How to be an aerialist: Show up and take flight

Gemma Tipton offers a beginner’s guide to taking up a new cultural pursuit

It looks impossible, and it is definitely impressive, but aerial dancer Claire Carroll says it’s (almost) never too late to take to the skies.

Are we talking circus stuff?

That’s part of it, but alongside trapeze, you also have silks, ropes, hoops, harnesses and more. Aerial dance companies, such as Fidget Feet, include storytelling, adding drama to the moves. Carroll started off as an actor, before discovering aerial arts when she enrolled in a class as an alternative to the gym.

Don’t you have to be wildly fit?

“No!” says Carroll unexpectedly. “I hadn’t been doing any form of exercise when I started, but I was still able to take part and find what worked for my body. Over time I developed strength and fitness by attending classes consistently. Aerial really does cater for all. It’s one of the main reasons I fell in love with it.”

So what do I need?

“The wonderful thing about aerial is that literally anyone can take part,” says Carroll, counting everyone from toddlers to the silver-haired among the aerial tribe. “You can be from any background, any size, shape, height and ability. You just have to show up and be willing to have the craic. If I ever have a bad day, spinning around on my hoop sorts me right out. It’s an amazing way of switching off from your everyday life. There really is nothing quite like flying in the air.”


Okay, let’s get technical

There are plenty of terms, and you’ll soon start hearing about things such as Cyr wheels, straddles and side-pickups, but don’t worry too much, as you can learn as you go. “I’ve been at this awhile now and there are still times when I won’t understand the name of a move or sequence,” says Carroll. “So never be afraid to ask.” She recommends taking classes to try out each apparatus, and you’ll find studios around Ireland, including at the Irish Aerial Creation Centre in Limerick. To really dive in and take flight with intensive workshops and masterclasses, head for the Irish Aerial Dance Festival in Letterkenny, from July 17th to 30th.

Is it scary?

“As fun as aerial is, you do have to remember it can be dangerous,” says Carroll. “That’s why it’s important to stress the importance of going to classes and working with good coaches.” Dizziness is a smaller pitfall too. All that spinning can go to your head, but practice helps to keep the wooziness at bay.

Love is in the air?

It can be. Carroll says the aerialist community in Ireland is strong, and great for making friends. She even met her fiance through aerial arts. There are also plenty of networks and supports, and Carroll is full of praise for Lucy Medlycott at the Irish Street Arts, Circus and Spectacle Network for advice and performance opportunities. “Like any career in the arts, making a living through aerial can be tough, but not impossible,” she concludes. “If you’re really committed to becoming an artist, you will find a way.” And if not? It’s still a brilliant, fun way to keep fit, and keep your feet off the ground!

Fidget Feet’s A Handful of Dreams is at Cork Midsummer Festival on June 17th and 18th in Fitzgerald’s Park, admission free. See more aerial dance with Rough Magic’s Freefalling at The Everyman, made with Lime Tree Theatre, Belltable and Fidget Feet, from June 21st to 24th

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton

Gemma Tipton contributes to The Irish Times on art, architecture and other aspects of culture