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Preparing to Fly: A health symposium for aerialists and acrobats

One Dance UK's Healthier Dancer Programme and the National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science were pleased to collaborate with All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre to offer aerial artists a 3 hour symposium on injury reduction and training for optimal physical fitness. The event on Sunday 13 March took place at Dance Base in Edinburgh, led by Healthier Dancer Programme Manager, Erin Sanchez and NIDMS Manager, Claire Farmer alongside Head of NIDMS, Helen Laws.

Aerial arts encompasses a wide range of disciplines including silks, trapeze (static and flying), hoop (or lyra), rope, harness dance and wall running to name just a few. All of these disciplines require both physical and psychological preparedness and ensuring you are aware of the needs of your body, your discipline and your training requirements, to reduce the risk of sustaining an injury.

Following conversations with Artistic Director of All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre, Jennifer Patterson; and feedback from the Dissecting Aerial symposium in January 2018 by Lindsey Butcher, Artistic Director of Gravity and Levity; this symposium chose to focus predominantly on training physical fitness in preparation for taking flight. This included discussions of hypermobility and how to ensure strength and stability through range of motion in the air, as well as weight bearing on hypermobile joints.

Discussions also explored the importance of utilising the correct muscles for movement, rather than overcompensating with one muscle group, therefore delaying the onset of fatigue. For example using only the upper body to climb a rope or silk.

The practical aspect of the afternoon focused on warming up and cooling down, to ensure the body and mind are prepared to take to the apparatus. The workshop culminated in proprioceptive awareness training during inversion and aerial conditioning, All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre provided several pieces of apparatus to ensure each individual could apply this to their own specific discipline.

Some interesting discussions arose around pain tolerance in aerial arts and the importance of being able to identify the difference between "good pain" and "bad pain". This discussion also arose during the Dissecting Aerial Symposium with Gravity and Levity in January 2018, so certainly an area for further debate.

As injury prevalence and training research begins to progress in aerial arts and the wider circus arts field, it is important to consider whether, as in dance, we are prepared for the demands of performance. There is much to be learned from other disciplines, and we hope to continue these conversations at future events, including the next Dissecting Aerial Symposium with Gravity and Levity, 19 and 20 January 2019 at The Point, Eastleigh and the One Dance UK Conference Season, 24 and 25 November, Leeds.

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