Learning to Fly: How Aerial Arts Saved My Daughter



Aerial arts seems a little out there. But I lovingly wrote my first ever blog post titled “No Tattoos!” for my then 5-year-old daughter. That should paint a pretty immediate picture of the free-spirited wild child dragging me kicking and screaming through this world.

I resisted. Trying to gently tame her by directing her towards activities I’d found enjoyable as a young girl.

Gymnastics: “I want to be free.”

Soccer: “It was nice, but never sign me up again.”

Golf: “I don’t want to play against anyone.”

Hockey: “I like punching Luke.”

I was desperate to find an activity she enjoyed and could help build her self-esteem.

You see, my daughter is dyslexic, which we did not know until recently. She struggled in school, spending the majority of her day feeling lost and unable to accomplish anything. Without an outside skill to balance the negative feelings and experiences at school, my child’s sparkly spirit started to fade. She dulled around the edges, melting into the background and going through the motions. She stopped fighting with me about tattoos.

I’d never even considered aerial as an answer to my daughter’s needs.

But we went to see The Greatest Showman, and she fell in love. So, we themed her next birthday party after the movie and booked a local aerial gym where my daughter and 10 of her closest friends got to try all the different apparatus: silks, lyra, trapeze and pole (cirque pole).

Like the song, my daughter “came alive” during that party.

I love aerial for so many reasons, but here’s my Top Five:

(1) Everyone is welcome. In the long history of circus arts, having unique qualities has always been celebrated. Even as it’s evolved into a recreational option for children and adults, the spirit of embracing individuals for who they are remains a foundation of the inclusive nature of the circus arts community.

There is no “mold” to fit within the aerial world. Anyone who’s enjoyed everything from the local dance recital to the Radio City Rockettes understands what I’m talking about here – matching outfits, matching hair, matching makeup – each artist lost, in a sea of beautiful sameness. I don’t mind it, but my daughter wants nothing to do with it. It’s not who she is, and aerial lets her embrace her unique self.

(2) It takes determination. Just because it looks awesome, doesn’t mean it’s easy. My daughter is challenged every time she learns a new sequence or pose. And by not giving up on herself in aerial class, she’s learning to not give up on herself in real life.

Two weeks ago, she nearly cried because she couldn’t master a sequence called “The Golden Box.” This past week, she effortlessly executed it on both Left and Right sides without assistance. She’s learning to persevere.

(3) Everything is about discovery and creativity. I’ve enjoyed countless classes where a child has not yet achieved the skill they were working on, but ended up learning something new about the way the apparatus moves and works. This translates to less fear of failure and more curiosity about the world around them.

(4) Real risk, consequence and reward in a safe environment. Aerial isn’t about winning anything. Artists need to make smart choices to achieve beautiful results. From the first day, artists learn that the silks are not for playing, and quickly learn that not paying attention will result in either getting tangled up or falling down. While children are spotted constantly and protected with overly cushioned padding, the risk is real, and so are the consequences (falling, having to start over) and rewards (mastering the move).

(5) It’s fun to watch. Anyone who’s sat through a t-ball game deserves an afternoon watching aerial class. Not only am I AMAZED at what my child accomplishes, I’m beyond entertained by the instructors demonstrating it! Last week I nearly gave the instructor a standing ovation when she demonstrated her “hardest move” at the request of a student – the suicide drop.

As an added bonus, aerial is pleasantly devoid of “parental experts” that seem to fill the stands of so many other youth activities. You know, the ones who know all the rules, moves, what it takes to go pro, and so on. Thus far, all the parents seem as awestruck as I am.

More than anything though, I believe aerial saved my daughter’s unique spirit.

She still struggles with school. But at aerial, even on the hard days, she sparkles. Week by week, one performance at a time, she’s developing confidence outside of the school setting, and gently persevering – all while learning to fly.

There are two aerial gyms in Flagstaff. My daughter attends Momentum Aerial. I cannot say enough about the owners, and their instruction in the gym and for life in general. In the gym, they offer both youth and adult classes for silks, lyra, trapeze and pole. And yes…I want to try it too.

Much Love – H