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. 

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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! 



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.