I have had the pleasure of working directly with Carmen on her custom training plan. In this interview she lets you in on the backstory of how she got started with aerial arts and offers insight into what it took to create a stunning, aerial-safe (and covid-proof!) home studio.
Sara: How did you get into aerial arts?
Carmen: I am a long-time yoga student. One day, a little over six years ago, my husband saw something about aerial yoga and asked me if I had ever heard of it. I had not, so I looked it up on YouTube. I was not particularly intrigued with the aerial yoga I saw, but then stumbled on a video of an aerial silks performance. I showed the video to my husband and wondered aloud – “Is there somewhere you can learn to do that?” One week later, my husband returned home from the dance studio where our martial arts instructor was teaching at the time and told me he had seen a woman setting up silks in one of the studio spaces. Turns out she was an aerial instructor, and my husband got her card. It seemed like kismet. Within a week, I was having my first aerial lesson and I continued studying with that instructor for about a year and a half until she moved on from teaching.
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Sara: Do you have any other movement/athletic background?
Carmen: I did ballet as a kid and modern dance in my teens, but not at a high level. I started doing yoga at about 17 and have continued off and on since then. Otherwise, I was just a casual exerciser, doing aerobics, pilates, etc. Then, at the tender age of 33, I found Tai Chi and other forms of Chinese martial arts. I was pretty quickly hooked and started to train fairly intensely. When I was nearing 45, however, I felt like my endurance was waning, so I started looking for some kind of general fitness cross training. That brought me to Crossfit, which I find really fun and continue to do for conditioning. Not long after that, I stumbled on aerial, which just happened to be a great outlet for the upper body strength I was developing through Crossfit, since Chinese martial arts is mostly about leg strength.
Sara: What apparatuses do you train? Do you have a favorite?
Carmen: To various extents I have tried sling, static trapeze, lyra, rope, and straps, but my favorite apparatus is definitely silks. I like the complexity of split fabrics. I feel like there is a wider variety of things for me to do and explore. I also find it way less painful than hard apparatuses.
Sara: What style of aerial movement are you drawn to?
I feel most at home working strength moves. My body seems to understand how to do those things and I don’t mind the drudgery. I am starting to like dynamic work more and more, although it is exhausting, and I think must be approached with a lot of care to avoid joint injury. Flowy sequences don’t come naturally to me as I tend to move in a kind of direct fashion, but I have worked to make that aspect better and see steady improvement.
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Sara: Aerial skill that is your nemesis?
Carmen: There are several skills that I struggle with – for example, wheel-downs, same-side stand-out, and hip-key roll-up. I also pretty much hate anything that requires a flamenco grip.
Sara: Aerialists who inspire you?
Carmen: I don’t know how to answer that. I am not really sure what it means to feel inspired. If it simply means seeing aerial stuff you want to try to emulate, I see that all over, sometimes a skill, a gesture, or certain quality of movement. There is no primary source. If it means someone who motivates me to want to train aerial, I don’t feel like I have an outside source of motivation. All that said, there are many aerialists doing work that I very much admire – too long of a list to give here.
Sara: How did your custom training program help you in your aerial practice?
Carmen: It was a great experience for me. I had felt for a while that my practice lacked focus and I knew that I was avoiding working on various skills that require more effort/energy. The training program addressed that, although it was pretty challenging at first. By the end, however, I felt super strong in the air and able to move with a lot more ease and confidence. I learned a lot, not only in terms of specific skills, but also more generally how to approach training in a more systematic fashion.
Sara: You have a gorgeous at-home aerial space. How did it come to be?
Carmen: My husband and I fantasized about building our dream martial arts practice space for like fifteen years. About the time we were beginning to get architectural plans done in 2016, I was getting pretty heavy into aerial and so we began to think in terms of how high the ceiling could be. But turning fantasy into reality was not easy. First off, it involved amassing a considerable life’s saving working at a job that I am undoubtedly good at, but certainly do not love. Second, it involved a massive expenditure of time and effort on the part of my husband. He does residential remodeling, so he and a couple of helpers did almost all of the work. Of course, his sweat equity kept our costs down, but it also meant that the project took several years. The dust and disruption of construction seemed endless. Still, we started using the space from the time that it was just a concrete slab, practicing amid piles of lumber, bales of insulation, and the fumes of a propane heater. When we finally finished the interior work in February 2020, little did we know that we had COVID-proofed our martial arts and aerial practice.