By Sara Kaiser
You're putting a lot of effort into training aerial silks--so you want to make sure that you are training the right habits! It's possible to learn dozens of tricks but not advance your technique--so even if you have been training for years, you can look like a total beginner. If you're fine with that, no need to keep reading! We all have different goals in aerial. Here are a few ways you can holistically develop yourself and train smart as you progress in aerial silks.
1. Practice the full expression of the skill
There are many ways to sort of "halfway" do aerial skills. For example, you could separate your feet and bring your legs slightly in toward your torso when you invert, but the full expression is to compress your torso and legs in as much as you can before hooking or crocheting. This is at the top of my list because I know I need to work on it! It's hard work to compress your body so much in the air (especially if forward folds are difficult for you), and it's easy to skip when you're thinking of this move as a stepping stone to something "more important." Practicing your inversion to the fullest extent you can will help it become habit and strengthen the muscles you need to do this every time.
Another common "skip" happens when putting on footlocks in the air. The way to do this that shows off lines the most is to sit your hips with your legs straight out in front before wrapping the footlock.
Hip key-- feet should go as wide as possible unless you are intentionally using a bent-knee version.
What I DON'T mean by this is going as deep as you can every single time in flexibility-oriented poses. Only go to the depth that you are adequately warmed up for.
If it is really too much to do this throughout every class (I understand--some days my body feels like cinderblocks wearing weight vests), make a point to practice the full expression of key moves you are working on at least one time.
2. Pose before you practice
For any skill you practice in the air, take a moment to hold your body in a starting position. So, for example, if you are standing on a Russian climb about to go into a hip key, don't launch into a hip key from your standing position. Release your feet, let the fabric fall to your side, engage your hollow body, and then proceed. My students report that doing this makes them far more likely to correctly execute the skill. I know it can be a bit intimidating to do this because your energy is used by the effort of holding yourself in place. However, you must be able to do this to train well. If you can't hang on the fabric for a moment before practicing a skill in the air, you are not ready to do that skill in the air. Build confidence that you can hang for 5-10 seconds by practicing just hanging so you don't feel like you have to rush into skills.
3. Slow down
This carries on from the previous one. One of the best ways to tire yourself out, lose form, and get frustrated is to go too fast. Moving quickly is tempting if you feel like your energy is running out. However, in this way, aerial silks is self-corrective. What I mean by that is that if you do not have enough energy to practice a skill at its appropriate pace or slower, then you are not ready for the skill. Of course the first times you are first learning new foundational skills there may be some frantic moments--particularly hip key from the ground, climbs, footlocks, eggbeaters. But do your best to strive for slow and steady, and if you find yourself rushing or rapidly repeating the entry, step back, get some water, and breathe.
4. Pay attention to foot position
Sorry, I can't get away with not saying "point your toes." But I'll try to be a little more specific than that.
I remember when I first started aerial, I could NOT think about my feet. I was fully consumed with remembering my wraps and trying to get my body to generally do the right thing. I knew it would be some time before I could think about pointing my toes. If this is you, do make that general effort to point to the best of your ability, but also set aside time to look for moments that your toes especially do NOT want to point. Those are areas you will need to bring a concerted mental effort to what you are doing until it becomes programmed into your muscle memory. I have found that the feet like to flex when hooking and unhooking knees and when lifting the second leg in Russian flirt. Notice the places you need to work on toe point and practice them with the sole purpose of bringing full attention on your feet (pun intended).
Another extremely common issue, and one that can often persist longer than unintended dorsiflexion is "sickling." This is when the feet turn inward (pronate.) The main instances you really want to do this is when crocheting and positioning a foot for star drops, because it adds security. Otherwise, when knee-hooking, hip keying, climbing, and generally posing, watch out for that inward turn. Think about leading outward with your pinky toe--it is much harder to go too far in that direction.
5. Effective fabric placement
A good rule of thumb is that if your body has a junction, the fabric should tuck all the way into it. For example, in a knee hook, you want the pole to be as far into your "knee armpit" as possible. In a hip key or a thigh hitch, the fabric should be as high up on your bottom leg as possible and follow the line of your pelvis. In a side tilt, the pole lines up with your inguinal fold (uppermost thigh, base of pelvis). If you're hooking your elbow around the pole make sure it's your joint and not your forearm that is cradling the fabric. Tucking the fabric into body junctions increases security and comfort. This means being aggressive and thorough in your movements. You definitely don't want to "partially" hooked or locked into something. It's not as safe, pretty, or comfortable.
What else comes to mind?