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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hey guys, it is unpopular opinion time…

specifically about this stuff

I have seen spray rosin becoming more prevalent in aerial class rooms. I notice students slathering up in the sticky substance before even trying to climb the silks. Rather than gliding up the silks it sounds like you are rolling up Velcro curtains. And let’s not even discuss the residue that is left of the fabric.

Spray rosin definitely has a time and purpose but every class should not be one of them. I know you all think that the rosin is improving your grip but the truth is the spray is not doing you any favors. It is a temporary and artificial solution at best.

If you are a habitual user of grip aid you are not training your grip to the maximum potential. I see students who are progressed to the more advanced levels but do not trust their inversions without sticky assistance. Their training session is crippled if they forget the rosin bottle or if it starts to wear off after a few minutes in the air.

I don’t want to offend or shame anyone but please consider if you would benefit from focusing on grip and see if there are changes you want to make in your training. If we put the same effort into training our grip that is often reserved for the core we would all be much safe and confident aerialists. As aerialist our hands are one of our greatest tools so make them one you can rely on!

Here are some suggestions for improving your grip strength.

  • Take your first set of climbs without rosin and then shoot for longer and longer sessions without it. We don’t start with killer grip but you can work up to it.
  • Tap into your inner sloth and try just hanging from the silks. Challenge yourself and see how long you can go.
  • Be cognizant of your grip and make every finger contribute. Start with your pinky and roll up through your index when grabbing the silk
  • Tiny finger exercises such as repeatedly pretending to flick water from your fingers or grabbing and releasing something imaginary can help warm up and work those muscles associated with grip.

Photo by Dan Funkhouser

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The One Where I Run Away To Join The Circus

Hi there,

I know we haven't talked in a while but let me explain why.

Photo by Amanda Rebholz
Life has been really busy between a career I thought I should have and my passion for the arts.  For the last year I have been leading one life behind a desk in an office and another in front of an audience on a stage. I have been doing a balancing act that came at the expense of my friends, free time and emotional well-being. My two lives are wildly incompatible and the moment where I have to choose has been rapidly approaching.

I had been avoiding making any decision until the beginning of October when I found out that my current position in the company I have been with since receiving my Supply Chain degree was in jeopardy. It's not like this came as a shock to me since I have been unhappy for some time but it was an emotional upset in that it forced me to make some tough decisions.

I had been plotting the safe expected route all of my life and only allowing myself to dabble in things that brought me joy. I had been conditioned to believe that if I did all the things that were expected of me there was some kind of distinct pay off in the end. I think I had imagined some kind of award or banner with the text "You did it! Now you will live forever and never die" The joke was on me because the longer I have followed the safe and expected path the more I realize there is not celebration of perfectly achieved success at the end nor does it exist.

I decided to take a few days to consider my options, receive some good advice and look for inspiration. I chose to use that time to answer some hard questions. For the first time I answered truthfully even if the implications could potentially shatter the world I had carefully constructed for myself.  I could write volumes on the baggage that was opened and the fears confronted but they will be different for everyone so there is only so much value to commit it to writing. Let us just say there were good things about never examining my happiness too closely. I never had to question if I was satisfied because society told me I was and I grieve the loss of an old life where everything was simple. Alternatively I saw opportunities I had never allowed myself to consider before and ways of being happy that I thought were for others and not me.

At the end of it all I decided that rather than looking for another corporate career job immediately I was going to take some time to see where I could go with the aerial and performing arts. It was probably the hardest choice I have ever made. I was giving up the stable life I had been raised with for something unpredictable and while it was terrifying stepping into the unknown the sense of relief I felt was immediate.

Photo by Hannah Havok
 It has now been a month since making the decision to leave the traditional work force but my life is still in the process of decoupling from it and will continue to be for the next 3 months. While I have already turned in my letter of resignation I am staying with the company a little longer to help my boss find and train my replacement. I continue to field questions from strangers at work who want to understand what my plan is and why. I cannot answer them with any sort of certainty because I do not know the answers but that is part of what I like about this new life. I get to make it what I want and make the rules for my success.

There have been ups and downs in the process and there will continue to be. For example while I did not receive any particular satisfaction from my contribution to the company I was cocooned from failure by a behemoth corporation. In making the decision to leave I can no longer be a passive cog in a large machine instead I have to be my own entity. I will now feel failure immediately and acutely but if I succeed I know it is because of my will to bring something into the world. I am lucky in that the new opportunities I have already received after making my decision are filling me with a sense of hope for what the future has to offer...even the scary bits.

As I am writing this I know it sounds like the decision to leave the day job for a dream was simple or obvious. It isn’t and it wasn’t. Some nights I cry because I don’t know how it will turn out other days I get on a lyra and think this is what I was meant to do. I continue to be thankful every day for my friends and family who have contributed advice or supported my decision in some way. I don’t know how this will turn out in the end all I know for sure right now it that I can try.

If you are interested in helping my start my new life in the circus and performing arts please consider visiting my Go Fund Me Campaign. There are a couple of large investments that will go a long way to helping me becoming and independent performer. I have tried to create a number of perks at the different contribution level as a thank you for your support.

So this is where I am in my artistic journey. What are your current struggles? What are your dreams? Leave me a comment below.

I am going to leave you with a quote from Bill Watterson that has been helping me…

"Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
You'll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you're doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you'll hear about them.

To invent your own life's meaning is not easy, but it's still allowed, and I think you'll be happier for the trouble."

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The One That's Still Good

Remember when you dropped the last chip on the ground and you picked it up, inspected it for dirt and then popped it in your mouth? You know that brief exposure to the elements didn’t negate the delicious of the chip or its suitability as a snack. The 10 second rule saved us once again from wasting what is still good.
The moral of the 10 second rule has been important this month since I am simultaneously working on more aerial pieces than ever before including 2 duets, 1 silks burlesque piece and an audition number. I also noticed several of my fellow aerialists are struggling to keep up with show cases, competition applications and their own performance ambitions. While we are all trying to juggle these competing requirements without losing our minds the ethics of recycling material were discussed on more than one occasion.
The knee jerk reaction is to create something new, wonderful and stunning for each show. I have to admit that when I first considered revisiting material it felt like a cheat but then I realized I should be applying the 10 second rule to more than just my food. I had worked on a silks piece for 3 months and only performed it once for a very select audience…it was still good. Of course there were changes in musical selection and a move to tailor the dance for a new audience but in the end this will allowed my best efforts to go further. Rather than scrambling to have something completely different for every show I want to give the audience a polished performance from my library that has been custom fit for them.  

This approach won’t work for every performance but it does give me some breathing room. I feel free to develop new material at my own pace knowing I can call on acts that I did not discard after one show.

So I guess what I am trying to say is scoop your performance chips off the floor and savor the crap out of them.

Do you ever feel pressure when creating new material? Do you sample your greatest hits? Leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The One About Splits...kind of

I have neglected my blogging duties but I assure you it is not due to any inactivity. I have been trying to navigate a number of new opportunities this year and I am not entirely sure yet what my take away has been. I feel like I have yet to synthesis some useful bit of information I might impart. So instead of some technique or theory I have been pondering I want to take a second to remind people to celebrate accomplishment no matter how small and love the process.

My example came yesterday while practicing a new aerial dance when one of my instructors mentioned that my splits are improving. Because historically splits are my worst skill I was confident that she was just be being polite. For the last year I have spent my time with dancers who have had effortless perfect splits and over splits. During the first few months I lived in abject shame when it came time to stretch. All the girls would fan out their legs perfectly and I would be sitting on the floor with my legs at an acute angle. To an outsider it probably looked like I was militantly resisting the exercise when in reality I was trying my damnedest and failing spectacularly. I have continued to work in tiny increments towards being more flexible but I have accepted that a full split is not something I am likely to achieve. Despite a pessimistic outlook, my curiosity was piqued by the comment so I decided to compare my splits from last night to where I was last year. To my surprise, while I am still a few inches shy of flat splits, my best effort has significantly improved.

This isolated example reminds me that during all the time we spend training it is easy to focus on what we can do today and want to achieve tomorrow. Sometimes it is easy to forget where we started and what we should be proud of.

Have you ever focused on a goal so much that you missed the other accomplishments along the way? What are you proud of today? Leave me a comment below.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The One About Simplicity

Recently I have enrolled in an aerial variations class which has lead me to think about exploring the known and what benefits it might hold for your practice.

Jennifer Cody's students showing 6 variations on a single move
I have found it takes a lot of guts to spend time developing around moves or skills your might have learned in the first few months of practice. For me there is fear of not including enough fancy moves in my own routines. Conversely, many people who I look up to in the hoop and aerial community have an emphasis on mastering and expanding on what are often thought of as basics. Some of my favorite performances don't involve lots of tricks but about the quality of core skills and inventiveness around known moves. It is legitimately more exiting for me to not know what will happen next rather than just see a difficult trick.

I have decide to try and be more mindful of whether I am filling my work with flash or innovation. To that end I have been working on a standing challenge we have in the variants class to develop a whole routine around a single base move. It's significantly slower for me than just stringing together tricks but I think the final product will have a more organic feeling in the movements. 

A Simple Manta To Remember
  When first joining a skilled community there is a desire to be included. Like any good student you practice the basics to become accepted by your peers. 

You spend time building a vocabulary. 
Photo By Nikki Arnold

You discuss technique
Hoop Path Point Technique
Photo by Hannah Havok
But don't forget your first words.

Remember simple can be beautiful

Photo by Hannah Havok

Simple is complex
HoopPath style Balance
Photo by Hannah Havok
This is what I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. What has been your inner mantra during practice?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The One About Planning Choreography

Much of my first foray into circus was spent primarily with what is considered flow arts. Hooping, poi, juggling, fans and devil sticks all fall into this category. They are called flow because innovation through free manipulation of the tools is encouraged. I enjoy this area of practice because you are encourage to try new things even if you are not sure of the outcome because the penalty for failure is low. I find the surprises that were unplanned to be some of the most rewarding during any flow session.
Deep Ellum play time
Photo by Hannah Havok
When I decided to take up aerial arts there was a completely different mind set because you must carefully consider each move before execution to ensure your own safety. Even if you are not sure if you can accomplish a trick you still need an exit strategy. In order to perform publicly you need to be able to plan at least some rudimentary choreography you can call on in the air.

At first I was completely overwhelmed at the idea of needing routines and structuring them from scratch. Here are some steps I have found that help me organize my thoughts when planning choreography.
MTPS 2013
Photo by Don Curry
This is probably one of the first things I consider when planning any routine. You want to consider how much stamina you have to perform the routine. Do not plan a routine that is so long your exhaust yourself and then leave your audience with an overwhelming feeling of “meh” because you can not finish strong. 

Once you have determined the duration of your performance you can now select some accompaniment. This is probably the most fun part of the process but also tricky. Remember to consider each song as a whole. It might have a catchy hook that’s fun to sing along with in the car but will be  repetitive to the audience after the first refrain. What I usually look for in a song for performance is one that has several distinct moods within the song. Changes in instrumentation or tempo are usually good candidates that give you options for striking poses or switching between actions and styles. 

Consider where you want to put your tricks. If you have some really tough inversions you might want to put them earlier in the performance when you have the most amount of stamina. Alternatively if you have a really large drop or something where you are going to lose height it might make sense to do those later in the routine. My suggestion is to pick a few key moves you think will compliment each other during the routine fill in the rest of the performance around them

MTPS 2013
Photo By Don Curry
Less is more
When you start to design your routine don’t get caught up in trying to add too many tricks. Often tricks take longer to execute than you would anticipate and adding content to a routine is far easier than trying to take out material later. Your movements from one pose to the next are as much a part of the routine as the tricks.  You never want to look like you are rushing to make it to your next position in time so give yourself some breathing room. Do not be afraid to hold poses or move slowly so the audience can see what you are doing and enjoy your actions. 

It is not only important to be flexible body but also in mind so be open to changes in your choreography. All of my routines have experienced a major change at some point during the rehearsal process and have been better for it. Once you have your first round of choreography take a look at the routine for anything that does not work. If something look awkward or wrong try experimenting with different tricks or order to your routine. Don’t ever get so attached to a trick that you are afraid to move it or lose it. 

Rehearsal at Lone Star Circus
Choreography is not something I previously had a lot of experience with but when you are going to perform it quickly become a necessity. There are probably more formal ways to approach this process but I thought I would share some techniques that have worked for me thus far. What techniques do you use when planning to put on a show?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The One About Practice Vs Performance

In the last several months I spent a significant amount of time preparing for my first aerial performance. While I faced the normal challenges you might expect like picking choreography and music I found it was some seemingly simple tasks that I struggled with the most. Most notable of those simple tasks was moving with what I would consider performance worthy poise. 

What do I mean exactly?
Well, what makes people want to watch you?

Miss Texas Pole Star 2013 Performance
Photo by Don Curry
I would see my instructor glide up the silk and be completely enthralled with how elegant they looked. When it was finally my turn to try I would scrabbling on the fabric for a bit and then eventually accomplish the thing. Not having any background in professional performance it seemed that getting ready for the stage should be as simple as acquiring the knowledge and strength to do tricks. However, I gamely attend class every week and ran through the same poses and exercises as my teachers and continued to notice something distinctly different between how they looked and how I looked. 
 Luckily, with the help of some mentors during my preparations I started learning other equally important skills to making a polished aerial performer that are not necessarily taught in the classroom. Most of these things were fairly basic and not directly linked to overall ability or skill but make a huge difference to how you practice and most importantly how you appear to an observer. 

If I only had to remember 3 words to make a routine performance worthy it would be
Intention, Extension & Tension.

One week our aerial hoop class was observed by a retired ballerina who now contracts with dance troupes to refine their routines. She had volunteered to give our class some pointers on performance. She sat quietly for the hour as we gave the lesson our best efforts. At the end of class we nervously clustered around to hear what she thought at which time she told us something that changed my practice from that day forward.

While she thought the discipline was amazing she found our efforts ultimately boring. It didn’t really have anything to do with our ability or skill but about our intention. We only worked with the end goal in mind when we should be considering every move we made. We should approach the apparatus like a partner with whom we coordinate all our actions. We should never rush through a mount or re-position just to get to a trick in practice. The audience is seeing everything leading up to your trick so just as much effort and concentration should be spent on getting there as perfecting your final position. 

Treat each moment like a performance in your mind. 


This goes hand in hand with intention. If you are thinking through all of your movements you should be thinking of what you are doing with your whole body from the tips of your fingers to the ends of your toes. So often we fail to celebrate movement and instead concentrate on points of strength or articulation and let the rest of our body be dragged along in its wake. We have learned to be prey amongst predators with eyes averted and limiting nonessential motion in our hands and feet. While this is a great strategy for avoiding predation by a T-rex it’s not very engaging for the audience. By allowing every movement to flow from the starting point out to your extremities you bring fluidity and grace to your performance.
One visualization that a lot of my instructors use time and again is imagining an extension of some sort that continuous beyond where you end.  There are different examples like strings or lights…you can even think of laser beams if it makes you happy. What is important is that you imagine traveling out along those lines as you preform because it brings animation to every part of your body from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet and out through your hands. You should even extend your laser like focus to your eyes and use it to bring your awareness to the audience and let them know you are watching them. BECOME THE PREDATOR! (okay that got weird but hopefully it helped)
Where your gaze falls or the angle of your fingers can change the audience's preception
If you have done the first two steps you should be well on your way to achieving and maintaining tension but it is something worthy of its own consideration. One of my aerial trainers paid me the compliment that I was progressing well in my knowledge of aerials but I needed to remember to engage my whole body while on the silk if I ever wanted to perform. At first I was confused about what she meant because I felt like I was working my butt off every class.
Fortunately for me she had an exercise that immediately connects you with the feeling of engaging your entire body.  If you lay on the floor and bring yourself into a boat position where you are balanced on your bottom and someone poked your shoulders you should rock back and forth like a ship on the water. You are connecting your body so now you can move as a single unit.
If you ever feel like you are not working part of your body to stay in the air it is probably noticeable to the audience. When you are supporting yourself with your feet and you release tension from your arms it looks like you are just dangling instead of dramatically climbing.
Engaging your body has a huge immediately visible change but requires constant focus.
If you imagine the three words during every practice something as simple as raising your leg can go from a utilitarian action to a captivating performance. I am still working on this myself so I cannot claim to be an expert but I do know they have made a difference in preparing to share what I have learned with an audience.

These are just my suggestions so feel free to share your tips on getting ready for the stage.

What makes the biggest difference in your training?