For those who have been following my aerial dance journey, you will know that I have transitioned from calling myself a pole dancer to now an aerialist. I train with many apparatus since having been adopted by the circus and as much as I cannot wait to return to pole (yes it will happen!) I am loving the new discoveries I am making about my body, movement, and dance while on hammock, silks, and lyra.
The title of this post is not mine. Shannon McKenna is The Artist Athlete and is my most recent girl crush and go to for training advice and circus knowledge. Anyone in the world of circus, or aerial, or pole for that matter falls into the mixed up world of artists and athletes. We ask our bodies to do amazing feats of strength and flexibility, twisting, lifting, and bending, and then attempt to merge these movements with grace, story telling, emotion, and meaning. Jamilla Deville straddles these worlds quite successfully, training cross-fit alongside pole to balance her body, reduce training bias, and prevent injuries. I would love to know some more dancers who also train this way.
This is now, an invitation to you, as pole dancers, to reach a little further and come and visit the world of The Artist Athlete. Let’s bridge the gap –
Do pole dancers consider themselves “aerialists”?
What could the lineage of circus and pole offer each other in terms of show creation and training advice?”
I don’t know if these ideas were part of Shannon McKenna’s goal when she created The Artist Athlete, but I am so glad to have found a source of knowledge and experience that can guide me through the tents and fanfare of the circus, right to the nitty-gritty stuff. She asks the questions that keep me awake at night. And finds people to interview that actually know some of the answers!
You can find The Artist Athlete in the usual places, but I highly recommend you listen to her podcast! She is currently up to episode 16, so you have lots to binge on if you are just getting started. Her interviews with contortionists, circus coaches, physiotherapist, and acrobats are going to open your mind to the range of talent and knowledge that could help you in your aerial dance journey.
If you still need convincing, here are some of my favourite snippets that I related to with regards to my dance practice, choreography creation, and how I think about dance and circus as I get older, Whether dance for you is your full time job, a hobby, or just a way to stay fit and healthy, these insights into the artists’ practice may help you find new inspiration, new motivation, or just comfort that your journey is shared by others.
Episode 2: Liza Rose
“In a world where every trick and transition under the sun is already out on Instagram and YouTube, how do you go about making art that is truly your own? … aerialist, choreographer, and studio owner Liza Rose … found ways to create her own art and her own opportunities. ”
“… dedicated to finding transitions, finding story within the phrases I am working through, finding ways that I can make choices in the air … instead of my shapes looking like what I’ve learned in class or what would be known as traditional. I try to spend a lot of time finding my points of contact, assessing what I need to engage in my body to stay up in the air and stay safe while I’m there and then making choices with all the rest of my body. That’s my process of trying to create authentic movement.”
“… that’s the way you are going to be able to make your own style, if you are able to assess your own personal safety and you’re able to move in between these places of rest, these places that you know will keep you on the thing”
Episode 11: Laura Stokes
How [has] your relationship to the material changed …?
“… it’s so complex and it’s also like my relationship to the material is more physical than it is linguistic. But, yes my relationship has changed … it still feels relevant to the audiences that we play to, it doesn’t feel relevant to me and my current interest artistically but it doesn’t feel like a penance to perform it. Sometimes I thought like wow it’s so strange to have a time based piece of art that in order for it to be seen I have to enact it. It would be so different for me to travel with a painting or a sculpture that I made five years ago and say here is this piece of work that I still believe in, I’d like you to look at it. But the enactment and embodiment of it sometimes is a bit of a push, but there is also a practice and there is something that also becomes deeply familiar and comfortable … and there are discoveries in that, I am always looking for new moments and maybe it’s similar to a relationship with a person where trying to keep the lens of what is new, who are you today?, keeps it fresh while also appreciating the comfort that can come from deep familiarity. It’s not this raw edgy new relationship it’s something that I can sink into”
Episode 12: Brandon Scott
“The thing that I would tell myself when I quit gymnastics was this is not the peak of your athleticism. Because at the time that is what I thought … when am I ever going to be in the same shape as I am as teenage boy in competitive gymnastics. This is the peak, I was just resigned to it. And now as a person who is far stronger and far more flexible when I was at that time, I just want to give that past self the reassurance that you can always keep progressing especially if it’s something that you love there is so much more time and so much more to learn and there is so much more growth to be had …. at any point in your life”
Want more? Shannon McKenna has also released a set of E Manuals to help you learn about how to hang upside down safely, efficiently, and consistently – we all want to be able to do aerials forever right?