Accessible Aerial… for me!

Close up of a hand wearing a wrist support. Socked feet are in the far distance below left.

I turned 50 and my body started to rebel. Holding on is getting harder, but letting go? That’s not an option.

I have been exceptionally lucky in my life. I know this. Much of the time, I get to do what I want. I’m my own boss. I make decisions about what and how to do things, and although there are of course significant times of doubt, fear, frustration and panic, it’s not a bad position to be in. Most of the time.

Then some days I just don’t FEEL lucky!

As most freelancers and definitely all aerialists will empathise, I have to work hard at keeping my business and body fit for purpose. I keep learning and training to ensure I always have something new up my sleeve to offer my students – newbies or loyal returners. And yes, I have a box of tricks to call on when a spanner hits the cogs and throws the machine off course. My focus though is usually on them, my students; last night it was on me too.

Yesterday, working on Elephant with Milton Lopes I opted to play body double for an injured aerialist. You don’t want to be straddling up and down and have people hanging off your legs if you’re cradling a groin strain! I had had a tweak in my right hand on returning home after the first day’s rehearsals, but iced it, massaged and stretched it and thought little more of it. After two hours of clambering, holding, supporting, gripping for me and for my newly appointed aerial partner, my wrist was on fire.

My grip was going to fail.

We had achieved what I had set out to do in the session – to create a sequence of movement to embellish a tale of falling with movements we had explored the previous day – and thankfully Johnny Leitch was also ready to stop. We called it quits. I sped off to catch the train home to prepare for my evening Airhedz class. By the end of the two-hour journey I was desperate to bathe my hand in ice water, smother it in cooling balm, and dress it in some kind of support. I didn’t have a wrist one, so my small ankle guard would have to do.

There was no way I could clamber aerial fabric last night. I could barely close my hand. No demonstration would be possible. In fact, I didn’t think I could safely drive. How then would I pass on the information without my usual slow, considered, repeatable demonstrations. So many of us like to hear, see and do in order to capture this complex aerial information.

I had known I’d be working with a Deaf performer in London, so thinking visually, I had decided to print off images I thought would be useful starting points for manoeuvres I wanted the duo to try. Day two I had prepared further images, captured from videos of our explorations, that I could then place in order, to offer a base-line for the choreographic journey. It seemed to go down well. It saved on energy – mine and the others – as we had a visual understanding of what we would try beforehand. On reflection, I wondered if this same process might work for my regular Airhedz Aerial Fabric group who were very used to me showing, low, high, slowly, at speed.

In the class we would be reviewing some aspects of work we’d done in previous weeks, but I wanted to take them onto an aerial version of the Belay; an aerial action that creates a lock around the body in which you can suspend. I shared with them printed screenshots of a video I had captured showing the move I wanted to teach. I guided them through the ideas, using the visuals and the minimum ground-based explanations I could muster, and they all got it!

“That was my favourite class,” one student buzzed at the end of the session.

“I should teach in pain more often then,” I joked.

Clearly it was a combination of focused teaching, focused learning and the right action at the right time in their developing aerial career. Perhaps the visuals also helped?

Working with Deaf and disabled aerialists for many years, through projects with Graeae, the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, Milton Lopes, Amelia Cavallo and the like, I have always had to have my eyes, ears and attitude open to people’s needs and desires. A welcome Tool Kit by Extraordinary Bodies‘ offers useful starting points for teachers wanting to make their classes more accessible. It’s about time more people do consider this. It’s not rocket science and many of us have been doing it for decades! How much consideration, however, have we put into ensuring our medium is and stays accessible, to the teachers too?

Perhaps all the unwitting training I have received from my diverse students has helped me find a way to start thinking more accessibly for myself now, as my body seems to dictate weird pain and ineffectiveness in random ways on an almost daily basis. I have to keep my eyes, ears and attitude open to what I can do to help myself now, so that I can continue to help others find their way into the air.

What do you do to keep yourself going?


  1. You may not feel lucky but we do. I think we all feel delighted to have you as our coach, mentor and inspiration.

  2. A very well written post. You are incredible, as an aerialist, a teacher and a woman on a journey through life. You bring so much skill, wisdom and ability to all your classes, making them the very best they can be…for everyone. I think it’s safe to say we all have so much respect for you and love to learn from you. Thanks for keeping it real!

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