a student performs a move on a low trapeze

Nailed It?

Raise your hand if you’ve been bitten by the circus bug. Raise it higher if that bug bite corresponds with your social media being overtaken by all things circus. If you’re like most of us, you’ve got several different Pinterest boards dedicated to aerial inspiration and a nonstop Insta feed of friends and strangers showing off amazing new tricks.

And there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s our passion and our way of life. But . . . while social media is a great inspirational tool, it is NOT a good or safe way to learn circus.

Why Not?

YouTube and Instagram only tell half the story. While a trick might look completely clear in a photo or video, it’s unlikely you’re actually seeing it from every angle. A still photo, for instance, gives no information on how the aerialist got into or out of that position and might not allow you to see all the points of contact. And while a video provides a more complete look, it’s still not sufficient enough for you to take into open studio and recreate on your own.

There’s too much at risk – misinterpreting a hand placement or not realizing there’s an extra wrap involved somewhere could make a run-of-the-mill skill into a dangerous one. Even a less obvious mistake, like not understanding which muscles to engage, can lead to injury over time.

A Question Of Authority

What if you find a video designed to teach the skill in question? What if someone is actually breaking it down step-by-step to make sure you don’t miss anything? Sorry, the answer is still no. Consider that anyone can post a video to sites like YouTube. You’re entrusting your safety to someone you don’t know, and possibly without any idea what their credentials are.

The performer in question could have even less experience than you do and may have learned this trick 24 hours ago from a friend. We’ve encountered a number of “aerial training” videos from well-meaning folks who have no idea what they’re doing – and definitely no idea that they could be compromising their viewers’ safety.

Even if the video is from a reputable teacher, there’s still risk involved – because the person in the video can’t see you while you attempt to recreate it. They can’t see that you’ve wrapped your wrist wrong because you’re not familiar with flamenco grip yet. They don’t know that you’re still struggling with short arm holds and thus won’t be able to support yourself in the final position.

By trying a skill you haven’t been taught, you’re engaging in risky behavior. Serious injuries can result, and those may sideline your training for weeks, months, or even longer.

What To Do Instead

Send that trick to your instructor and ask how to go about learning it in a safe and supportive environment. It might be something that can be worked into your class curriculum, or maybe your instructor can tackle it with you during a private lesson.

Be prepared – if you’re a Level 1 student asking about a complicated drop, you might be told that the full trick will have to wait, but your instructor should be able to give you conditioning drills or initial steps to help you work towards it.

Simply put, a video is not an adequate substitute for professional aerial instruction. A trained and well-qualified teacher will break skills down clearly, work you through entrances and exits, help you understand proper muscle engagement, correct your mistakes, and make sure you are physically ready to tackle a new skill. Take all the inspiration you want from social media – but play it safe in the studio!