Looking for an excuse to take your aerial training to the next level? Consider competing! Aerial competitions are a great way to achieve goals, build strength, and bond with your local circus community. Wondering if competition life is right for you? Here’s what to expect along the way!

Finding a Competition

Depending on your location, there might be a competition right in your area, or the nearest one might be several hours away. Do some online research or ask around at your local aerial studio to see what’s happening and when. Remember, most athletes train for months leading up to a competition, so even if it seems like the next one is a long way off, you can still start planning now.

If possible, talk to people who have participated in the competition before. Did they feel it was well-run and safe? Were their expectations met? If the competition promised something (professional photos and video, for example), did they deliver it in a timely manner? Keep in mind, sometimes things go haywire or are beyond an organizer’s control, but if you hear a series of horror stories from past competitors (especially with regard to safety concerns), walk away. There are plenty of well-respected comps out there — you’ll find one.

Play by the Rules

When preparing for a competition, read the guidelines thoroughly and ask the organizers about anything that’s unclear. Failure to adhere to the rules could mean losing points on your final score or being eliminated completely. Make sure you know the following:

  • Time limit. Most comps have a pretty strict window for this — make sure you follow it exactly. If your piece can be anywhere from 3:00 to 3:15 minutes, don’t assume it’s NBD if you go until 3:17.
  • Music choice. Many competitions have rules regarding sensitive language and subject matter.
  • Costume. Do certain body parts need to be covered? Do different apparatuses have specific requirements (no zippers on silks, for instance)? What’s considered a costume piece versus a prop? We know one young competitor who removed a hat at the beginning of her routine. Unfortunately, the comp had a strict policy about costume removal and considered her in violation of it. Make sure you’re 100% clear on what is and isn’t allowed.
  • Compulsory moves. Some competitions require you to execute certain moves — make sure you’ve got them in there! If you need to demonstrate two different climbs on silks or three spins during a pole routine, each one should be clear and distinct. Does that combo spin count as one or two? Don’t assume; ask!
  • Restricted moves. Similarly, some skills might be off-limits (i.e., no inversions for novice level competitors). Again, know what you can and can’t do, and structure your routine accordingly.

The Competitive Spirit

Preparing for a competition is a lot of hard work. Putting together an entertaining routine that meets all the requirements doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll train the same sequence of moves over and over again. You’ll put a reach move into your routine and take it out again when it’s not ready. You’ll train when you’re tired, when you’re sore, when you’d rather be out with friends or home on the couch. You’ll get sick of your music. You’ll hate the first costume you order. You’ll have a run-through where everything goes wrong and wonder why you signed up for this.

And then competition day will arrive, and you’ll be surrounded by aerialists from across your community. You’ll chat backstage and cheer each other on. You’ll go out on stage, give it your all, and bask in the crowd’s applause. Winning or losing isn’t important. You created something and put it out there for others to enjoy. You worked hard and put in all those extra training hours, building strength and stamina along the way. What the judges decide doesn’t matter — clearly, you’ve already won.