Safety In Aerial Arts
It’s only been over the course of the last 7 years or so that Aerial Arts has grown in popularity through the form of fitness and recreational classes. This evolution from Aerial being a professional performance art discipline to the classroom was sped up further by the 2020 Pandemic and students who were previously studying the art within a professional setting had to start finding ways to rig and train at home. Pair that with social media and what we find in our current climate is a number of self-taught, and sometimes inexperienced, aerialists sharing information that may not be true or safe with the greater public
My intention with this article is not to come off as preachy or tell anyone what they should and shouldn’t do. But as a teacher and as someone who has trained in a professional setting, I feel it’s my duty to ensure my students are well informed about safety, understand my expectations for students who want to study under me, and encourage them to train as I have - from professionals who keep safety and best practice top of mind.
Below you’ll find information, advice, guidance, and recommendations based on my knowledge. I’m also always available to answer any questions you may have.
Why Is Safety Important?
Aerial is a dangerous activity. While we don’t hear about this nearly as often as we see pretty pictures on social media, people have died, become paralyzed, and seriously injured to the point of no return to aerial or any physical activity.
Real Life Examples
Layla Cabrera was an 8 year old girl who was found by her parents strangled by her silks in her bedroom (source).
Cirque du Soleil artist Sarah Guyard died after a wire from their harness rigging failed and she fell over 94 feet (source).
Another senior Cirque artist Yann Arnaud fell only 20 feet during their Volta performance and died from impact. His hands slipped from the rings. He was considered one of Cirques’ most experienced entertainers (source).
Nina Jussila was practicing drops at home when she fell only 13 feet and landed head first. She is now permanently paralyzed on half of her body and will never be able to do aerial again (source).
There are so many stories similar to these ones. I chose the above examples because they represent key safety lessons which I’ll explain below. If we can keep these lessons top of mind every single time we practice aerial, we can avoid accidents and ensure fun and safe aerial training and performance.
Safety Rules & Best Practices
1 / Never Train Alone
Mitigate accidents and prevent injury or fatalities by training together.
2 / Consult and Learn From Professionals
Foundations & Technique
3 / Experience Does Not Ensure Safety
How to train at home safely
#1 Never Train Alone
As we saw in the example of Layla, training by yourself can be extremely dangerous and life threatening. Even if we’re practicing sequencing and techniques we are very familiar with, accidents can happen. The smallest error in your wraps could cause a drop, climb, or transition to go terribly wrong. And these accidents happen FAST with little to no reaction time.
Take the example of Yann - someone who trained and performed with Cirque as a senior aerialist for more than 15 years. A simple error such as the slipping of your hands can have fatal consequences and they can happen to anyone despite your level of experience.
When we train with a partner or multiple people, we have the benefit of watching each other as well as help if we end up in a dangerous situation. Someone on the ground can call out to the aerialist on the apparatus if a wrap doesn’t look right or if they missed a step in the sequencing.
This type of backup can help us mitigate accidents and prevent injury or fatalities.
#2 Consult and Learn From Professionals
Aerial Arts as a recreational activity has only gained popularity within the last 7 or so years. Another way of looking at that fact is that some aerialists teaching on social media may only have a few years of experience and don’t always have the credentials to be sharing that information with others.
Professional aerialist and circus coaches (including myself) greatly urge their students away from learning the art in a self-taught or online environment. Self-taught aerialists often (not always) lack important knowledge around rigging, apparatuses and how to use them, and training foundations and techniques. While it may look like they know what they’re doing to the untrained eye, there are often many errors that a professional can see in their practice that have the potential to lead to chronic or short term injury and accidents.
It is my recommendation that you ALWAYS seek training and coaching from professional aerialists, teachers, coaches, structural engineers, and riggers who specifically specialize in aerial arts.
A Note For the Climbers:
Climbers DO NOT equal a structural engineer or professional aerial rigger. Their knowledge will absolutely lack expertise specific to safety in aerial arts - I say this as an experienced climber and aerialist.
A Note on the Sub Categories Below:
I’ve specifically ordered the following subcategories of this section to reflect the linear model I recommend all students seek to learn Aerial Arts:
#1 take classes from professionals
#2 educate yourself on rigging and hire professionals for any setup, and
#3 then, and only then, should you consider investing in your own hardware and gear or consider an at home setup
Taking classes, workshops, semi-private or private lessons from trained coaches and aerial professionals ensures a fun and safe learning environment. Below is a list of just some of the endless benefits of learning the art of aerial in this traditional and recommended way:
Learning correct foundations and technique prevents injury and keeps your body healthy
Individualized lesson plans appropriate for your experience level
Individualized progression in the practice prevents overwhelm, fatigue, and burnout
Complex wraps, sequences, and pathways broken down with step-by-step instruction
Highly trained and experienced coaches can identify, mitigate, and prevent accidents by catching and correcting errors as they happen
Gain introductory knowledge around different apparatuses, hardware, and rigging
Build community and create lifelong friendships
The last thing I’ll say about foundations and technique is that it should be a continuous practice. Even professional aerialists who perform with Cirque du Soile or other performance art groups continue to take classes, train with their coaches, and perfect their technique.
Aerial is an art form which means as the performer it is our duty to serve the art. I encourage students to not look at their lessons as something to be conquered or finished but rather see the time in the classroom as sacred - a ritual for your service to the art.
Local (Tahoe) Training & Coaching Resources:
Inversion Gym - Monthly workshops and intensives (ask Liv if you’d like to be added to the mailing list)
Omni Tahoe - Twin Tails Level 1, Aerial Stretch & Strengthen, Pure Stretch
Blue Granite Climbing Gym - Aerial Strength & Conditioning
Tahoe Flow Arts - Aerial Silks, Hammock, Rope, Lyra, open gym, and more
LivExplored - Private and semi-private lessons and coaching
#3 Experience Does Not Ensure Safety
Accidents happen and they happen to everyone. As we saw in the real life examples listed at the beginning of this document, Yann Arnaud was considered one of Cirque du Soleil’s best and most experienced performance artists and his death was the product of his hand slipping from his apparatus. It was an incident that completely shocked his company and fellow aerialists.
Experience does not ensure your safety. Do not let yourself become complacent or blind to the very real dangers of participating in this art.
How to Train at Home Safely
You can progress and improve your aerial practice without doing dangerous things at home. Even without a full rigging set up, there are so many training resources that are safe to do alone and aren’t difficult to do in your own home. If you are going to train from home, the below are some helpful recommendations and guidelines on how to do so safely.
Pull Up Bar Workouts
There are so many online resources but if you’re struggling with where to start, reach out and I can provide some helpful circuit workouts that can be completed on a doorframe pull up bar
Stretch, Mobility, & Yoga
A tremendous amount of aerial relies on our bodies not only being strong but being flexible as well. Taking time to stretch, work on your mobility, or do some yoga can have a noticeable impact on your aerial practice.
The Ludwig Freestanding Quad Rig - Vvolfy Metal Works
This is the only at-home rigging set up that I personally recommend. It is a big investment but is top of the line in its category. The Ludwig has been around for many years and comes highly recommended by a number of trained professionals.
Mats save lives. If you do have an at home rigging set up, you should have a suitable mat under you while training at all times.
Stick to What You Know
Only train things you are 100% confident in when you train from home.
Aerial can be an extremely fun and safe medium for exercise, fulfillment, and community so long as we keep safety and best practices top of mind. I hope this document provides my students with an introduction to Safety in Aerial Arts and encourages them to continue to grow, learn, and gain experience in their practice.
This is not a comprehensive lesson on safety in this art, and I encourage further reading & resources below.
Safety In Aerial Arts
Promotes better practices and safety awareness in the aerial industry. A safe place to ask questions and get answers from professionals and find resources for hiring professionals in your area
Aerial Rigging kN Article
This blogger is not a professional aerialist but studied physics and produced a great article breaking down kN and how to digest ratings for aerial arts.
Maximal Dynamic Forces
Findings from this study provide substantial implications for design and rigging to improve safety or circus equipment. Dense but worth the read.
Load Testing Aerial Silks
A short video demonstrating load testing aerial silks. While I don’t know the weight of the aerialist, this is a good video for demonstrating the concepts around kN ratings and drop force and also speaks to the study cited above.
Aerial Work & Safety Mats
This article outlines the importance of mats in your aerial practice as well as different sizes or types of mats for different aerial disciplines and set ups.
Aerial Essentials - Education
I frequently visit the education section of Aerial Essential’s website. They have amazing how-to videos on rigging, safety, how to care for your gear, and so much more. Definitely a good one to have bookmarked.