The Fallacy of the One True Way

I’ve had that coach, and you may have too. The one whose way is the ONE TRUE WAY (OTW). Or maybe it wasn’t a coach, but a school teacher, a parent, or any other authority figure.

 No matter, this is the person for whom it is vital that everyone know there is OTW, and that studying with them is the only way to achieve it. This is the coach who disparages other coaches’ methods, who is not able to be flexible for the needs of different bodies, and who rigidly refuses to integrate new or different ideas into their teaching.

This may also be the coach who has a cult of personality, a devoted following of students who have bought in to the OTW, and who have been told they are superior due to their adherence to this coach’s personal method.

In my journey as a student, I have experienced the warm glow that comes from having the approval of the OTW coach. I have walked the line, eschewed the idea of there being multiple “right ways” or “schools of thought”.

 And I have suffered for it.

It made me closed off to learning from others. It made me overly proud, not of my skills, but of my affiliation. Most concerning of all, it robbed me of personal ownership of my craft. The OTW coach often feels and behaves as though they own their students’ work, and students can begin to believe it too.

Now keep in mind, the OTW coach is probably a very good technician, and their students probably learn excellent skills. This is in no way intended to say the OTW coach is a bad teacher. The OTW coach, at some point in their life, has learned that the only way to be taken seriously, to be seen as an authority, or to get work, is to be 100% right all the time and never waver. This coach has learned that humility is vulnerability (true) and that vulnerability means you get hurt (sadly, often, also true). They have not learned that vulnerability, hurt, and being proven wrong are opportunities to learn and grow. This speaks volumes to the environment in which this coach was trained, and the attitude of the people they worked with. It’s a symptom of a systemic problem - a culture that takes advantage of uncertainty and vulnerability, and that rewards dogmatic thinking.

In my journey as a coach, I have heard the siren call of the OTW: It’s simple, it confers a feeling of solidity and superiority. But I know that’s not the coach I want to be. 

For me, it comes down to valuing and practicing humility and openness. It comes down to accepting that the field is always changing, and that there are multiple “right ways” to train and to execute particular skills. 

My class and my teaching are not free-for-alls without standards. But I do express curiosity when a student pipes up “I learned it a different way”. I encourage my students to explore, to try a couple different techniques and see what fits their body best. I elaborate upon safety and alignment when necessary to be sure students aren’t training themselves to injury. I correct myself when I learn something better than what I’ve been doing.  At the end of the day, I can only teach what I know. I can only take my students as far as I, myself have gone. If I stop learning, so will they. If I become locked into a way of being that doesn’t allow for adjustment or growth, I will lock my students in with me. I want my students to learn safely, with excellent technique, and I want them to learn that they own their skills, have control over their learning, and deserve a coach who is also devoted to improving right along with them.

To the Student Who...

To the Student Who…

(a post about the struggle) 


To the student who’s trying a new skill, and it’s not coming easily. When you feel the heat rise in your neck and cheeks, and your eyes start to tear up, and your world shrinks in to include just you, the silk and your struggle

 I see you, and I know your discomfort is temporary. 

If I’ve taught you for a while and I know you’ve got this, I may let you be. I trust you to find the line between pushing yourself and calming yourself. If I don’t know you well, I may approach you and pull you out of the tiny world where the only thing is that you CAN’T DO THE MOVE. 

I may tell you that in my first silks class ever, I cried. I couldn’t even climb. I was incredibly frustrated and disappointed in myself. I had come in with visions of effortlessly floating, of amazing the instructor with my innate grace. I left with puffy eyes and a snot-headache. 

And then I came back. And I still couldn’t climb. And then I came back, and then I came back and then I came back. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, I grew into the aerialist I am today. There are moments of epiphany ahead, and moments when something that you expect to defeat you comes naturally. This moment doesn’t cancel out those moments. This moment fuels them.

Privilege, Training, and Checking Our Biases as Instructors

Privilege, Training, and Checking our Biases as Instructors

I was taking a workshop from one of my favorite teachers, Sarah. As we did warm up kicks, someone (me? Her? Another student?) commented on my good technique. Pleased, and proud, and in an acculturated effort to downplay my strengths (more on that later), I said something along the lines of, “All those years of hard work in dance class had to pay off somehow”.

Sarah said something like, “Ah, what a huge privilege to have dance training when you were young”.

BAM! The familiar feeling that, as a cis, white, able bodied woman, I find myself experiencing often. The feeling of tripping over an unexamined privilege.

I had always thought of my dance training as something I worked hard for. I sought it out, I paid for half of it (my parents’ policy was to pay for ½ of anything educational we kids wanted to do). I gave up social activities, I suffered through soreness, injury, and disappointment and struggled with my body-image and self worth for it. I found my strengths (flexibility! extension!) and learned to accept weaknesses (I will probably never have fast feet like the best ballerinas). Even in the acquisition of this privilege, I experienced oppression in the form of lewd jokes my classmates and teachers made about lesbians during warm up and changing room time.

But that does not negate the fact that Sarah is right - to have access to dance training as a young person was an enormous privilege. One based in my family’s economic status, my parents’ values and care for their kids’ passions, the area where I grew up (I could literally walk to my dance school), and the fact that I had choice and time for hobbies.

Not everyone has those. And here, my dear aerial teachers, is the lesson I learned - not every student we get has had those either. It’s easy to encourage students who show what we may think of as “natural talent”, and to accidentally and subconsciously discourage those who are “uncoordinated” or “don’t have good body awareness”. Sometimes I feel that new aerial students who come from gymnastics or dance are already part of the club, they just don’t know it yet.

But what does this say about how I view those who DON’T?

It doesn’t say anything good, my dears.

So, this is something I (and hopefully we all) will always be working on. Always be checking and referring back to our assumptions about what makes an aerialist, how we encourage our students, and how our own backgrounds inform those things.

The Joy of Coaching

The Joy of Coaching

Welcome to my new blog, and thanks for reading! I was going to write a long introductory paragraph about my hopes for the blog, values, goals, failures, successes and background. But there’s time for that later. FIRST, I want to get into the juicy stuff…How much JOY, PRIDE and FULFILMENT I experience in my work as an aerial coach.

Not to brag (okay, to brag a little), but I have some of the best students in the world. They work hard, take creative risks, care about one another’s wellbeing, and encourage one another. These practices reflect the values we hold in my classes, and I want to make this post a reflection on how much more goes into teaching than simply transferring knowledge. Of course, you know this already, but we all need to be reminded sometimes of the things we know. As a person whose ~joy in life~ is to help people do things they want to do, but are scared of, teaching aerial is an amazing field.

I get to be there in the moments when students first learn to trust their hands and arms to hold them, when they learn to let their head be lower than their hips in an invert or a hip key, despite millennia of evolution saying, “no no! Head stays on top!”. I get to be there for that first drop, when we all know the student is wrapped in safely, and we’ve walked the drop down a few times, and all that’s left is that moment of… Letting go.

I get to watch students go from nervously sitting out improvisation activities, to giggling and getting too much in their head, to finding their own natural movement and ability to flow.

And recently, I got the absolute career high of getting to support one of my young students in preparing an audition act and auditioning for a pre-professional youth circus program. Let me tell you, I teared up with pride and happiness on more than one drive home from the gym after working with her. Her dedication to her own artistic growth, to expressing herself in her act, and her willingness to put herself out there to be evaluated are inspirational to me. Sure, I love the moment when a student nails a hard-earned skill, (I’ve been known to jump up and down cheering). But when I really think about it, what fills me up most, and keeps me coming back despite challenges, is the incredible personal growth that my students have been willing to pursue through their work in aerial. I have seen students overcome shyness, body-image issues, stage-fright, fear of heights, fear of failure, fear of mediocrity, and crushing self-doubt as a result of the hard work they put into learning aerial.

For some of the lovely people I get to teach, our classes and the aerial studio are their heart-home where they get to express themselves and grow like they can nowhere else. And THAT, dear reader is why I do what I do.