I thought it would make sense to write about this topic early and vigorously since it is the number one question me and my aerial instructor friends hear on a regular basis. Actually, now that I think about it, it doesn’t typically come as a question; it’s usually a statement. I don’t think I’m strong enough to do aerial dance.
My gut response to this question is always, I know, neither did I! And often that’s enough to demonstrate to a potential student that nobody begins taking aerial dance classes with mountains of upper body strength...well, okay, some people do (gymnasts, weightlifters, gyms rats, etc), and more power to them, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us who dared to walk into a hoop, pole, or silks class entered as little chickadee weaklings with tiny muscles, round bellies, and hearts full of excitement and hope. Does that sound like you?
Good! Because the point is, you can be any shape, size, or fitness level and still excel at aerial dance. It’s just a matter of patience, conditioning, practice, and of course, LOVE.
Whenever I have the opportunity, I show my students videos of me taking my first pole dance class. Not only was I not muscular, but I was also incredibly awkward. Like calf that just came out of the womb and doesn’t understand how legs work awkward. I tried so hard to move smooth and sexy - and the harder I tried, the worse it looked! But I kept at it. And not for the same reason I’ve ever kept at any other fitness regime in my entire life...
...This is why I love aerial dance. I’ve tried going to the gym regularly, I’ve tried running every day, I’ve tried fitness videos and aerobics classes and all of that. And I can keep it up for a time, but I absolutely hate it. I used to work out from a place of tortured force. I’d read all the statistics and I knew it was good for me so I’d do it as often as I could convince myself to. It wasn’t until I found aerial dance that “workout out” lost it’s meaning and I started playing instead. The first day I was able to land a butterfly on the pole (this is an inverted move that can take up to 6-12 months to learn), I was floored. Where had all this strength come from? When did I get good enough to execute a move that looked impossible when I started? I was having so much fun in class, I didn’t even realize all the strength I was building.
And that’s why when I hear people say they aren’t strong enough to do aerial dance, I’m tempted to grab them by the shoulders and say, “Just do it! The strength will come, but don’t let your intimidation stop you from starting something that could be life-changing.”
As instructors, our goal is to meet our students where they are at. If you walk into my studio with muscle definition and previous dance or gymnastics experience, I’ll teach you strength and movement progressions that will make you feel challenged. Similarly, if you walk in with no muscle and no related background, I’ll start you with some fun moves you can execute right away and we’ll work on your strength and movement over time. Eventually, we’ll get both of you to a place where you’re doing things you never thought you could do.
And that’s the overall goal of aerial dance: to push yourself and shock yourself with what you can accomplish. It’s not a race, so you can take your time learning new skills (this is usually safer anyways!) or you can push yourself as hard as you want. And we’ll cheer you on every step of the way.
So face that fear, and get into class. I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself.