies have to make equipment to ANSI standards, and are overwhelmingly documented on every aspect of their equipment.  If it was a credible concern, wouldn’t there be a red flag on the equipment that states so?  Feel free to contact any manufacturer, they are required to provide you specs on their equipment and any hazards related to their use.


— ENTIRE ROCK CLIMBING AND RESCUE, Military, Firemen, and Rope Access Industry… World wide… For decades… Uses aluminum and steel equipment…millions of times a year… To safeguard and rescue people. There are 100x more rock climbers and ropes rescue people than there are circus people. An entire industry… That is regulated by ANSI standards (acrobatic rigging is not).  Are to believe that they have simply missed the memo on this issue?

As long as you are using it within its limits, any piece of equipment (steel or aluminum) should be expected to work as intended.

As a side note:

-Your Swivels that you hang from… those are Steel shafts and ball-bearings in an Aluminum Casing.

-Your Aluminum Auto Lock carabiners… the springs that cause them to lock are made of Steel.

– your Rescue Pulleys you hang from, those are Aluminum bodies with a Steel shaft the Pulley rolls on.

Take a look at your own equipment, I bet you can find more.


As for just using steel equipment:

Steel is stronger, but more expensive.  Aluminum equipment is more prevalent and widely used successfully in millions of applications each year.  It’s lighter, doesn’t rust, and made to be strong.   You may encounter a facility or employer that requires you to use nothing but steel.  That being the case, you have to do what they say.  I believe that the Aerial Rigging inspector I spoke with in New York required that our theatre show use Steel Auto locking carabiners, but upon looking at the written standards, it was not indicated as such the document provided.

~Fred Ropes


Comments (carried over from previous website)

I use aluminum biners on steel eyelets quite often in my performances and here is what happens. The harder steel will dent the aluminum on the first hang and over many performances the friction between the harder steel and the softer aluminum will cause the dent to worsen and cause metal burs on the edges of that wear point. after many performances and practices I still haven’t needed to take them out of service but I am more mindful of which biners I run ropes through and which biners I use for steel contact. ~Trevor Gash, Edmonton, Alberta

Any roofer will tell you not to put two different metals together because you will have problems, after several decades. But the notion that you can’t combine steel and aluminum carabiners in a circus rigging is an example of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. ~Dave Gillies, Founder, Director, Performer at The Give and Take Jugglers