For one of the most beautiful aerial arts, fabric, tissu, or silks, is one of the most complex. A student of aerial fabric needs to be strong in their upper body and core, similar to other aerials arts, but also needs to train their brain and spatial awareness skills to think about how the knots and fabric are keeping them safe and supported in the air.
Many students report that their initial instruction comes from a “monkey-see, monkey-do” class structure. However, for a student to excel and eventually learn to create and compose moves on their own, it is essential they work from a basis of proper technique and understanding.
Rebekah Leach, a pioneer in the aerial arts, has created a set of manuals for aerial fabric, aerial hoop. aerial yoga, and rope, to ensure students and instructors can do just this!
This review looks in detail at the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual (4th Ed) published in 2011. The Intermediate Part 1 and Part 2 versions are also available to purchase as paperback and digital download from her website and on Amazon.
What you need to know
The Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual contains
- over 250 step by step photographs including close ups of knots
- over 40 poses, tricks and transitions on the fabric
- amazing explanations of knots and wraps using clear language
- conditioning tips
- teaching, spotting, and safety advice
With chapters based on moves and transitions from basic climbs to single and double footlocks, students and instructors can easily see how moves can be connected together and even begin to play with their own variations once comfortable in each position. The progression of moves also introduces the student to the hip lock (aka the hip key) and various climbs inviting students to develop strength and techniques that will support them in their aerial dance journey.
Although being a fan of aerial fabric dance for many years, I have only started training on the apparatus recently. My background in pole dance and lyra offered some familiarity in going upside down and being off the ground, but nothing prepared me for the complexities involved in tying knots with my feet and learning how to control my body as it spun and sway in the air!
Currently, my instructors (who speak only a little English) work from a modelling approach, completing the move or sequence themselves and then spotting carefully while each student in the class attempts the same pose. If your circumstances are similar, of even if you are learning on your own, you may find that this manual fills in many gaps in your training and understanding.
Rebekah Leach borrows language from ballet to clearly explain the direction of wraps – en dedans and en dehors – supporting the mind-body connection that pure modelling cannot achieve. Studying the manual outside of class and revisiting how knots and footlocks are created, offers essential theory to my practice. Her notes about weight distribution, exit strategies, and common mistakes, revise concepts taught in class and have even made great talking points for me to discuss with my instructor.
From a safety standpoint, the advantages of such an approach are obvious. To really understand what is holding you up and why, you need to learn how to see the knots in your mind and be able to follow the direction that the fabric is wrapped around your legs or body.
The clarity and quality of the photographs in the manual are really impressive! Each movement sequence used to create knots and transitions have been broken down with photos at every step. Close attention has been paid to make note of how to position your feet, or keep the fabric running along one side of your body, to support your progress in replicating the moves and ensuring the fabric ribbons don’t slip from where they are meant to be.
One of my favourite parts of the book is also how the author notes how to practice the pose on the ground first! If it’s just for balance, coordination, or to train strength and flexibility, this is such a great training tip for beginners, allowing you to feel what the move is like before attempting it in the air without all the nerves of danger and physical exertion. In a similar way, Rebekah Leach also regularly refers to the concept of “exit strength” making note of how important it is to have the strength to return to the ground safely as well as the technique. This idea may not come naturally to beginners who will also benefit from learning resting poses in the air.
Even if you are a seasoned aerial fabric instructor, each year or term your students will arrive to class with different skills and learning abilities. Rebekah Leach has laid out the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual as a curriculum for a term of classes with references to how to know if your students are ready to progress or attempt certain moves.
Sharing her teaching expertise, Rebekah Leach offers instructors guidelines of how to structure the entire class, from warm up to cool down, and how to maintain the motivation of students who may not be ready for aerial poses or to go upside-down.
Most importantly perhaps, the author’s notes on spotting and how to catch common mistakes, supports best practice in focusing on how the student entered a lock or wrap, how to verbally direct a student to unwind or de-tangle themselves, and where to support a student when physically spotting transitions and tricks.
I also love that Rebekah Leach has included reference to pioneers in the field, and innovators of certain poses, inviting instructors to broaden their knowledge base and find inspiration from other aerial artists.
One of my favourite quotes from the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual is
“Each skill is like a word which builds sentences to tell a movement story”
Something that comes through in each tutorial, is the author’s passion for unique expression. From a solid foundation in understanding how the wraps work and support the dancer, one can then explore movement with the fabric as a form of self expression. The emphasis on proper technique is strong, but not without vision for what can be achieved even from students at the beginning of their aerial fabric dance journey.
Get your copy of the Beginning Aerial Fabric Instructional Manual from Rebekah Leach’s website and begin your own exploration into aerial fabric dance!