At Sky Candy, we’re serious about circus being for everybody. In a recent blog series, we interviewed aerialists “of a certain age” to reinforce the idea that you can continue (or start!) your circus journey no matter how old you are. Next up, we’re talking with a group of aerialists who share a concern you may not have thought about if not personally confronted with it: chronic illness. We are excited to share their stories with you over the coming weeks.
How has your illness impacted your aerial journey?
“Sometimes, when I train, I’m so tired that I just have to stop halfway through. It makes progressing more difficult and results in a much slower timeline. I very often feel defeated. However, when I’m able to train and I master something new, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible.”
Kim, Silks Student, Crohn’s and Rheumatoid Arthritis
“I have learned that my training is not linear – there isn’t a pure temporal path towards being able to do X, Y, Z. My training is about being in touch with my body. It’s about being patient and giving my body the gift of movement, even when it’s hard. It’s about celebrating victories and honoring when my body needs to take a step back.”
Darcy, Hammock/Lyra Student, Autoimmune Disorder
“I’ve learned that ‘circus every day’ does NOT work for me. I find 3 days/week to be the max I can handle for my training. I schedule a day in between each lesson, conditioning class, or open studio. On the days in between, I go with really gentle exercise like walking or yoga. It can get a little tricky juggling the schedule each series but it works.”
Kelly, Trapeze Student, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
“I’m still learning all the things that can spike abdominal pain for me — some beats feel fine, some beats will randomly result in deep cervical pain or cramping (due to my endo treatment IUD). Front balances are tricky around my period. Fatigue and general pelvic pain are always a consideration, and sometimes I can’t invert at all without feeling inflammation-related pain and nausea.”
Melissa, Lyra/Rope/Straps Student, Endometriosis
What does your health practitioner say about your circus training?
“My rheumatologist is pretty open-minded and doesn’t judge me. He just tells me to listen to my body.”
Rosie, Lyra/Fabric Student, Rheumatoid Arthritis
“They would tell me to stop — ha! While labs are helpful, I’ve stopped relying so heavily on those and really tried to get in touch with how my body is feeling each day or week and respecting that. Autoimmune is a disconnect with the body so I have been working on recreating that connection in any way I can.”
“He said, ‘Yeah, just don’t fall on your back.’ I suppose that’s solid advice.”
Emily, Silks/Contortion Student, Ankylosing Spondylitis
Have you noticed any difference in your symptoms since you began training?
“My pain decreases some as physical fitness increases, so thanks circus!”
“Staying active has helped A LOT. The great thing about aerials is there is a lot of stretching involved, which helps my pain a lot!”
Alicia, Silks/Pole Student, Fibromyalgia
“Gaining muscle is really beneficial for people with arthritis because your muscles protect your joints! I’ve definitely gained muscle, which I think has made my joints feel more happy and less cranky. Also, ankylosing spondylitis can lead to your vertebrae fusing together, so it’s important to keep your back flexible. I think contortion has helped with that, and my back feels less crunchy when I do silks now!”
“I’m much stronger, have a lot more stamina, and I don’t limp for as long. My rheumatologist is impressed by the positive changes in my body.”
April, Lyra Student, Psoriatic Arthritis
Have you talked to your instructor about your illness? What kind of support have you been offered?
“I have been taking classes with the same aerial instructor for most (if not all) of my training, and the main reason I have done that is that she is incredibly responsive to people’s different levels and needs — whether that’s over the long term or because of a short-term need/change. Even when I feel like absolute garbage, my instructor would find something I could do that was challenging but also made me feel like I was moving forward. If your instructor cannot or will not give you the support you need, I suggest you try out new instructors because there are many out there who want aerials to be healing and fueling for you, and they will give whatever support they can to make sure that happens.”
“Sky Candy has been fantastic. The instructors are supportive and understanding and work around my issues. They also never make me feel like I’m broken, which so many other people in my life have. They encourage me and make me believe that I’ll be able to actually perform one day. I think I probably would have given up aerials by now if it hadn’t been for the support, encouragement, and acceptance provided by Sky Candy.”
“Yes, [my instructor] is always supportive, and helped with some strength training and stretching suggestions. She has also taken time to help me be more included when the pain is a little worse, and has kind words of encouragement when my body refuses to listen.”
“No. Luckily, most instructors are great about respecting boundaries – not just for people with a known illness. In my experience, anyone that says they’re too tired or just not comfortable with a trick or exercise is welcome to sit it out. The Sky Candy instructors have a great way of knowing when you need a little push and when you need to rest.”
What advice would you offer a new aerialist with the same condition?
“You may have to learn or practice at a different speed from others, but it’s worth it to keep doing things that bring you joy.”
“Take things slow and listen to your body. It’s ok to be the slowest person in your class and progress more slowly. It can give you more time to work on your technique and think about your goals. Focus on building muscle and getting strong. You’ll have good days and bad days, but overall you’ll make amazing progress.”
“Let your instructor know you have the disease. They can’t help you if they don’t know. Don’t feel like you’re being a quitter or lazy if your body isn’t up to it. Only you know your body best. Be patient with yourself. It might come a little slower for you but it will come. Trust me. Enjoy the small progress.”
“Don’t compare yourself to other aerialists. It’s so hard mentally seeing other people progress when you aren’t. Make achievable goals and forgive yourself if you don’t meet them. The one thing I’ve learned is to not look at missing your aerial goals as failure. You are trying to do something that your illness tells you you can’t do, and that’s incredible.”
Personally, we think these students are incredible, and we are so happy they are part of our Sky Candy family!