Amplifying Underrepresented Voices in the Aerial World

We wanted to help keep up the momentum of recent events and continue amplifying melanated voices and black stories. We acknowledge that our aerial space has been largely “whitewashed” and know that we need to do better. As we learn to do better, we wanted to use this space to invite black aerialists at different stages of their aerial journeys to introduce themselves and share their unique stories with us.


A big THANK YOU to all of the featured aerialists for agreeing to share some of their experiences. These are challenging but important conversations to have. Awareness is a positive step toward a more inclusive future in the arts.


Photo Credit: @tysonjrider

Darielle | Find her at @divadari on Instagram


What city do you live in?

I live in Los Angeles


What is your apparatus of choice?

Everyone asks that question but I don’t really have a favourite. I’ve been doing silk and hoop the longest so I probably like those two the most, but I just love to dabble in everything. I do aerial pole and hammock as well and a little bit of rope, straps, net and invented apparati for fun.


How long have you been doing aerial?

I started in 2008 so I’ve been doing aerial for 12 years


How did you start doing aerial?

I had just graduated from Florida International University with a major in Dance, a minor in Entrepreneurship and a certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and had started dancing with about 3 different companies. One of them was called Animate Objects Physical Theatre and they specialized in fusing aerial dance with grounded dance. I fell in love with aerial and kept learning it with Eugene Baranok at the Florida Circus Art School.


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

Being a black aerialist comes with its own unique set of challenges. Because there are not that many of us, and it is not commonly seen, I feel like it is hard for people to picture a black person in an aerialist role. It is hard for them to imagine giving lead roles to black women in general because it is so seldom seen in shows and even in the movies. I have low expectations whenever I audition or submit myself for something because I think that the director or choreographer must feel like they’re making a bold choice by casting me when they can easily cast someone less controversial or distracting.


People often discount my abilities or think that I got a particular job only because I am black. As a black aerialist your skills are often in question. It is odd that some of my colleagues believe that I have an advantage being black because they think this sets me apart and I qualify for jobs that are specifically looking for black aerialists or diversity. But the reality is that people don’t often want to cast someone who looks too different from what is considered “the norm” and those jobs that call for diversity are few and far between. Instead, I am left to rely on myself to hustle for jobs while I wait for people to remember I exist when thinking of aerialists to book. I have brought this problem up before and have seen a difference in some people being more mindful. But we still have so far to go.


Then of course, there are times black performers experience racism on the job itself. Hopefully this new wave of awakening allows people to recognize their blind spots and actively seek to be more inclusive in their casting, hiring of instructors or having a diverse group of people on their artistic teams and board of directors. I hope that more circus organizations undergo diversity training so that artists of colour are not subjugated to prejudice and discrimination at the workplace. And I also hope that more circus organizations commit to outreach to less fortunate communities so that children of all backgrounds have easier access to circus arts and this becomes a less elitist, more diverse genre.


Abigail | Find her at @superflybrowngirl on Instagram


What city do you live in?

Brooklyn, NY


Where is your home studio?

Body & Pole


What is your apparatus of choice?

Lyra but I also train hammock, dance and static trapeze, and silks.


How long have you been doing aerial?

I have been doing aerial for about 3 years


How did you start doing aerial?

I was a dancer and performer here in New York and I was tired of being overlooked by casting directors and choreographers in the industry. To make myself “more marketable” I decided to pick up aerial as a skill. Little did I realize how much of an impact that it would have on my life.


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

Being a black aerialist is definitely magical. There is something really bewitching about seeing a body in flight that is just simply amazing. There is such a large community of us that is not reflected within the mainstream, so it often makes you feel really alone. But we are not an anomaly. I want people to see us so that we can make a way for other young, gifted, and black performers coming up behind us. I also want to acknowledge that there are certain biases as well as racial prejudices that exist within the circus world that we as black artists have to face and that make experiences more difficult than they have to be. But I stand on the shoulders of giants and are the dream of my ancestors. Therefore I will continue to break barriers, challenge prejudices and biases, and clear a path for the next artist. Just like those who came before me.


Mariane | Find her at @voar.sem.asas on Instagram


What city do you live in?

I live in São José do Rio Preto, São Paulo, Brazil


Where is your home studio?

My home Studio is in my city and it's called Altitude Escalada.


What is your apparatus of choice?

My favorite apparatus is Aerial Silks!!!


How long have you been doing aerial?

I've been doing aerial for almost 10 years now.


How did you start doing aerial?

I am a ballerina and I started aerial for a show from the old company I was part of. At the beginning, I always went home crying because my teacher did not encourage me,on the contrary, she said that I was bad at aerials.


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

As a black aerialist and a black dancer, I always found it difficult to find someone with whom I could identify. Today the internet has helped me a lot to find other artists like me, but I still see that black dancers and aerialists don't have the same visibility as white people. Very grateful to Aerial Physique for their support and for putting us in the spotlight.


Asia | Find her at @asbryant10 on Instagram


What city do you live in?

I live in Atlanta


Where is your home studio?

My home studio is Atlanta Kick


What is your apparatus of choice?

My apparatus of choice is Silks/Sling. I've recently started learning Lyra.


How long have you been doing aerial?

I've been doing Aerial since May of 2016!


How did you start doing aerial?

A friend of mine invited me to her gym to take a free kick boxing class. When signing up I saw that gym also taught Aerial Silks. Until that moment, I hadn't realized it was available to be taught outside of the circus. Silks was always my favorite part of Cirque Du Soleil shows, and once I realized I could learn it myself there was no going back!


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

As I fell deep into the world of aerial, I began to consume as much media as I could. My YouTube History and Instagram Collections were full of aerial videos. As I was exposed to more and more I saw that aerialists come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages. Watching an award winning pole performance from an aerialist with a deep complexion left me invigorated. Seeing a woman who wears a size twice mine work the Lyra better than I had ever seen excited me. When I would visit other gyms and see black teachers and black studio owners and black circus performing professionals, I would think to myself 'Hey I could do this too!' Seeing and meeting a wider variety of aerialists left me feeling more comfortable sharing my aerial journey. Before my pictures and videos were just for me (if I took them at all), but as I began to share, the people close to me (and internet strangers) would tell me how they were inspired and motivated seeing me do this incredible, fun, cool thing I love to do. It let me know that I have something great to share, from messy freestyles to polished performances and everything in between. I'm here, and ready to blow your mind!



Enjely | Find her at @enjie.mk on Instagram

What city do you live in?

Haverhill, Massachusetts


Where is your home studio?

Sky High Studios in Marlborough, Massachusetts


What is your apparatus choice?

Silks and Lyra (Hoop)


How long have you been doing aerial?

4 years


How did you start doing aerial?

I always had a fascination with aerial, and one day I built up enough courage to sign up for an intro class. However, I went to the studio with such high expectations and was discouraged when I could not keep up or do any of the intro moves. The instructor at the time encouraged me to continue with classes, to not compare myself to other students, and with time I will be at my best. For the next four years, aerial became not only my therapy but my passion. Aerial has also helped me navigate through the dark times in my life and find the light to my peace and tranquility.


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

When I first started to do aerial, I was intimidated because no one really looked like me and I wasn’t sure how people would treat me. I know I was going into a sport that lacked diversity however I knew I can’t live my life in fear of what others think of me. I then saw it as an opportunity to help promote diversity in the aerial community. I’m currently the only Afro-Latina (Dominican) aerialist locally and possibly in all of Massachusetts. I’m also a military veteran and aerial has completely changed and saved my life. I love my aerial community; they make me feel like I am right where I’m supposed to be. Moving forward, I desire to use my experiences and knowledge to help and encourage others to try things they always wanted to try no matter what they look like and to represent where more representation is needed.


Joshira | Find her at @aerial_amazon on Instagram


What city do you live in?

Charlotte, NC


Where is your home studio?

AerialCLT


What is your apparatus of choice?

Static Trapeze


How long have you been doing aerial?

Six years


How did you start doing aerial?

I started out looking for a yoga studio because I wanted to improve my flexibility. I ended up finding Aerial Silks classes instead. I took a class and loved it! I grew up as an athlete, not a dancer or gymnast. So I had strength and endurance but no flexibility or technique. Aerial gave me a fun challenge to become more flexible and to understand the functions of each muscle. It constantly challenges my fear of heights and gives me a new perspective on fitness and training. I also fell in love with sequencing and performance.


Again, I never was much of a dancer growing up, so doing performances helped me understand and appreciate musicality, beautiful lines, transitions and the different shapes I can make with my body. I even had the opportunity to deepen my practice through teacher training and teaching classes for a while. It helped me appreciate aerial even more and I loved empowering students. I do work in a corporate job full-time, so aerial is more of a hobby at the moment, but I plan on doing more forms of teacher training in the near future to deepen my understanding and hopefully teach again one day.


Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience being a black aerialist?

Being that I have primarily trained under one studio, and that it is more of a part-time hobby at the moment, I know my experience is pretty limited. Frankly, I have grown up in towns, schools, sport teams, and university environments where I am often the only one or one of few black people present. So, I can walk into a class as the only black student and not feel all that phased by it. However, I am grateful that the studio I go to is very welcoming and is committed to empowering students to feel successful in aerial classes. The studio encourages a sense of belonging. It has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings and has a very supportive community.


Still, as a black aerialist, I do feel that representation and diversity are important, which goes for the entire aerial industry as a whole. This even goes for costume/tights designers and manufacturers; it was a struggle at first to find tights durable enough to withstand the apparatus that would also match my shade of melanin. Any leotard with a "nude" panel is difficult to find for me as well. I am fortunate to be able to join communities via social media that provide a space for black aerialists to share workshop information, meet black aerial instructors, share tips, and support one another.


A specific experience I recall, is performing for the first time ever outside the studio walls. I was fortunate that the event, Bloom, was run by amazing women that I already knew as my instructors and there were many other aerial students either performing or attending as well. Still, I was particularly nervous about my piece. It was 2017, and Charlotte had experienced being in the media spotlight for police brutality, a case of an innocent black man, Keith Lamont Scott, being murdered by police. There were protests, tear gassing, and even a protester that got shot and killed at the time. It was chaotic and tensions were high. At this time I saw so many people put "All Lives Matter" on their social media pages and even had a former coworker from my corporate job call Black Lives Matter a "terrorist group." There was so much debate and anger. There were many conversations in trying to get people to understand "both sides." For my performance, I chose a song that spoke directly on police brutality called "American Funeral." I liked that it did give perspective from a black man and a police officer, but I still was very nervous to perform it. I thought: Would the audience understand the meaning behind the song? Would seeing me, a black woman, performing to it be too controversial? Would it be offensive? These fears were put to rest when I performed, however, because the audience cheered all throughout and I received so many compliments afterwards!


Still, the experience of having that inner debate and fear of backlash makes me wonder if a non-black aerialist would go through the same thought process. Afterall, some of the greatest performances are from those that make a social statement. This is one of the reasons why I love going to watch productions by NouveauSud, a diverse circus troupe that fearlessly tackles race, immigration and other social justice head on. Their cast has the most black aerialists I've ever seen in a performance troupe. It is so inspiring, and reminds me of the importance of representation. Moving forward, I am making it a goal to reach out to more black aerialists to support them, learn from them, and work with them to bring this amazing art and fitness practice to more people!

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