Once you’ve been bitten by the circus bug, it affects every aspect of your life — even your travel plans. A business trip or a long weekend away now necessitates a trip to the local aerial studio. But how do you find the best one? We definitely recommend searching the interwebs and polling any local circus friends for suggestions, but beyond that, what will ensure you end up somewhere safe? Here are a few points to consider and questions to ask when choosing a circus arts studio.
Sizing It Up
If you’re looking to join a group class, start by asking about the maximum class size but keep digging for more details. Find out about the student teacher ratio and how many points will be in use at any given time. There’s a big difference between a class of ten students where everyone has their own set of silks and a class of ten where only one student is in the air at a time. You’ll want to understand whether you’ll get individual attention and spotting as you try new skills or if it’s more of an “every aerialist for themself!” philosophy. And conversely, too many students to one point limits the amount of air time you’ll get and affects how well you learn and retain the information. Find a balance you feel comfortable with.
Keepin’ It Classy
You’ll also want to understand how the studio divides its students into classes. Is there a clearly defined level system that separates beginners from those at an advanced level? Can they easily tell you where you fit in? Keep in mind that some studios require an in-person or online assessment before allowing you to sign up for more advanced classes (and are well within their right to do so!), so if you’re only visiting for a short time, you’ll want to take this into account. If you’re signing up for an all-levels class, don’t be afraid to ask how the instructor makes sure that each student is appropriately challenged. Worried that you’ll wind up in a level that’s too difficult or too easy? Opt for a private lesson first, and if you plan to continue, ask your instructor which level is right for you.
Eyes on the Prize
When you enter a new aerial studio for the first time, take a good look around. Are there mats under every student at all times? Are the instructors paying close attention, offering verbal cues and hands-on spotting when needed? What does the rigging look like? Keep in mind that just because something is different from your home studio doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But you should feel comfortable making a polite inquiry about it. Why panel mats instead of crash mats? Maybe you’re looking at a beginner class that doesn’t include drops and that the harder panel mats encourage students not to bail out of skills when they get nervous or tired. That unfamiliar rigging is very likely perfectly safe, and the staff should be able to tell you about it and help you feel comfortable. If your spidey safety sense is still tingling, walk away.
Other things you might want to know include how long the studio has been in business, how much experience and what kind of training/certification their instructors have, what their reviews look like, etc. Remember, you can always start by asking your local circus arts studio for recommendations! The circus world is still small, and many of us have worked or trained together at some point. Wherever your travels lead you, have fun and train safely!