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Hello

I completed a psychology masters in 2021 focusing on different aspects of aerialists. I am posting about topics from personal experience combined with my research findings looking at psychology from an aerialists perspective.

To read my ponderings you can choose topics or scroll through..

Are you a Dancer?

Why do I instantly want to hug anyone who says they are or were a dancer?

Because I think they have probably experienced at least some of the following..

-Suppressing the pain of being told they are not good enough over and over

-Comments about their body needing to be different

-Feeling like they constantly have to be improving

-Working long days and nights without appreciation 

-Coping with constant feedback

-Having to weigh and measure themselves for work

-Wondering if it’s all worth it

-Restricting food 

-Pushing themselves past limits

-Putting on a show face when they feel broken 

-The uncertainty of when the next work will come

-Working part time jobs they hate

-Having to be in competition with peers

-Feeling they can be replaced in an instant

-People saying its not ‘real’ work

-Taught to be resilient and do whatever it takes to get work

-Putting up a protection guard to not show their true selves from rejection

-Losing the passion of what dancing once was

-Taking all of this since they were young

The list goes on..

There is so much more behind the smiling face you see on the stage. Dance is physically and psychologically draining. So much to contend with and no room for error.

Its a shame there seems to be so much trauma in something that should be the embodiment of freedom.

How do you think we can improve how dancers are treated? 

Autonomy

I am realising more and more the importance of autonomy. The possibility to be ourselves.

When my autonomy is being suppressed or not supported I feel unsafe and I turn to my coping mechanisms. Then when that is continuous I lose track of who I am. 

How does this come up in the context of the aerial industry?

In the past I experienced dance teachers and directors suppressing performers’ autonomy in order to keep their control and power. I never looked at it as anything but harmless but now I think about it, it’s pretty dangerous. I have definitely felt trapped in a rehearsal or doing something I am uncomfortable with because I feared ‘being awkward’ and ‘uncooperative’. 

The thought of obedience being a highly ranked ‘skill’ as a performer makes me feel uneasy. If someone is more likely to get a role because they ‘comply no matter what’ it’s as if we are rewarding the lack of personal autonomy and boundaries. 

Again, it can be related to worth. We might not value our autonomy and then not think of it as such a big deal when it’s not supported. Therefore those of us with low self worth can be taken advantage of. I wondered why it took me so long to honour boundaries but I think the main factor was the fear of rejection and losing work because of it. 

We know our own bodies and limits better than anyone else so it is SO important to have the opportunity to honour that instead of being overruled by an instructor, director, manager. 

We are all unique for a reason and that uniqueness is where we can shine the brightest so don’t let anyone dull your light.

Training from pleasure or pressure

How are you training and treating your body. Is it coming from pressure or pleasure? 

The motive behind what we do is important. 

For example 2 people are doing 10 pull ups for conditioning..

Person 1 is doing them because they feel they NEED to, to keep up strength. They are feeling pressure to look a certain way. They fear if they don’t then they will not be able to execute skills anymore/ be deemed unprofessional/ lose work. 

Person 2 is doing them because they FEEL good doing them. They know they make movement feel better but if they are not feeling like doing pull ups they can easily swap them to something else, do less, or rest.

Two completely different motives but identical on the outside. I have been both person 1 and 2.

When I was person 1 I found training very stressful. A lot was hanging on a training session. It directly determined how I saw myself. If I couldn’t match my normal conditioning set then I had to give a narrative to why and then ‘take action’ to make sure I could keep up my strength (the narratives were not usually rational, normally to do with weight gain).  

Then being person 2 was wayyy more free. I was doing what I felt like on that particular day. Taking away expectations and pressure to achieve things.

I used to think that being person 2 would mean nothing would ever get done. I thought I could only be fuelled by this pressure. But I still train and I train what I want and it feels soooo much better. It has also brought me to a place where I can be more creative and expressive too. 

Now, this transition didn’t happen overnight and I had to do a lot of work unravelling the stories I had accumulated over the years around my worth and my work. However, it was SO worth it. This is a reminder if you are struggling, it doesn’t have to be like that forever. 

Find the pleasure in what you do again 🧡

People pleasing as a aerial teacher

Let’s talk about people pleasing and teaching.

Are you a people pleaser? Do you also teach? Does this affect the way you teach?

So talking from experience it’s very hard to manage being a people pleaser and also a teacher. Firstly, teaching is HARD. It takes so much planning, understanding, problem solving, physical effort, creativity, compassion and then people pleasing tendencies can make all of those so much harder.

How people pleasing can show up in my teaching..

-Anxiety / stress making class plans

-Constant reading the room to check everyone is ok

-Morphing into the teacher I think people in the class want

-Excessive worrying about if people enjoyed the class during and after

-Heavy guilt when people stop coming to a class

People pleasing promotes self-sacrifice and self-neglect. Naturally when you prioritise the needs of others you are putting your own needs second. This can be so much of a habit that the thought of putting yourself first can feel selfish/ cold/ heartless. But in doing this you are also encouraging people around you to put themselves first too.

When we can begin to let that go and come back to our own needs we can find what is for us and what isn’t. For example, instead of teaching moves that we don’t enjoy, turn towards what we enjoy teaching and that will attract people towards our style. Instead of trying to do everything to keep everyone ‘happy’.

I also try to detach teaching from my identity/ worth. So if a class didn’t go great I dont have to punish myself for a week for being a bad human or over compensate in the next class.

Any teachers relating to this? Would love to hear your thoughts 🧡

Relationships with food

There was a point in my life where food was just part of an equation. Calories in – Exercises = Worth (lower the better). It was no longer food, it was a formula. The flavours started to disappear and it became a bit of a ‘will power’ game. I’m pretty competitive so when I discovered this equation it was only going to go one way. I convinced myself I could live a life without chocolate and got so annoyed that every social interaction had to revolve around food or high calorie drinks. 

To be stolen of the pleasure of food was to be stolen of such a crucial part of my being. I loved food but suddenly it was tainted by calories. I used to be ignorant to these numbers but when you learn the number of calories in a kit-kat and how long you have to run to ‘burn it off’ you never really forget. 

This game, this equation, became my worth. It was something I was good at. ‘Oh you are so good not eating sugar’, ‘I wish I could be more like you’. I began to take pride in it. I became really good at suppressing my bodies natural signals and rhythms. My body was doing this to portray me and I needed to fight it to stay ‘on track’. The fear I had of food and gaining weight was disguised by compliments of my body shape and eating habits. 

I am in a different place now. I haven’t counted calories for years and falling back into these habits seems to be becoming more and more unlikely. However, when someone mentions calories or burning calories it gets my mind racing until now I suppress the urge to engage with the thoughts coming back. 

Now when I think about going out for food I imagine the flavours and textures of food, not the fat cells growing on my body. I have so much compassion for anyone going through an eating disorder. I remember the overwhelming thought of three meals a day for the rest of my life and how uncomfortable that made me, thinking I would feel that way for life. It doesn’t have to be.

It’s so hard to write about this without coming across as judgemental or dismissive of other peoples experience. I am not judging anyone for counting calories. I just know for me it was not healthy.

Are you a dancer?

‘Are you a dancer?’ Is a question that makes me cringe. I associate it with instant judgement of my form, body, lines, face, confidence, etc.

When I was a kid, dance was freedom and expression. It was movement, creativity and playfulness. But along the way that was harnessed. It was as if me as a dancing kid was just the indicator to be put into a role but not the role itself. The role wasnt to feed the creativity, it was to turn the movement into something precise that was created by someone else.

There was a point in my dance training where I had a strong feeling of ‘this is not what I signed up for’. I wanted to feel more free in my expression and movement but it actually made me hyper aware of how ‘bad’ I was at dancing. The thing I had been using for years to heal and express was ‘wrong’. Getting the message that I needed to be a functional member of society now and do things ‘the right way’.

This really tainted my relationship with creativity and expression. I saw it as immature and something to leave in childhood so I turned towards the ‘technicals’ and looking ‘right’.

Now.. I understand that technique exists for a reason and is important. But how did I go from dancing freely to this suffocating feeling that I am ‘doing it wrong’ when I dance on the ground.

And it’s not just dancers. So many aerialists without a dance background are petrified of moving on the floor. This perception that you have to have sacrificed your weekends from the age of 3 for dance classes to be worthy of moving your body on the floor to music.

Who can relate to this? Why is this? 

Is it all the judgey talent shows we see, the perception that dancers are perfect, the comments we have carried with us? 

I STILL hate being a few inches away from an apparatus in performance. It’s my new mission to change this 🧡

Are you worth more?

I want to ask the question ‘Are you worth more?’

How you feel about this question will give you an indicator on how you feel about yourself.

More can mean love, money, appreciation, support, time, etc.

Do you think you are worth more, but waiting to see if others agree?

Do you think you are worth more, but scared to ask?

Do you yoyo from thinking you are one day and not the next?

You do never feel like you are worth more?

I’ve found in general aerialists can be pretty humble and research suggests we generally dont have the highest self-esteem. But it’s important because worth shows up EVERYWHERE. It’s what we are charging for our services, how we show up online, how / if we apply for opportunities, how we show up among others in the industry. Not to mention our lives outside of work. 

When we get immersed into the industry we often forget what it took to get to where we are. All the classes, workshops, conditioning, stretching, learning techniques, learning how to piece together a routine. We can look around and compare ourselves to others around us and think they are worth so much more than me. But what about all of your value? 

Write down or say out loud I’m Worth More and see how uncomfortable it is. Let me know how it feels

Body Confidence

The fact that aerial can improve body confidence is amazing. Seeing what our bodies can achieve and what they are capable of doing.

In the reasearch responses I got for this data above, people talked about aerial changing their outlook on their bodies from focusing on what they looked like to what their bodies could do, feeling strong, and liking looking more muscular.

I love seeing confidence grow as someone who was painfully unconfident growing up I thought that was it for life. I would keep my goals within a certain perimeter (speaking in front of more than 5 people was far beyond that) as I thought I was an unconfident person and that was just that.

So when I see students belief in themselves grow I get so excited. When they achieve something they never imagined they would be able to do. The inspiration radiates out.

However…

This isn’t everyone’s experience and professionals seem to be a lot less likely to feel this way.

I spoke about the transition from recreational to professional and the invisible pressures that comes with it in a post a couple of weeks ago but what I think is risky is when we attach our confidence to something. For example ‘I feel confident when I have visable abs but lose confidence when I don’t’. We are giving our confidence dial to something external and allowing it to control how we feel.

So is your body confidence on the condition of maintaining your ‘aerial body’? Because that’s when it can get into difficult territory.

If its under those conditions we can develop the fear of our body changing. What does it mean when we take time away from aerial? What would happen to our body image if we got injured and couldn’t train as much? What happens when our body shape naturally fluctuates throughout a month?

I had attached my confidence to the way my body looked and had a huge amount of fear around this and had to work a lot through therapy to get comfortable enough to allow my body to change. I had to work on my body image outside of my physical appearance so it could not be changed when I looked in a mirror.

Would love your thoughts!

Sending so much love to anyone struggling 🧡

Funding Applications

I don’t know. This could just be me here..

But funding applications terrify me. They make me confront and question my self- worth which is VERY uncomfortable. I will make every excuse not to write one because its so uncomfortable.

When you break it down its just filling in a form. But to get to the form you have to slay a few dragons first. All gremlins come to the surface and show their ugly heads and you have to get past them each step of the way.

I can go from thinking I have a great idea for a project, to deleting the word document, very quickly.

But the more we are aware of our gremlins and how they show up. The more we can ignore their judgement and fill the thing.

Then.. if we don’t get the funding. It is NOT proof to our gremlins. NOT a reflection of our work/ skills / idea. It’s simply that we didn’t fit that time for that pot of money. It’s not time for self sabotage.

Who’s with me on this? 🙋‍♀️

Body Image

Out of 235 written responses to my research, 28% of participants mentioned a desire for a different body in regards to their self-esteem and body image. 64% were professional aerialists and 36% were recreational aerialists.

My Untangled workshops have also revealed that this tends to be common transitioning from hobbyist to pro. The sudden need to look leaner, stronger, smaller.

We all have unique and beautiful bodies with their own story, and by trying to mould them into a certain aesthetic can bring us away from our authentic selves.

I used to see my body as a work in progress. Something that wasn’t ready or worthy yet. I thought it was my duty, part of the job as a aerialist to fit myself into the ‘ideal aerialist body’ box. But moving my body when I felt that way about it felt physically restricting, regardless of what it looked like.

@circuspsychology ‘s most recent research found 36% of circus artist participants reported engaging in disordered eating behaviour. 1 in 3! This is devastating and yet unfortunately not surprising to me.

Support for circus artists in this area is essential and needs to be brought to the awareness of leaders in the industry to assure this support is available for its students and employees.

Here are my thoughts on small things we can do which I think could have a big impact:

– Monitoring the language around body and food that we are using in aerial spaces

– Promoting rest days as a necessity to aerial practice, no matter the level, to try to lessen the guilt of rest that aerialists experience

– Promoting broadening identity, so identity is not solely aerial. To give ourselves breaks and find different creative outlets

– Talk more about this topic so people feel less alone in their experiences

What do you think would be helpful? 🧡