Let’s say you’ve been studying aerial arts for a while now, and you’re feeling pretty proficient moving through a variety of skills under your instructor’s guidance. What happens when your creative mind kicks into gear and you start feeling that irresistible pull to take what you know and put your own spin on it (so to speak)? How do you begin to sequence skills together on your own and turn them into a choreographed routine? There are (at least) two different routes you can take — your personality might determine which one works best for you.
By The Book
If you’re the methodical planner type, you might want to start out on the ground, with a white board and your aerial journal or video library. Make a list of the skills you know really well — the ones you could practically do in your sleep. If you’re interested in upping the degree of difficulty or giving yourself an additional challenge, sprinkle in a skill or two that you’re still working on and should perfect over the next few weeks.
Read over your list and select a handful of skills you really like, ones that feature your strengths and make you feel confident and comfortable. Add your goal skills to the list as well. (Pro tip: Do not try to include every single skill you’ve ever learned — stick to your favorites. Five to seven skills is usually a good starting point.)
Start thinking about how the skills might fit together. How will you enter your apparatus? Where are you when you finish your entrance? What makes the most sense at that point? For example, if a lyra entrance lands you in sitting, you probably don’t want to immediately drop back down under the bar — look for a seated skill or invert to the top bar instead. Keep working through your list of selected skills until you’ve sequenced all of them. Try your sequence in the air to see how it feels. Are there awkward transitions? Can you fix them by changing up the order or by throwing another skill in between? Can you play around with hand placement or body position to find a smoother pathway to your next skill? Continue to tweak your sequence until it feels like your skills naturally flow into each other.
Trial and Error
If you’re more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, rig your apparatus at an Open Studio, pick a song, and set your phone to video. Press play and start playing around. Review your footage to see what feels and looks good. If you discovered something new in the air, take some time to play with it (safely!) and figure out all its possibilities. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you have a sequence worked out. If you get stuck, refer to the method above: make a list of skills and put it where you can see it. Whenever your mind blanks, a quick glance at your list will put you back on track. Don’t be afraid to repeat skills — you might find that drop is fine at the beginning of the song, but it really stands out if you save it for the final chorus.
Sequencing skills is just the beginning. When we think of aerial performances that have truly stuck with us, they usually include a narrative of some kind. The aerialist takes us on a journey and draws us in emotionally. We’re not just watching an impressive set of skills; we’re fully invested in the performance. We’ll talk more about how to achieve that intense (and often elusive) connection to the audience in a future blog. In the meantime, whether you’re a planner or a player, you have the skills to create your own work. And like everything you learn in circus, it feels weird and awkward (and maybe even a little painful) at first, but the more you practice, the easier and more rewarding it gets!