I’ve been promising a blog post for a while about my experiments with different formats for beginner aerial classes. As we prepare for another summer of Born to Fly Teacher Trainings, it seems like a good time to take stock and assess my investigations. As some of you know, I relocated to southern Utah a little over a year ago and am now living in a geographic desert as well as an aerial one. Thankfully, I have found multiple teaching opportunities here and naturally all of my students are beginners. My new situation has given me the opportunity to workshop my approach to teaching beginner students across a variety of contexts. Like the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat!
Class: Aerial Dance Technique in a university setting - Fall 2018
Format: Semester-long, 50 minutes 3 times per week (Not ideal, but it was the only class time available.)
Content: 7 weeks sling, 7 weeks silks
Reason: Even though this course is beginner level, I knew that several of my students already had some aerial silks experience from theater productions in the past. While their training was not consistent, they did know how to do several “tricks” and I didn’t want class to feel like a punishment starting over on silks. At the same time, I needed to find common ground with the other students in the class that had no prior aerial experience. Since I was at AerialWorks over the summer during the release of The Aerial Sling Manual Volume I, I decided that sling would be a good place for everyone to start by building body awareness, vocabulary, and a sense of community. Luckily, the students loved sling! It gave everyone the chance to explore expressive possibilities in the air with more support than silks. Like the adage, “Wherever you go, there you are,” our class joke was that even if you don’t end up where you thought you were going, you’re still somewhere (and on sling, its most likely horse)!
The second half of the semester I focused on silks and although the class began to divide somewhat between those with the strength and connectivity to climb, tie footlocks in the air, and invert, and those for whom those skills will take more time, the early experience of success in the sling helped to keep the entire class motivated and supportive of each other. Making connections between vocabulary and technique from sling to silks gave students a strong foundation for lateral skill development and an appreciation for the theory behind the skills.
Class: Aerial Dance Technique in a university setting - Spring 2019
Format: Semester-long, 75 minutes 2 times per week (This is my ideal format, yay!)
Content: 7 weeks trapeze and sling, 7 weeks silks
Reason: The students from fall must have had a good time because half of them are repeating this semester! Next year I will offer a Level 2 class in the spring, but currently repeating Level 1 is the only option for students to continue aerial training. Again, my challenge was to find a way to keep the class material appropriate for brand new beginners while also giving returning students a sense of progressing in their aerial skill set. I had hoped to have four trapezes to start the semester, but I only ended up with two. So I decided to experiment this semester using two slings and two trapezes. I’m making a concerted effort to select vocabulary that translates easily from apparatus to apparatus as well as to select different Level 1 vocabulary from last semester from each base of support (seated, standing, hip hang, inversion) to keep returning students invested.
While I’m only several weeks into the semester, it seems like this strategy is working well. New students are getting a variety of Level I skills on both trapeze and sling, while returning students are layering additional information onto prior knowledge and taking ownership of material in a deeper way. Many of my students are dance and theater majors who want to learn aerial arts for increased marketability in their careers post-graduation. Gaining a broad aerial foundation across sling, trapeze, and silks means that they are training their bodies to be confident and safe in the air, regardless of the apparatus.
Class: Community Education/Lifelong Learning in a university setting - Spring 2019
Format: 4-week series, 75 minutes 1 time per week
Content: Silks (beginning in a knot)
Reason: This is a true beginner class in that it is all of the students’ first exposure to aerial arts. My goal for this series is to let students experience the joy of being in the air. Since the course is only four weeks, I decided to start in the knot instead of the sling so that we can easily move back and forth between the knot and silks. In the first two weeks we explored skills from seated and standing in the knot as well as laid the groundwork for climbing. In the last two weeks we transitioned from the knot to explore vocabulary in single and double footlocks. I alternated each week between including climbing at the end and at the beginning of class. Putting it at the end helps prevent the feeling that climbing is the main goal of the class and having it at the beginning means that students have more muscular energy available for the challenge. I also included inverting in the knot and vocabulary from this base of support with the option to “pull-up” into and out of the knot for those with more strength and connectivity. This introductory series is my favorite format for working with a group of true beginners!
Class: Beginning Aerial Silks at a private dance studio - Fall 2018, Spring 2019
Format: 8-week series (ongoing with option for drop-in), 60 minutes 1 time per week
Reason: This class is the most challenging to plan for because it has the potential to be long term mixed-level. Although students are encouraged to register for the entire session, I accommodate drop-ins at the studio’s request since we are building a student base for a new class. I taught this class October/November with one month sling and one month silks with the idea that students would take both months consistently. Alas, that didn’t happen.
For the January/February session, I decided to begin with silks and tie a knot as needed. It turns out that of the four students who registered for the full series, one had taken the sling month in October, one had taken the silks month in November, one had about a month of experience from a studio in another state, and the last one was a true beginner (although a beginner with a high baseline of functional strength as a self-professed “gym rat”). Walking into a class of mixed-level students is a challenge to quickly assess experience and formulate a lesson plan on the fly. It just so happens that all of these students had enough exposure to silks to know that their big goals were climbing and tieing footlocks in the air. This isn’t usually what I start with on day 1 of a beginner class, but its important to teach to the students in the room, so that’s what we did! When the new 8-week session begins for March/April, I imagine that I will have some returning students along with some brand new students and that the mixed-level class will continue indefinitely at this studio. While not my favorite scenario, that is the reality of starting an aerial community in a new area and it certainly keeps me on my toes!
As the above “beginner” class scenarios illustrate, aerial instruction is not one size fits all. When I review RTAP videos, I appreciate seeing approaches that work for other instructors in a variety of situations. In the Born to Fly Teacher Trainings, we offer trainees a wide array of teaching tools and perspectives, but ultimately, putting these ideas into practice is a part of the craft of teaching, honed over time with experience and support.
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.