What is Aerial Theory? Part I: The Question

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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. 

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