WRITTEN BY: Sky Writer
I recently had the privilege of giving a private aerial performance on dance trapeze--completely blindfolded. Those around the studio who've seen me practice have been so encouraging, and there have been plenty of questions. So I wanted to answer some of the most common questions and give a glimpse into the journey:
How did you get started with blindfolded aerials?
Almost a year ago, I developed a tear in my left eye. I learned there was a chance I could lose my sight, which would affect one of the things I loved doing most: aerial dancing. I had a choice to give up my aerial studies or try to find a way forward. I decided to fight. At the time, my primary apparatus was sling, so I started with some small experiments. Could I sit in the sling with my eyes closed? Could I stand with my eyes closed? Could I execute a pullover? How was my balance while spinning? I felt pretty lame surrounded by so many amazing aerialists doing flips and drops around me, but I knew that's where I'd have to start.
Above all, safety was my primary focus. I always practiced with a crash pad. I always practiced in the presence of an instructor I knew and trusted. I only practiced moves I had practiced a million times with my eyes open. I tested my limits one imperceptible millimeter at a time.
Why did you choose to perform blindfolded?
I think the introduction to my act says it best: "This performance is for anyone who has ever been told they can't. This performance is for everyone who has to fight every day to do what they love. And this performance is for everyone to know they don't have to win the fight to succeed."
Six months after my eyes stabilized, I traveled to a studio in Colorado to study sling. During one of the creative sessions, we were asked to give improv performances--blindfolded. I'd been incredibly shy and insecure up until that point, and performing in front of strangers terrified me. But closing my eyes made that moment just between me and the apparatus. And spinning through the air completely sightless, I was free.
Once I returned home, I took some time experimenting with the blindfolded concept on trapeze, but it was when an instructor I deeply respected took notice of my experiments that I knew I needed to share this with others.
What was your training process for the blindfolded act?
Safety, safety, safety. I spent countless hours choreographing and refining the routine, honing my strength and balance, and practicing supervised with my eyes wide open over a crash pad before I ever put the blindfold on.
Transitioning into a sightless aerial landscape took extra care. Under the supervision of my neurologist, I started learning how to stand on the ground and hold my balance with my eyes closed (one of the hardest things I've ever done). Then came learning what the trapeze felt like... Then learning where my blindfolded body was relative to the trapeze and transferring myself from the ground to the air... Then learning to hold static poses... Then weight transfer from pose to pose and seated to standing... Then spin direction and speed control... Then trying to make it all look clean and fluid... All while blindfolded.
It took a lot of time (months, in fact) and a lot of patience, but it was so rewarding, every step of the way.
What was your favorite part about being blindfolded?
I found a sense of peace and freedom that I haven't ever experienced in my life. Being blindfolded takes so much of the ego and pressure of watchful eyes away. Instead of listening to the music through a haze of anxiety and self-doubt, I was able to become a conduit for the music, fully expressing my feelings and my love of flying through my movements.
What was the hardest part about being blindfolded?
Not being able to see. I couldn't see if I was about to miss a grab or throw myself off balance, so I had to retrain my body awareness. I couldn't look in the mirror for instant feedback, so every practice had to be filmed. And since I was sharing a space with others and my music was played through my earbuds, it was hard to tell if my timing was off or how the movements matched the music. I eventually learned to do a countdown on my fingers so I could play the music along with the recording during my review time, but that presented its own timing challenges.
I was so self-conscious too. I worried a lot about others seeing me and trying to mimic my blindfolded practice routine without exercising the same level of caution. Safety for everyone is very important to me, and I tried as much as possible to warn others but never knew how effective I was at it.
What lessons did you learn from training blindfolded?
Aerial is about so much more than what we can see, and sight is deceptive. There are aspects of strength, flexibility, balance, breath, focus, control, and so many others that I don't experience or pay attention to when I'm looking around. I could see I was spinning, but I found I couldn't feel I was spinning below a certain speed, especially if my hair was tied back and I was wearing tight clothes. I found I also got sick much less from spinning while blindfolded, which was helpful since I had to practice spinning a lot.
Above all else, I learned to not give up just because I had a bad practice day (and blindfolded practice really heightened the sense of those bad days). And that's my encouragement to any aerialist reading this. Your body is different every day, and that's okay. Some days, your balance will be incredible while your grip strength is a mess. Some days, your hamstrings won't want to give up a millimeter. And on the most precious days, the stars align, and everything is magical. Treasure every moment, the good and the bad, because you worked hard for all of them.