My first ever blog post. What came to mind was the moment I first realized I am a “REAL” aerialist. A few years ago two friends invited me to lunch so that they could ask me questions.
“How did you do it? How did you become a real aerialist?”
I just stared at them for a moment in confusion. “REAL aerialist?” What could they mean by that? By the end of the conversation I realized though, I am in fact a real aerialist.
For anyone curious, or hoping to make their way to this same odd profession, or just to understand how I got here. This is the advice that surfaced during our conversation.
Be Trained. Never stop training. Take classes, try new teachers and new styles, try things that challenge you and things that are easy. Practice on your own, work with friends and colleagues; refine and polish, struggle and whine, but never stop learning.
I break training into four categories: Rehearsals, Conditioning and Flexibility, Class Prep (for teachers), and Creative Sequencing/Act Development. Balancing all these areas of training is a whole other blog post for the future, but the idea is to make time for your training and balance those hours between training type. Your body is essential for this job, so you need to keep it healthy. Eat well, sleep enough, and make rest/recovery part of your training.
Be Prepared. When an opportunity presents itself make sure you are able to take it. For a working aerialist I recommend.
Aerial Ambient sets—15 minutes ready to go. Aerial Silks is popular for this and often what I am hired for. I typically do 15 minute sets on/off for 1-2 hours. That is a ton of air time, start to build your endurance up now. If you can do 5 minutes clean, add another minute each week, until you are confident for long stretches.
Solos—Have a clean solo for each apparatus you perform, and always have a low ceiling apparatus included in your mix. It’s nice to have one solo that is family friendly, one that can be adjusted to various music, and one specialty act (burlesque, mermaid, fire lyra, something unique you want to showcase).
Be Safe. You are responsible for your life. You are putting your life on the line when you are off the ground, so always make sure you understand your rigging. Hire someone who does aerial rigging—get training for yourself and ask questions. Do not trust a venue, or an unknown stage tech. Do not believe a random person saying “ We had an aerialist here before” or “That should hold you, sweetheart”. I can not over emphasize this enough, aerialists are unusual and produce weird loads on equipment. A rigging failure is deadly. If you don’t know how to rig, get help from someone with aerial rigging experience that will explain what they are doing. Ask riggers and teachers for help. Volunteer for shows, take rigging workshops, send me an email if you get stuck. Don’t ever assume someone else is responsible for your safety or that someone understands what you are doing. I have lots of scary stories on this topic. It is your life, take it seriously. Special note for women, be firm with your safety needs. Take no crap, with out being rude. You are an aerialist, you now weigh fifteen hundred pounds.
Be Organized. There are many logistics in running your own business. You need to have insurance to perform and teach. You need inspection logs for your equipment and safe storage space. You need all of the equipment for your performances. All apparatus and rigging equipment to install—spanners, carabiners, swivels etc. This is an investment. If you plan to perform outside, you need a portable rig. It can take years to acquire your equipment. Sometimes you can collaborate with others in your community to combine resources, or work with someone who is already established to get more experience before investing in gear. Other incidentals like costumes (You don’t know how to sew yet? ), make-up, and all that biodegradable glitter should be considered as well. For teachers, all of your equipment, and teaching accessories, in addition to teacher training and workshops are part of the investment. It adds up, and if being self employed is new to you then get a spreadsheet started right now to log your expenses. Reminder that you will be paying taxes on income each year, so start setting aside a bit from each gig now for the end of the year, or you can pay income taxes quarterly.
Be Professional. Do your job. Communicate clearly. Show up when you say you will. You are always presenting yourself with a client, from site visit to tear down. Don’t undercut other performers and don’t over promise on your abilities. Don’t start charging for performances if you are not at a skill level to do so yet. Remember you are often an educator when it comes to gig requests. If someone asks for something absurd, let them know what you are capable of doing instead and steer the client in the right direction. If rigging is impossible or the price being requested is far below industry standard then let the client know why and what is more reasonable in a clear and kind way. Clients will remember your helpfulness and better understand what you do if you educate them gently. Many gigs are booked after an initial gig request wasn’t possible. and finally…..
Be Nice. Never speak negatively about anyone when working or in your social media accounts. There will be people that completely rub you the wrong way, that are big bullies, and are constantly trash talking you; just remember you are a professional when you can continue to be kind to everyone regardless of how they treat you. This isn’t to say you should lie or cover the world in false sunshine, always be honest with others, just recognize that speaking negatively of others looks unprofessional and sets a tone of who you are. We are a small community of aerial weirdos, be nice. Save your venting for your friends, not your work.
The only other advice I have to those starting on this crazy journey is to keep finding ways to happiness, to take time for fun and enjoy the process, there is no rush. Always try to surround yourself with supportive people who can remind you of what a fabulous job you are doing, being a “real aerialist” is a lot of work.
My first blog post is dedicated to real aerialists Brenda and Taylor,