My teaching specialty over the 11 or so years I’ve been involved in aerial has become teaching beginners, and I really love it. It takes a special type of skill and patience to teach an absolute beginner once you’ve been doing something for a while, and while I might not have guessed it would appeal to me so much, it does.
One of the many reasons I like teaching newbies is dispelling some of the myths about doing aerial work. They include the following:
I started doing aerial work when I was 21 years old, with no real plan for what I might do with it and having absolutely no movement background. In fact, my adolescence was about the least healthy I’ve come across in those I’ve met and talked with over the years, and at the time I spent 90% of my life sitting in front of a TV or a computer.
In fact, trying aerial significantly improved, if not flat out saved, my life, and I became hooked. I quit smoking and created a healthier relationship with alcohol. I had finally found a form of exercise I could be creative with, after having found other forms of exercise mind numbingly boring, so I continued to get stronger and improve my stamina. And now I could express myself artistically with movement, which was a huge shift in the quality of my life.
I began performing 3 years later, and teaching shortly after that. I’ve performed for over 1000 people at a local festival, been a part of two theatrical troupes as an aerialist as well as performing many interesting and fun gigs as a duo, as well as having been asked to perform across the country. I’ve been teaching others for years, ranging from teaching beginner and level 1 aerialists to working with fellow teachers and high level students on musicality and choreographing their acts.
I have done all this without a gymnastics or dance background, and without full splits in either direction. In fact, due to the way my hip sockets developed, most people’s straddle splits are wider than mine are. And yet I have enjoyed countless and priceless benefits from doing aerial work, I enjoyed a small but successful career as a performer, and now I get to show new people that aerial can do amazing things for them, too.
I mean, what could be better than that?
– Courtnee Papastathis
One of the questions I get asked most often is “How do I increase my grip strength?” which is almost immediately followed by “How do I prevent injury, cramping and fatigue while working on grip strength?” Two questions, one answer: by harnessing the power of the Rice Bucket.
The rice bucket workout is a great supplement to any grip strengthening regime when used to create balanced musculature. Balanced musculature increases overall strength and dramatically decreases discomfort [cramping and fatigue] and the chance of injury.
Sound good? Not sure where to start? The bucket at Versatile Arts (located next to the North rosin bin upstairs) has a list of exercises pasted on the side. Use the resistance of the rice to create strength and balance. When first starting out, repeat an exercise for 30 seconds, or until fatigue sets in – which ever occurs first. Train with the bucket twice a week, or after each regular workout – not to exceed three times per week in the beginning. Once this starts to get easy, increase the duration of exercise to 45 seconds and eventually one minute.
Some of my personal favorites are listed below:
Iron Fist – Stab your fingers deep into the rice and then make a fist. Retract. Repeat. This is my hand. I want it strong.
Screaming Talon – Stab your fingers [together] deep into the rice and then open your hand wide. Retract, palms away from you. Repeat. Your hand is afraid of the rice. The rice should be afraid of your hand.
Fists of Fury – Embed fists deep in rice. Rotate one direction. Don’t worry that you can’t see. Fear is the only darkness. Breathe.
Fists of Fury, Part II – Embed fist deep in rice. Rotate other direction. Seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.
Eagle Claw – Stab rice with fingers together and claw at it. Don’t be tender. An eagle can break a wolf’s back with one strike.
Crush the Pebble – Grab handfuls of rice and attempt to make gruel out of it, quickly and repeatedly. Only the undisciplined spill rice on the floor. Control the rice. It is your destiny.
Want to learn more? Contact me or attend my conditioning classes.
– Jenn Q
At first glance, “Versatile Arts” might seem like a strange choice of name for an aerial studio. Most aerial schools have “circus” or “trapeze” or at least something relating to the air in their name; this one could just as easily be a photography studio or music school. To understand the logic behind the name, you need to know how the company came to be.
Before I was the director of an aerial studio, I was a software engineer. I worked at three different companies over 18 years and got my master’s in computer science from UC Berkeley along the way. Software wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was for my adult life. When I walked away from Microsoft in 2003, it was more than a career change; it was an opportunity to reinvent myself.
Having no idea what I was going to do next, I decided to “try on” a variety of things. I dabbled in glass art, did some art modeling, learned about landscaping by giving my whole front yard a makeover, mastered the art of sourdough bread, and took my first aerial classes. Some of these “stuck” and I decided to create a business that could serve as an umbrella for a variety of pursuits. That business needed a name, and I’ve always liked the word “versatile” and appreciated that trait in myself – plus it sounded much better than “Indecisive Arts”.
Over time, the aerial-related aspects of the business came to the forefront: instruction, performance, costuming, and equipment. In 2012, Versatile Arts is first and foremost an aerial studio and training facility. So how is the name still relevant, you ask?
At VA, we start all of our beginning students out on a variety of apparatus – trapeze, rope, and tissu – from day one. This cross-training helps them build strength and develop a broad base of skills that will serve them throughout their aerial career. And while we certainly applaud students who want to focus on one discipline, we also encourage them to branch out and try new things sometimes– both to stay fresh and to see how skills on one apparatus can transfer to another. In 2011, we introduced the Versatile Artist program, which recognizes students who have completed acts on multiple apparatus – so if, for example, you see someone wearing a Versatile Artist tank top around the studio, you know that that person has performed original choreography on at least two different apparatus. (In case you’re curious…I am personally up to 7. I believe in leading by example!)
We are also branching out beyond aerial instruction with the addition of our Ballroom studio. Our curriculum now includes ballet, modern, and tap dance offerings as well as a combination aerial and dance repertory class. Yoga and other fitness classes are coming soon as well. We hope that these expanded offerings will give our aerialists the tools they need to stay healthy and challenged while not sacrificing our commitment to providing the best aerial instruction possible.
Ultimately, Versatile Arts is about encouraging yourself to expand your comfort zone, saying “yes!” to trying new things, and – as we like to say around the studio – “embracing the power of ‘and’.”
Director, Versatile Arts
The Cathedral houses dozens of classes per week and open gym times every day. But with two other spaces – the Ballroom and the Blue Room – there are always opportunities for rehearsals and private lessons.
Versatile Arts provides the highest quality instruction available. Visit our Instruction tab to learn more about classes and workshops currently offered in our space.
The Ballroom provides a beautiful space for a variety of activities, from dance rehearsals to bar classes. Check our calendar for current offerings or contact us to rent the space!
It’s time for the annual Versatile Arts staff show! This time, we challenged our talented aerial instructors to not just come up with new acts, but to perform on a new apparatus or in a new situation on an old apparatus (e.g., doubles instead of solo). You’ll see all-new acts, and in many cases, you’ll see folks performing in ways they’ve never done before!
We’ve also got some very special guest performers, including some of the four-legged variety. You won’t want to miss this!
Cost is $16 in advance by credit card, $20 cash or check at the door. Whether you prefer to pay in advance or at the door, you may reserve your seats here:
In addition to our more casual ‘date night’ shows, Versatile Arts also puts on at least one major student show every year. The spring 2012 show, “Feel the Love,” featured 23 acts performed over 3 shows. These productions give our students a chance to show their friends and family what they spend all those hours working on – and where the scrapes and bruises come from! – as well as raising money to make the studio even better equipped.
Versatile Arts loves giving back to the community, and we love animals, so what better event for us to participate in than the annual Woodland Park Zoo fundraiser? Each year we take a group of 20-25 students and instructors to the zoo to entertain the donors as they arrive for the Jungle Party auction. The 2011 theme was “Animal All-Stars,” which included everything from tree frogs to toucans to gorillas – and a giraffe on stilts!
People often ask whether aerial performance is for men as well as women. The answer is a resounding “YES!”, as proven by our January, 2012 show, “The Men of Versatile Arts”. Also known as the “Manuary” show, this incredibly entertaining evening featured 8 acts by 9 of our talented male students and was so popular that we had to add a second night! And while we had our share of beefcake, there was an equal display of grace, flexibility, and style. Truly a highlight of VA history.
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