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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • November 2018
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Boring but important!

Instagram is a blessing and a curse to the aerial arts. It is so exciting to see the international pole and aerial communities grow. It is amazing to see new moves being created daily and to have “friends” you’ve never met in person cheering you on your journey. But it is also extremely tempting to try moves you’re not ready for. And that’s where a great instructor and properly learned technique is your best friend.

There are three types of pole and aerial students:

  1. I’m doing this for me and it’s my journey. I’ll take all the time I need to keep working on all aspects of myself and the sport. I’m not in a rush and I’m excited for every step of the way.
  2. I want the coolest trick ever and I want it now.
  3. A combination of #1 and #2.

You can guess which one of these students worries me as an instructor! I totally understand the desire to get the coolest new move you see on Instagram. If I’m honest, I’m a #3 student myself! But because I have a PhD in injury prevention, the #1 side of my brain wins out most of the time. I understand the importance of technique; I appreciate that hard moves require proper training and building healthy functional patterns before they are attempted.

If you are practicing any high skill sport (gymnastics, figure skating, etc.) it should be obvious that there is a progression to learning the tricks. For example, in gymnastics you’re not going to try a front flip on the balance beam unless you can first do it on the floor. That logic has been in place for years because the sport is old and the longtime coaching best practices and techniques are respected. In the aerial arts of pole, aerial silks, aerial hammock and aerial hoop there is not that tradition or respect for the apparatus. (Proper circus training traditions exist, especially for silks, but they aren’t in the mainstream culture like other trick based sports so aren’t practiced by the recreational aerialist.) Many of the videos being posted are with people training at home, in unsafe environments alone and the end result is a growing culture of unnecessary risk. There is also a huge rise in the aerial sports of students deciding to teach because they love it so much; some of these people make the decision to teach and then embark on a proper training journey to learn anatomy and technique, but many more just teach what they know, passing their bad traits on to students. The end result is a huge range of training techniques for the inherently dangerous aerial arts.

How can you protect yourself if you’re interested in starting your own aerial journey? First and foremost, find a program that is sequential and progressive! Think of the gymnastic analogy earlier, you need to train with instructors who have thought through and carefully planned the order in which to learn tricks.

There are two big red flags to look for when you walk into a program:

1. The instructor asks, “What do you want to learn today?” RUN if you are asked to take control of your own journey. You are there to be a student, not to be the planner of your own muscle development. If you have an instructor that asks this and then students start pulling out phones to share the Instagram trick of the day, you probably are not training in a safe environment. Find a program that asks students to submit any videos they want to learn in advance of class so the instructors can break down the moves and find the best training tricks possible. Each move should be presented with progression levels and exercises to work on until you have the strength and healthy muscle patterns to attempt the full move.

2. The class is multi-level, you’re new and standing next to someone who has done the sport for years and you’re all working on the exact same version of the trick. This is another good indication that the program is unsafe. Different levels can be taught but in a poorly designed multi-level program, everyone is basically doing the same thing, which guarantees someone is not ready for what they are learning and someone else is bored. A proper aerial program will be structured with levels, grouping similar levels together in a class so that students are able to learn at their current abilities and the instruction can focus on smaller variations and a narrow range of conditioning.

Why does this matter?

Because the aerial arts aren’t just about the big flashy muscles, it’s actually the stabilizing muscles that you need to have to function to keep you safest in the air! And those little muscles and muscle recruitment patterns take longer to develop than building the strength in the big muscle groups to execute a trick. It’s for this reason sequential programs should have conditioning to build the functional patterns in every class as well as a trick progression that decreases the chance of injury. Will the “I want it now” student have to be patient at times because we want them to build a functional use pattern that will limit their chance of shoulder injury before they throw themselves into a handspring? Yes. But the end result will be a long, healthy career as a recreational aerialist who can do an insane number of Instagram-worthy tricks. 

Paula Brusky, PhD

Dr. Paula Brusky is the owner of Aerial Dance Pole Exercise, LLC in Appleton. With a PhD in injury prevention, a group fitness certification from the American Center on Exercise and numerous fitness, aerial and pole instruction certifications she is a leading aerial arts educator. For more information or to sign-up for your first Pole, Hammock, Hoop or Silks class, call 920-750-1441 or visit

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