Approaching Aerial Choreography

Approaching Aerial Choreography

Are you interested in choreographing an original solo aerial act? Have a vision in your head that keeps coming up again and again? Performing is a very rewarding aspect of aerial arts, and it takes a lot of planning and patience. Keep reading for some insight into the process of creating an act.

Where to begin?
A common question I get from my students is, “Do you start by choosing a song first or writing out the sequence of skills and poses first?” My answer is that you begin *MOSTLY* by choosing a song, but it depends. For example, you might KNOW you want to do a splits already, or have found a sequence of poses you love that you want to incorporate into your act. Neither way is wrong. However, to actually get deep into the details of your act, you will need to have chosen your song already because the music will guide your movements and timing. Personally, I am mostly first driven by a song that really moves me, although I also have at all times sequences in mind that I would love to perform.

Choosing a Song
POSSIBLY THE HARDEST PART? Once you are a performing aerialist you will listen to all music with a choreography consideration in the back of your mind. You may keep a running playlist of potential performance songs. But for your first choreography, you don’t have that stockpile yet. You can spend some time listening to your favorite music and start to take note of the ones you can imagine moving to. Think about the atmosphere you want to create with your act. Do you want to be flowing and graceful? Aggressive and punchy? Energetic and uplifting? Sultry? Pensive? Comical? If you are open to multiple options, keep different lists of songs.

Once you have a list of favorites, listen to them several times over and imagine what you might do in a performance. Keep in mind that very fast songs can be difficult to choreograph to, and very slow or repetitive songs risk being boring. (I think repetitive songs are perfect for beginner group choreography because timing is less crucial). Songs that have contrasting elements like tempo changes (fast and slow) or unique sounds (ticks, chimes, water droplets) give you a lot to work with. If your song is just the same all the way throughout, ALL the creative burden is on you. In my opinion it’s more fun and a bit easier to play off the nuances of a song to create a unique act.

One suggestion I make to my silks students is to avoid extremely popular songs or songs that other aerialists have done before. “Chandelier” and “Feeling Good” are two songs with at least a couple different aerial silks renditions online. Choosing a song with obviously fitting lyrics (fly, let go, hold on) can either work really nicely or be terribly cliche. I’ll let you decide for yourself on that. Beware the cliche, though.

Also keep in mind you may never want to listen to this song ever again by the time you are done with it.

Designing the Choreography
People have differing preferences as far as how to approach the actual choreography. Some just like to get on the apparatus and move to the song. Others like to write everything out. I enjoy both. I like to get a feel for the song while I’m on my apparatus (how does the song WANT me to move?) and then sit down and outline a first draft. 

When I write up my sequences, I correspond either time or lyric with each skill/transition/pose. Remember that this is a *first draft.* It will 100% guaranteed CHANGE. It is totally normal for your first outline to prove totally unrealistic once you try it out on the apparatus. That’s fine. The main point is to get an idea down first. Then you revise it as you go.

But how do you choose actual poses and skills? One of the greatest struggles I personally have found, at least in silks choreography, is that the poses don’t have much inherent meaning–there is rarely a clear connection between the action and the lyric/music (as mentioned before, sometimes it works with hold on, let go, or you can connect coffin hang or belay around the neck to death). But the connection to the music comes mostly from the *way* you move rather than the poses you choose. THEREFORE: what matters most is to choose poses that a) you are comfortable with and never make a fundamental mistake in; b) you particularly enjoy; c) showcase your strengths, and d) are visually different from one another (e.g., not all drops, not all footlocks, not all inversions, etc.).

My advice (best suited to silks) is to choose three primary skills that you will build the rest of your performance–climbs, transitions, and rest–around. You can add or subtract skills as needed once you get a feel for your timing.

Practicing
Here is where I have made the MOST mistakes in choreographing a routine and hope I can steer you in a better direction. If you are mindful about the way you practice your routine, you will minimize frustration. The truth is that the process of finding out that your routine proposal is terribly wrong can be very exhausting and frustrating. You’re trying to get to all your poses at all the right times, and often you don’t get further than the first minute of your song. You repeat that first minute over and over and start to get bored and tired of it. Meanwhile you get no practice on the second half of the song.

Go over the sequence of moves in your routine at a normal pace, focusing on excellent technique, with no music, and time yourself (or have a friend time you). Take notes after each run. Do this 2-3 times, as your first run you may be struggling to remember what’s next of getting slowed in your transitions. These runs also help you find out if your routine is at an appropriate level for you. E.g., If you can’t make that last inversion, you may have to end the routine in something other than the star drop you had in mind. If you have any skills that need refining, work on those. When you get home, take your notes and adjust your timetable/choreo outline.

Next time you train (NOT the same session), go ahead and practice with music. Limit yourself to three runs. Video yourself if you have the tools to do so. You can look at the video immediately, but don’t look too closely. Wait until you are home and relaxed to look closely and take notes on your video. Repeat this once or twice a week. Hopefully you have 3+ weeks before you perform. If you have 2 weeks or fewer, consider practicing three times a week.

Tips

  • Be willing to make changes, but change your mind as few times as possible. There are a million ways to organize your routine. If your idea works, stick to it as much as you can. If you come with a few adjustments that will make it better, great. But if you suddenly think a whole new set of tricks would be fun, better to save that for your next choreography.
  • Choose skills that are not at your edge. If you can barely pull off a skill, even if it is your coolest trick, don’t include it. One of the greatest gifts to give your audience is the impression of effortlessness. If you are struggling to hold a box split, they’ll see the strain in your body and on your face.
  • Connect, don’t attach. If you start to get frustrated, take a step back. The purpose of this is (presumably) creation and self-expression. The purpose is to enrich your own life and those of others. Let your love of what you do seep into your training and it will shine through your performance.
  • Always warm-up first. 
  • Be discerning about room for improvement, but don’t allow your critical mind to overpower your creative mind. Don’t expect perfection. Performance, like anything else, is a practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Have fun and enjoy yourself–you are doing something truly amazing. 

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