Learning on your own vs in a studio
As more and more people get into aerial and circus the more resources are being made to support these people. Resources like books, videos and podcasts! We are seeing more and more instructional videos appearing online and in an industry with little standardisation and regulation it can be hard to separate the good from the bad - the useful form the dangerous!
We all know the feeling...after starting, you just can't stop! You've got the aerial bug! An itch you can't scratch by going to class once a week.
YouTube has become an information warehouse where one can find a tutorial video on almost anything. This includes aerial. As many aspiring aerialists start to learn the basics they stumble upon really cool videos on the internet. Performances, tutorials, and short training videos are all up on the internet for anyone to watch and absorb. With all of this information on the internet, it makes you wonder “why would I attend an aerial class when I can learn this stuff on my own?”
Read on to find out the many reasons we recommend studios but also how to get the most out of home learning resources.
Learning at a studio
One of the major benefits of learning at a studio is safety. At a studio, there are countless safety precautions. A good studio will have proper rigging, that is inspected often and maintained properly, that can easily support your weight and the dynamic weight you create when moving on an apparatus. They will also have proper safety equipment like crashmats and harnesses to help avoid injury. Another important safety precaution is a spotter. Your teacher will spot you when you try new tricks and they will correct any issues they see. An incorrectly wrapped silk can end very badly.
An experienced teacher is important for learning aerial. They will be able to show you progressions and can judge your skill level and physicality. Injuries will occur when people will try tricks that are above their skill level. It’s always best to bring a new video to your teacher to get their input rather than just trying it.
For those who wish to perform, appearing at showcases and shows put on or endorsed by the studio will help you build your performance repertoire. Not only will studios give you the opportunity to perform, but they will help guide you through the process of act creation and costumes.
Training at home
One of the biggest problems with learning at home is safety. Many houses are not meant to support the dynamic weight generated by aerial. While a beam may look stable only a professional will be able to tell you if it is suitable. Without a proper understanding of what the beam is currently supporting, what its allowances are for extra strain, or if it is integral for exceptional situations it isn't possible to make this judgement call on your own.
We never suggest rigging directly to a ceiling. We always recommend rigging to a secure support beam. Whenever you rig, we always recommend having a structural engineer and an experienced or professional rigger present. If your rigging point breaks you can be seriously injured.
If you don’t have access to a secure beam at home then you may want to consider a freestanding aerial rig or frame. Often these rigs are marketed as ‘outdoor rigs’ but that’s just because they have a large footprint and need a lot of room to be set up. If you’re lucky enough to have an indoor space that fits one, then this can be a good option.
Training at home can still be dangerous even if you have a secure rigging point. An important rule to follow is “never train alone”. This doesn’t mean that someone is watching you every second you’re on an apparatus. What this does ensure is if an accident happens someone is there to help immediately. Also, with other aerialists around, if you need someone to spot or want the extra security of someone watching a wrap, they’re there to assist.
If you’re unsure about home training ask your teacher if they think you are ready to own your equipment and practice at home
The limitations of video tutorials
We’ve touched upon the importance of a good teacher, but we haven’t directly addressed the issues with learning solely from the internet. No matter how detailed or thorough the video, nothing compares to an actual person talking you through a move. An in-person instructor can identify if a wrap is wrong and explain moves in various ways. Their experience is also invaluable when putting together an act and performance.
So what can’t YouTube help you with? YouTube videos can often leave out essential steps to perform a move properly. Many times a move requires you to engage many different muscle groups even if the move looks easy. An experienced performer, in a video, may activate a muscle they’ve trained more than you and pull off a move you simply aren’t ready for. Because YouTube is a one-way transaction you’re also not in a position to ask questions, gain feedback, and have your learning moderated responsibly.
How to get the most from video tutorials
Whilst videos are not a substitute for an instructor there are still some advantages to them.
- Videos (and books) are great for remembering an old trick that you’ve been taught but haven’t done in a while or to perfect a trick you recently learned.
- They are also great for inspiration. Watching a video where someone poses differently in a familiar wrap can inspire you to get up and practice. Videos can give you ideas for an act you’re putting together, especially for transition moves.
- Videos can be slowed down (Click the cog on YouTube and you can put the playback speed to 0.75, 0.50, or even 0.25 speed) or paused to let you focus in on the exact movements of the performer.
- Videos are also self-serve, you can access them at any time. Watch through videos ahead of practice to help visualise and mentally absorb motions. Watch videos when your studio is closed. Watch videos when a global pandemic puts a pause on life.
- Make your own videos! If you’re struggling with a move and you want to see what your instructor’s advice is relating to in more detail, record it and play it back. This is a technique athletes use all the time, and all you need to mimic them is a mobile phone.
How to identify a good video tutorial
There are so many tutorials out there! How do you know which to choose?
- Are they rigging from a tree? If they are – then don’t pass go! It’s a big red flag. We’ve written about this before here.
- Are they using a crash mat? It doesn’t need to be something huge, at low height situations a highly skilled and experienced instructor may be using something thinner, like a bouldering mat. The point is we’re looking out for things that demonstrate safety and professionalism – If they’re using a mattress it might be a sign you should look elsewhere, kind of like a tradesperson using the wrong tools.
- Does each video lead into the next, showing a slow and safe progression and development of skills?
- Do they have content devoted to conditioning/stretching and to warm-ups/cool-downs?
One of our favourite creators is Unique Aerialists – a video tutorial like their guide on creating a spin with an aerial hoop is a great example of progression and safety in training.
How to be safe training at home
Training in a studio is always going to be the best option but what if you can’t get to a studio? We’ve established that if you are going to train at home you need to rig safely and you shouldn’t train alone but what else should you be doing/not doing?
- Safe rigging and a crash mat – of course.
- Set up a video call with a friend! Never training alone is a golden rule – why not use technology to help with that? Get a buddy on a zoom (other video calling services are available) call and they can keep an eye on your form while also being able to call for help if anything goes wrong.
- Studio on lock down? Many studios have made classes available online but your instructor might be able to arrange a one on one or small group video lesson. Your instructors will need your support more than ever right now so maybe speak to them about the possibility of remote training.
- If you do have someone in the house with you, ask them to be with you while you train, particularly if you‘re planning to try something new. They might not have an expert eye, but they can film you or compare you to the video you’re learning from.
Other options at home
Conditioning is very important in aerial. Being able to hold yourself up is essential to any aerialist. At home, you can work on your strength and conditioning by doing push-ups, hollow body holds, planks, running, etc. There’s a lot you can do on the ground without aerial equipment. You can also practice pull ups, toe touches, and knee tucks along with many other conditioning exercises that don’t have the same level of danger.
A lot of studios are focusing on this as the online content they’re delivering during pandemic restrictions. Conditioning is important and can be a lot of fun, so think about supporting your studio and jumping in on a few online classes.
At the end of the day, safety is always the highest priority. Aerial and circus arts are dangerous and should be treated with the respect they deserve. There’s a reason studios and teachers charge what they do. Always train safe and smart!