Teacher Spotlight: Michele Frances

Tell us about your early life

“I was the kid who would not participate in gym class and almost didn’t graduate high school on time because I was failing gym. My dad was a firefighter, and my mom owned a hair salon. Growing up in a beauty salon got me used to talking with adults early in life. My dad was actually very creative, and he made a roller rink for us kids in the basement, built us amazing forts, and welded small pieces of art. I loved MTV, music, fashion, and animals.”

Tell us about your education 

BS in Human Biology 1998 (Massachusetts)
Master’s in Physical Therapy 2000 (Massachusetts)
Pilates Instructor Certification 2006 (Seattle, WA)
Certified Cupping Practitioner 2019 (Austin, Rock Tape)

What brought you to Austin? 

“I was ready for a change after living in Seattle for 8 years. I needed more sunshine in my life. I had never been to Austin before my now husband and I moved here in 2011. I’ve been very lucky to have lived on my own in Hawaii, Monterey, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Do you remember the first time you saw aerial work performed? What/when/where was it?

“It was around 1996 in Las Vegas at Mystere (Cirque du Soleil). I would have NEVER believed back then that I would be doing this kind of work years later.” 

What first drew you to aerial work? 

“In 2004 I put everything I could fit in my car and moved by myself to Seattle from San Francisco. Soon after I got dumped, and my heart was really broken. I was trying hard to stay busy when I wasn’t at work. I had contract work at a hospital at the time, and my assistant, ‘Anne’ came in on a Monday morning.

She told me about this amazing date that she had over the weekend at what sounded like a dinner theater show (later figured out it was Teatro ZinZanni). ‘Michele, I just kept thinking of you. There were people dancing and swinging from the ceiling. You would have loved it.’ I thought, ‘That’s funny because I have always wanted to try trapeze.’ I googled ‘trapeze lessons Seattle’ during my lunch break, and went to my first class up at an empty airplane hangar that night. My life was quickly changed. ” 

Tell us about your first aerial class

“I walked into this huge airplane hangar where a local performance group called ‘Circus Contraption’ had their practice space. My first teacher was Lara Paxton. She had rope (corde lisse), silks (the super stretchy kind), and a two point trapeze. I remember walking in with my long hair and giant hoop earrings.

Bev Sobleman (who now owns Versatile Arts in Seattle) was one of the 5 students in the class, and my soon-to-be aerial partner, Nancy Neyhart, was there too. They were kind enough to tell me that I should probably take off my earrings. I could hardly climb and could not invert – but I was hooked. There were only a couple aerial studios (San Francisco Circus Center and NECCA) in the country back then. It was a wild, whimsical time.” 

How long have you been teaching? How long have you been teaching at Sky Candy?

“I’ve been teaching since 2006, and I’ve been teaching with Sky Candy regularly since 2012.

How did you get involved with Sky Candy?

“My now husband moved down to Austin about 6 months before me. I still had my own studio to close up and a production I was in, so I stayed behind in Seattle while he headed down here to start a great new job. I promised I’d move down in 6 months.

I came to visit him that summer (Summer 2011), and I was working on an epic silks act (as Axl Rose to the 11-minute song ‘November Rain’). I NEEDED to practice while I was visiting, so I rented practice time at Sky Candy at the old Tillery space! I met (Sky Candy co-founder) Andy, and he assured me that they were happy I was moving down and to let them know when I was looking for work. The rest is history . . .”

Describe your teaching philosophy. What would a student experience in one of your classes?

“Safety is always first — students must learn fundamentals. It’s a process; enjoy the steps. Celebrate every success!” 

Has there been an instructor/coach/performer who has impacted or inspired you?

Oh so many. I’ve been doing this A LONG TIME, so I’ve met so many along the way.

I’ll always credit Lara Paxton as being my ‘Aerial Momma’.

One of my other first aerial teachers was ‘Tamara The Trapeze Lady’ — she not only taught me silks, trapeze, and sling (hammock) skills, she taught me about makeup, rhinestones, and drag queens! We became dear friends, and I was a regular performer in Tamara The Trapeze Lady’s Columbia City Cabaret for several years. Terry Crane changed how I approached corde lisse, and Beverly Sobleman shaped my coaching and safety standards. I’ve also loved the work of, and skill sharing with, Rain Anya and Sara Bebe Holmes of Paper Doll Militia.

How/when/why did you decide to become an aerial instructor? What was your teacher training process like?

“I was hooked after my first class in 2004 and went to NECCA in New England for various workshops and private training. In 2005, I started working with an underground goth circus troupe in Seattle. We had an amazing practice space of our own just blocks from my apartment. I was lucky to have this training space, and I started teaching some of the acro performers in the troupe some skills.

The following year I opened my own business where I offered physical therapy, Pilates, and aerial lessons all in one gorgeous studio in Seattle. There were not many teacher training options back then — with my advanced knowledge in anatomy and kinesiology, I created some of my own curriculum. I completed NECCA’s teacher training at Versatile Arts in 2008 and later received advanced teacher training with NECCA at the same space. Over the past 16 years I have taken various aerial continuing education classes with the best coaches across the country.” 

What is your favorite thing about being an aerial instructor?

“It energizes me. No matter how tired I might be, teaching jazzes me up. Again, it’s about celebrating every success (as little as it might be) and also getting creative with my advanced students. I love creating choreo for others and consulting on choreography. The process can be tedious sometimes, but making it weird and different gets me excited.”

Tell us about a particularly impactful moment you’ve had with a student

Working with Erin Ball. She’s a bilateral below the knee amputee, and I have been coaching her remotely for 5 years. About 4 years ago, I figured out a way that she could do a double knee hang on silks — when she sent me the video of her doing it, I cried tears of joy (more than once). Just last week I thought of a new transition that I was pretty sure would work specifically for her body. She sent me a video two days ago of her doing it, and it was so cool and exciting to see it come to life. 

If you could give a brand new student one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Once you get the aerial bug, you will think about it every day. It’s very easy when you practice every day to forget how extraordinary this work is. Don’t forget: this is extraordinary stuff, and it’s a never ending process.

Oh, and train both sides.” 

What do you find challenging in your own aerial practice?

“When you teach and coach as many hours as I do a week, your own practice often suffers. I’m not nearly as interested in performing as I was when I lived in Seattle, so the motivation is not the same. My motivation comes from two places these days: to create for myself and to be there for my students.

What’s your favorite way to indulge?

“Depends on the time of year. Fancy bath bombs, sushi picnic in the backyard, cupcakes from Capital City Bakery, red wine.” 

Aside from aerial work, what are your passions, hobbies, and interests?

My dogs!
Vintage home furnishings.
Creating pom pom art.
Fostering dogs and squirrels.
Currently, I’m learning about beekeeping.
Did I mention my dogs?

Michele currently teaches five Online Drop-In Classes: Pilates Fusion on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1pm and Sundays at 4:30pm, Pull Up Bar Workout on Tuesdays at 6pm and Sundays at 3pm, Soup Can Abs & Shoulders on Tuesdays at 7:30pm, Jump Rope Cardio Flex on Thursdays at 4pm, and Bodyweight Conditioning on Thursdays at 5:30pm.