The vocabulary of aerial arts is a little bit like the wild, wild west. There aren’t too many standards and you tend to go with the norms of whatever town you’re in. There have been a few attempts at formalizing nomenclature, but getting people across the country to follow the same rules is going to be a long slow process.
Spell check please
There is one thing everybody agrees on. It’s the spelling of Aerial. Everyone wants to be a princess, just don’t get confused by Disney’s mermaid Ariel. And please, we are not the font Arial.
The times are changing. It wasn’t too long ago that an aerial only referred to a ground-based dance and gymnastics move, similar to a cartwheel but with no hands, and has nothing to do with aerial arts. So up until recently, if you told someone you did aerials, it would mean something quite different. Now that a variety of aerial arts are becoming popular and many people cross train, aerials can refer to doing aerial arts.
What activities does Aerial cover?
Aerial arts refers to physical disciplines involving the use of apparatuses that hang down from a rig point. Some of the most common are Aerial Fabric (commonly called Aerial Silks even though they are not in fact made from silk), Aerial Hoop (also called Lyra or Cerceaux), Trapeze (static, swinging, flying, and dance trapeze), Aerial Rope (also called Corde Lisse), Straps, Loops, Slings, Hammocks, and a variety of other apparatuses of all shapes and sizes.
Aerial classes can have a variety of different approaches, depending on the background, interest, and training of the school and instructor. Some of the more common approaches to aerial are from a circus perspective, a dance perspective, a yoga perspective, a therapeutic perspective, or a hybrid approach. While there is a lot of crossover between the different approaches, there are some defining characteristics that distinguish them from one another..
Aerial as part of circus
In traditional circus, aerial artists wowed the crowd with amazing acrobatic moves, breathtaking moments and good, old fashioned derring-do. Modern circus, including Cirque du Soleil, takes a more theatrical approach where storytelling is entwined with the acrobatics and aerial displays. A circus approach to aerial arts class will typically focus on building full body strength, super controlled and precise technique, and an understanding of supports required for more advanced moves. Classes may or may not have a performance aspect where students participate in a show or showcase.
Dancing in the air
There are so many types of dance, it is only natural that aerial dance is one of them! Aerial dancers will typically integrate both floor and air movement together, so that the aerial apparatus becomes an extension of the dance floor. In general aerial dancers often work at lower heights so they can incorporate the floor, however, they will use higher heights for artistic purpose. Depending on the background of the aerial dancer, an aerial dance approach can involve the use of improvisation, expression, emotion, and choreography, same as in dance. A dance approach to aerial arts class will typically focus on fluidity of movement and personal expression.
Yoga is a practice that originated in India, and has since gained worldwide popularity. Yoga has many traditions, but the most popular in the US is the practice of physical postures. The use of ropes and other props has a long history, to help the practitioner find proper alignment in the postures. Aerial apparatuses can be used as props for a yoga practice, and in this type of practice the practitioner will typically remain very close to the ground, using the aerial apparatus to inform the floor yoga posture. Usually sequenced similarly to a ground yoga class, and with a strong focus on breath and intention, an aerial yoga class might incorporate both floor and air postures, and will end with some form of deep relaxation either in the aerial apparatus or on the floor.
What’s your approach?
Whichever style or approach you choose, there is a very good chance that your aerial practice will inform your life beyond the walls of your aerial studio. Students often report feeling empowered, taller, stronger, braver, and more confident even after just a few aerial classes.