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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2018
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A sanctuary for women — Aerial Dance Pole Exercise focuses on fitness and support

Aerial Dance Instructors (back to front, left to right): Chrissy, Paula, Leah, Lynn, Kim, Olivia, Kelly, Niki Aerial Dance Instructors (back to front, left to right): Chrissy, Paula, Leah, Lynn, Kim, Olivia, Kelly, Niki

Holistic health is defined as “a form of healing that considers the whole person — body, mind, spirit and emotions — in the quest for optimal health and wellness.” It’s a well-known explanation, and is generally used to encompass several aspects of one’s journey to well-being: a mixture of modalities and techniques to find balance in a variety of aspects. 

It’s rare and unique to find it all rolled into one experience, but that’s exactly what Aerial Dance Pole Exercise in Appleton offers as a carefully constructed and thoughtful space that provides so much more than physical exercise.

Founder and owner Dr. Paula Brusky has intentionally and knowingly created a sanctuary for women, a place where students and instructors alike feel safe and empowered through fitness and community.

“We’re a sanctuary where women can discover their strength and believe in their beauty all while networking with other adventurous women,” she says. “Be adventurous! Be courageous! So much of our culture tells women to be shameful and reserved, and we adamantly want the opposite. Our women want to get strong and feel good about themselves, but they also want to find cool women to be friends with.” 

A full-service fitness community

In addition to what Paula refers to as “play classes” (tricks-based classes on a specific apparatus) that have catapulted the studio into a class of its own, Aerial Dance also provides strength and conditioning classes more recognized in a typical gym environment.

“We teach pole, hoop, hammock and silks and also have a full line of flexibility conditioning and strength building classes. It’s not just the adventurous stuff, it’s the nuts and bolts classes that help members work toward and build up to a pullup or increase range of motion – exactly what women need as they age.”

Paula stresses that you can be a member without ever touching one of the apparatus, and the programs offered are designed for women who get bored and want new and interesting components each visit, including workouts with kettlebells, free weights, resistant bands, and body weight exercises.

All programs are taught by highly trained and certified instructors who are working as hard behind the scenes as in front of the class. Cross collaboration is important at Aerial Dance, and classes are designed with each woman on the roster in mind. For example, Paula explains that if a student had been struggling with a move the week before, a specific exercise will be included in that week’s conditioning class curriculum to specifically address the problem. It’s all in an effort to help women stay engaged and reach their goals.

“Our programs change constantly. And the great thing is that they’re all very small class sizes. It’s particularly true for our strength and conditioning classes that have a max of five women, so really you’re talking about small group personal training and it’s included in your membership. Even our ‘big’ classes are usually eight women,” she explains.

When it comes to the aerial arts, your interests and comfort level dictate what you should try first, and that varies from wanting to try flying and being off the ground to exploring the sensual side and “tricks.” 

So what are they and how do they work? Paula explains: 

Pole. A vertical metal object that is attached to the ceiling and the floor — it’s gymnastics on a vertical apparatus. “Pole is going to be an Olympic sport in 2024 – there are two international groups working to make this a reality!”

Aerial hoop. A metal ring you do tricks on that is suspended in the air. “Hoop is very attainable because once you get in the hoop, there’s a lot you can do without having to lift your bodyweight again.”

Aerial hammock. One loop of fabric that has both ends attaching at the top. “The loop is much easier to start with because you can sit in it.”

Aerial silks. Silks are two strands of fabric that are attached at one point and come down to become two separate pieces.

Choosing and exploring the apparatus to try first (they offer an Intro to Aerial class so you can try Hoop, Hammock and Silks in one class!) is fun, but the safety of students and staff is taken very seriously. The studio features only the most state-of-the-art and dependable gear. 

“Because of how we install our permanent poles, there are no weight limits and the pole itself can spin or be static. In our aerial program, we have a custom-designed steel aerial structure that you can hang cars off of. 

“In general, you’re supposed to have a 2,000 pound point load to hang a human. That’s the safety factor. Ours at Aerial Dance are 30 times that. It lets me sleep at night, and I really like sleeping!” Paula laughs. “I want to know that my students and instructors are safe.”

She also explains that falls do happen, and that’s all a part of learning a new sport. In advanced classes – when students are not upright but inverted and injury is a potential concern – each student has a spotter when learning a new trick, just like in gymnastics programs. Paula developed a curriculum to help keep both the instructor who is spotting and the student who is trying the trick safe from injury, and also in a great mental space to keep attempting tricks and goals.

“Even when a student is “falling” out of a move and an instructor is stopping her, with our spotting technique the student is able to recover the move and is able to come down on her own safely,” she explains. “So she’s not afraid of the move later, which is really important from a mental standpoint.” 

Find your strength. Believe your beauty.

The aerial arts provide a whole body workout, but what Paula says is one of the most significant components of Aerial Dance has little to do with physical fitness. 

“We spend a lot of time getting to know our women and getting to know what they’re going through,” Paula says. “We find out where they need support so we’re able to offer that to them. There’s something that happens when you’re scared and doing a move for the first time, and you’re trusting your spotter with your life – literally – that develops a different level of comfort.

“As instructors we’re all very different, which I think is important and unique. It’s not our job to do anything but support you, both in the air and on the ground.” 

Paula and her instructors cultivate an environment of celebration, not competition. Being true to yourself and finding out who you are is as much a part of the process as learning to use the hammock and silks, and every step is celebrated. 

“There’s a lot of individuality in the aerial arts,” she says. “We foster a ‘help each other because life can be hard’ attitude. The more cheerleaders we have on our path, the more willing we are to walk it.

“Find your strength. Believe your beauty. You’re already strong, you are already beautiful. We hear a lot about finding a new you and losing weight going into the New Year, but we don’t want that. Aerial Dance is all about what you can gain and owning what’s already there.” 

“I think it’s important to understand that the aerial arts are about you, and not about eliciting something from someone else. It’s about your journey and feeling comfortable in your own skin. It’s discovering what your body is capable of. It’s about confronting your fears and succeeding. It empowers you and makes you feel strong internally as well as gaining strength externally.” —Dr. Paula Brusky

Building emotional strength 

“We spend so much time working on our physical body and not enough on emotionally building strength,” Paula says. “We’re going to be starting a book club in January — a book a month — about pertinent things happening in life.” 

Titles like Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” Terry Orlick’s “In Pursuit of Excellence” and other books about self-compassion and loving and accepting yourself are all on the table in an effort to provide another healthy outlet through Aerial Dance’s supportive community. 

“We want our members to be able to explore other ideas about themselves. Smart is sexy!” 


It’s no surprise that with the supportive environment and focus on reveling each other’s successes that Aerial Dance likes to celebrate — in a big way — each year. Their annual Christmas Show and Holiday Party applauds the past year’s progress in December as a way to celebrate and showcase the growth the students and instructors have seen over the last year. 

And it’s not just the routine and physical tricks that are cheered for. Paula says that it’s about getting excited about outgrowing comfort zones and developing confidence that she sees as a big reason the applause and cheers for the performances are so loud.

“All body shapes and sizes, and all ability levels perform,” she says. “A lot of people have a misconception that you have to look a certain way to do this. You don’t. You can be a very successful aerial artist at any shape and size.” 

Aerial Dance Pole Exercise

1871 N. Silverspring Drive, Appleton


To find schedules and to register for classes (or to check out what members have to say about Aerial Dance!), visit

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