By Elizabeth Stich
“I’ve often said that marathons are like my graduate school. They give you the intensive, specialized, in-depth training that you didn’t get during the course of your normal four-year degree. That’s because they’re long enough and challenging enough that the slightest imperfections and inefficiencies—the ones that you might never notice in your daily run, yet cause the cumulative damage over the years that can wreck your running career—eventually come out.” -- Barefoot Ken Bob Sanders
Although I am not a runner, I love this quote from the book Barefoot Running. I am currently in the home stretch of my own 150 theme park show marathon and reflecting on the lessons it has given me not only as a performer, but also as a teacher. Even though many of my recreational aerial students will never reach this level of intensity, the same solid foundation of good technique applies whether attending class once a week or performing in hundreds of shows a year. The following list may seem like common sense, but my marathon experience has continued to remind me how important these simple truths are for students and professionals alike. This summer, I am attempting to be my own best student!
1. Always practice a skill on both sides.
As a teacher, I always have students learn and practice both sides of a skill in class. But what about when we move from mastering classroom skills to performing choreography?
I have found that this is challenging not only for the obvious, glamorous tricks, but also for the sneaky asymmetries that hide in repetitive choreography. When I was choreographing my silks act for this show, I made a deal with myself that if I included angel roll-ups I also had to practice the skill on my non-dominant side after the first show of every day. At first this was a challenge, but now my other side is looking pretty good and my shoulders are even and happy! As the show run progressed, though, I realized that the more challenging asymmetry to tackle was the drop at the end of my act.
I choose not to train or teach advanced drops on both sides (In the heat of the moment in performance, when lights, music, and audience can make thinking challenging, I want my body to have muscle memory of executing potentially dangerous drops on one side only); however, I still had to figure out a way to safely address this imbalance. For me, the answer was to practice my flamenco S-wrap entrance from my non-dominant side and then windmill down instead of wrapping for the drop. This gives me the same sense of spiraling entrance and rolling descent, without actually wrapping the drop on my non-dominant side.
2. No cheating when it comes to technique.
Not only does clean technique look better aesthetically, but it is also your first line of defense for injury prevention!
After an intense 10-day rehearsal period, our cast went straight into performing 19 shows a week. No matter how much training time I logged pre-contract, it couldn’t completely prepare me for the amount of energy and endurance required for the real deal. Towards the beginning of the show run, I began to notice myself taking a short cut in my inversion technique. Instead of choosing to invert from long arms/dead hang or from short arms/lock-off, I was hanging out in that inefficient no-man’s land in between of partially bent arms that can lead to tendonitis in the elbows. Ironically, this is a bad habit that I always caution my students against! Once I noticed the problem, the solution was simply to put myself back into the student mindset and review and condition all the basic straddle back progressions. (If you’ve forgotten these stepping stones along the way to a beautiful inversion, they are conveniently included in the new Rope Manual Vol. 1 by Rebekah Leach).
3. No one can do it all.
You have a limited amount of time and energy, so choose warm-ups, conditioning, injury prevention exercises, and stretches wisely.
For the past several years, I feel like all I've been able to focus on is opening my shoulders. I have focused on them so much that I almost forgot that I have a lower body. Well, thanks to this summer job for reminding me! In addition to performing my aerial acts, I spend a good portion of the show jumping on and off stage, running through the audience, and negotiating the uneven surfaces of trampolines, BMX bike ramps, and crash mats. It didn’t take long before I started to feel a tweak in my ankle, which I promptly addressed by adding a ballet releve` sequence into my daily warm-up routine.
Since then, I've had to learn to trust that my shoulders will be fine even if I turn some of my attention to other parts of my body. Thankfully, from a lifetime of studying different movement practices (ballet, modern dance, Laban Movement Analysis, Anusara Yoga, and circus arts), I have many tools upon which to draw in response to my body's changing daily needs. As a teacher, this reminds me how important it is to give students a variety of exercises to stock their own personal warm-up, conditioning, injury prevention, and stretching tool-kits and to encourage them to cultivate the self-awareness to know when to choose a particular exercise.
Elizabeth Stich is a Salt Lake City based aerialist and dancer who spent the summer flying high over BMX stunt riders performing with All Wheel Sports productions. When not on stage, you can find her in the studio sharing her passion for both aerials and dance at Aerial Arts of Utah, Westminster College, and Salt Lake Community College.
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.