Creating original sequences can be a very rewarding facet of aerial silks (or other apparatus). It can also help to develop your knowledge of theory, both on intuitive and analytical levels.
If you’re skeptical that you could ever create original sequences, consider this: I thought I would NEVER create anything original, because I assumed my spatial reasoning was too poor to possibly figure out anything meaningful with fabric.
When I started out in aerial silks, my teachers would verbally cue me through sequences and I would successfully do them with NO idea what was going on or how I managed to pull it off. (Side note: training independently proved to be more helpful for my personal understanding of theory). Based on these experiences and my general inability to do basic things like assemble furniture, I figured I would never really create anything original.
My incorrect assumption was that original aerial silks sequences are always born out of painstaking mental calculations or a talent for silks theory. You can imagine my surprise when I accidentally designed my first original aerial silks sequence.
What I’ve learned over six years of training aerial silks is that original sequences can certainly happen through mental and theoretical calculations, but it is also possible to create sequences through play, mindfulness, improv, and methodical exploration.
Although you do not have to be a math PhD to be a sequence designer, there are some things that need to be in place before you begin.
Prerequisites for designing original sequences
Aerial silks involves significant risks, and venturing off into new explorations can heighten risk. It should not be taken lightly. Check this list of my recommendations to see if pursuing original sequence design is appropriate for you:
- You have at least two years of formal aerial training with exposure to a variety of skills (this time frame is subjective and will vary from person to person).
- You are familiar with standard risks presented by aerial silks–falls, tangles, binds, fatigue, soft tissue damage, dislocations, burns, and their permutations.
- You are comfortable spending minutes on end in the air.
- You do not panic if you become tangled, and you know how to visually analyze tangles well enough to get yourself out without help.
- You feel confident in basic fabric theory, You understand how body position and engagement affect fabric in a variety of scenarios. You know what hitches are and you’re friends with friction. You are familiar with fundamental skills, including technique, risks, and their theoretical interconnections.
- You understand basics of tension, aka you know where you can hold on to fabric to control your position in the air or dictate the behavior of wraps, as in knowing how to lock them in or let them slide, and you know where not to let go if you wish to stay put (note that this is a severe oversimplification).
- You know where your safety points are and when to use them, such as a hand grabbing high when you are trying something uncertain around your lower body.
- You are strong enough to hang for indefinite amounts of time by two hands and can also support yourself with one hand combined with various wraps on your body.
- You know your own limits when it comes to stamina, strength, flexibility, theory, and grip endurance, and you know how to work within these bounds safely.
- If you do not check all these boxes, you should probably not yet be originating new shapes and sequences.
Disclaimer: I use the term “sequence” throughout this post to refer primarily to a series of linked movements. All of this also applies for original drops, poses, or tricks, depending on how you define them.
How to create original sequences
Improv and play have led me to most of my original sequences. But I know a lot of people out there want a FORMULA. What STEPS can you follow to achieve the creation of an original sequence?!
I don’t have a perfect formula for you but I can offer one method that works quite well for me. If you have enough tail to work on wraps on the floor, that’s one way to increase safety.
- Start with a wrap you know well.
- Partway through, interrupt yourself. Look at your wraps.
- Scan for potential risks and identify your safety points.
- Do something weird — reach an arm under a leg, flip through a space between the fabrics, do an outside hook, put your tail in an unexpected place, etc.
This is more or less how Anna Cicone, LA-based instructor, sequence designer, photographer, and contributor to Aerial Silks Online approaches sequence design. She says:
“I start with familiar holds like a leg crochet, footlock, or an eggbeater and try to seek out “new to me” points of tension. I might begin with wrapping a leg in a new way and then building upon it, paying attention to where the tension is coming from and what sorts of shapes I can find within it. The goal is to first detect a new wrap, then an apex point within that wrap, and then the way that the wrap can flow or transition nicely into the next phrase.”
She offers a helpful structure too: something familiar → new thing while paying attention to tension → apex pose → transition out
Generally speaking, it is the interruption of your usual pattern will lead you to something new. Resist muscle memory and find a different pathway. To me, this is a beautiful analogy for how moving or thinking outside our habitual patterns in life can lead to exciting new discoveries. That feeling of discovery can bring us a lot of joy (scientists live for this feeling).
More analytical types may like to approach a problem more theoretically. If you know the elements needed to create a belay (hint: you need an X and a loop!), you can probably think up some interesting ways to get there. You can even use yarn to work out some of the theory of your project.
As an example of this tactic, one day I wanted to find a new way into swing seat. I figured out that I needed to get my body between the poles and over my thigh hitch, but without slicing through the center…That led me to several new pathways into swing seat.
Likewise, a challenge I made up to find ways from thigh hitch to catcher’s without passing the tail over my head led me to several interesting transitions! I made this video to showcase them but my favorite entry I actually found AFTER I made the video!
Play, improv, and mindfulness
Sometimes you plan ahead and other times you find things by accident. The latter seems to be my style. The most common way I end up finding a new sequence is through improv. I get moving, keep moving, and my body takes me somewhere new. The downside is that if I don’t happen to be filming, I am liable to forget what I did! Explorational improv should only be approached by experienced aerialists.
Discovery can also happen in more narrow contexts. Although it may come as a surprise, you might start to notice possibilities during conditioning. Even though conditioning is usually pretty narrow and repetitive, seeing and feeling the same moves repeatedly while practicing mindfulness can actually help you notice new possibilities (Appalachia Split came about while I was doing a regular old catcher’s descent!). This is an “original” sequence that has probably been discovered by many others.
I’ve noticed that it’s when I’m really in my sense of touch that I start to notice opportunities I hadn’t recognized before. I start to feel the fabric in more detail and more intimately, and this enhanced mode of consciousness makes new pathways suddenly appear.
The evolution of original sequences
A new sequence may be just the beginning of a journey! You might work on it for weeks, months, or years. You might revisit it later on and realize something else you can do with it.
I think in most cases there are a handful of variations on any given sequence. Just recently I revisited an old sequence and organized my body tension differently in one of the wraps. This led to a different shape and then prompted me to take one of the steps in a different direction. Low and behold, I found myself in a super interesting place that will ultimately lead to an entirely new sequence (I still have some details to work out).
Frequently, when I work on Anna’s sequences, I discover alternate endings or shape variations.
So let’s recap a few of the ways you can approach creating your own aerial silks sequences:
- Start with a familiar skill and then do something different.
- Use your knowledge of theory, perhaps using paper and/or yarn or silk on the floor to work out the steps you’re thinking about.
- Slow, mindful movement with an open mind.
- Improv & play.
These are not the ONLY ways! We’re talking creative work. It isn’t going to be the same for everyone. I would love to hear more from you, so be sure to check out the anonymous survey at the bottom of this post. Responses will be incorporated into a future blog post.
Original Sequencing Etiquette
When it comes to posting others’ original sequences, most (all?) aerialists expect you to credit them for their original sequence. Nobody “owns” the art of aerial silks, but when you put a lot of time and effort into creating an original sequence and put it onto an open source platform, you have given a gift to the aerial community. If you include credit when you replicate someone’s original sequence, you enhance the integrity and trust within our aerial community.
If the creator did not show the whole wrap but you figured it out because you were able to analyze it and fill in the blanks, don’t show the whole wrap if you post it unless they explicitly said it is okay to do so.
It is the creator’s right to decide how much of it to share, not yours. Unless they have stated that they are comfortable with you including the full sequence, exclude enough of the wraps from your post so that others will not be able to replicate it any more easily than if they watched the original post.
I like using the app Videoshop to edit out wraps and still make nice, shareable videos. You could even simply share a photo of the prettiest moment.
But Sara, shouldn’t all sequences be free? Isn’t withholding the wraps from the entire aerial community gReEdy?
I wouldn’t put it that way.
Some instructors depend on income they make from selling tutorials of their original sequences, especially now that we are facing temporary and permanent studio shutdowns and restrictions due to covid-19.
If the original creator did not make their sequence free for anyone to copy, it’s not up to you to make it free for anyone to copy! I encourage you to check directly with the creator if you’re not sure what their boundaries are for their creation.
As for Anna and me, any sequences we don’t share in full on Instagram are exclusively available to paying Aerial Silks Online members or a la carte video customers. These individuals are directly contributing to the platform, which enables the platform to exist. Members get access to over 200 hours of tutorials, belong to an exclusive newsletter list, and have the option to make tutorial requests, all for $16.99/month. We are currently inviting new members to join and contribute ideas, so we hope that if you haven’t joined yet you will consider doing so! We are excited to develop this platform into an increasingly valuable resource for aerialists of all levels.
SAFETY: Another important thing to keep in mind when it comes to replicating others’ work is that sequences can carry more nuance then you realize. Without the complete set of cues and cautions from the original creator, you could be putting your safety at risk by attempting them. Plus, you may end up wasting a lot of time on energy trying to figure out the sequence, when you could have just watched the tutorial.
Finally, to address that thought in the back of your mind–how do you even know your amazing creative sequence is an original? Well, you don’t. Just because you’ve never seen it doesn’t mean another aerialist hasn’t also discovered it. But if you came up with it without any guidance, then it’s an original for you, and that’s meaningful on a personal level.
I hope you find this article helpful as you start thinking about creating original silks shapes and sequences! Creative work like this is incredibly fun and exciting, and as you know it also carries risks. Please be safe and always err on the side of caution. Sequence design is a topic I REALLY love so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or to share something you’re working on (I won’t steal your ideas–pinky promise). I respond to emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) and DM’s @wakefulascentaerial.