Archive for September, 2013

Se, mor! Vi er i Danmark Juicy Magazine = Look, Mom! We’re in Denmark’s Juicy Magazine!

September 19, 2013 Comments Off on Se, mor! Vi er i Danmark Juicy Magazine = Look, Mom! We’re in Denmark’s Juicy Magazine! Classes, In the News, Training, Uncategorized

It was a delight to have Danish journalist Maria Kehlet drop by one of our Brooklyn classes this summer. Her article, “3 Trends in NYC Fitness” has just been published in the September 2013 issue of Denmark’s Juicy Magazine.

Pictures and full article are below. Link to Google Translate here.

Juicy Cover Upright 3trends_article-page-0013trends_article-page-002Juicy Aerial Part Upright 3trends_article-page-0033trends_article-page-004

Working for Charitable Events without Becoming a Charity Case

September 18, 2013 Comments Off on Working for Charitable Events without Becoming a Charity Case Ask Mama Silk, The Business of Aerials, Uncategorized

Today’s blog is inspired by a question from one of my colleagues. Here is what she wrote:

Over the years, like everyone else, I have gotten MANY requests to perform for free at this or that fundraising event. As an independent performer with no company (just me), I would say I get more of these than paying requests.

As much as I believe in helping my fellow man, I cannot perform for free. If/when I have performed for free, it was a) very early in my performing life b) in exchange for something of use to me (personal artistic collaboration with fellow artists, sometimes for excellent video, etc).

Every single time I get one of these requests, I find it very upsetting. I know that emotion needs to stay out of it, but it feels quite devaluing to be asked to do my job for free (or, more realistically, at a cost to me once insurance and other costs are taken into account).

I have never, for whatever reason, taken the time to draft a form response to this type of request. I do feel that it is not only an opportunity, but a responsibility, to somehow use the letter as an opportunity to educate about what it means to ask a performing artist to perform for free. Of course, I need to do it kindly and calmly.

Here are some of the tactics/questions I’ve developed for responding to and dealing with these types of requests:
It’s much easier to say ‘Here’s our policy for charitable requests’, rather than having to justify a personal position. My wife, who has been self-employed for 35 years, taught me all about the policy of having a Policy. It works like a charm on everything from cancellation policies to your policy about deposits to inclement weather clauses.

And, if you have your policy in writing, you don’t have to re-think your answer every time. You don’t have to get your emotions up, because the policy will save your bacon. It becomes about business, rather than a personal affront to my value as an artist.

People have a right to ask, and you have a right to say no.

Write your policy out, then practice saying it. “Performing is how we make our living, so we don’t perform for free. It’s our policy to offer a xx% discount to charitable organizations”. Practice now.

Remember that elephants perform for peanuts. Artists perform for decent wages.

My policy is to do one big charity event a year, at a significantly reduced rate. Some people do more, some people do less. Know what’s right for you, and don’t be nicer than you are – that’s just a breeding ground for resentment. As charitable event requests come in during the year, I will evaluate if the request seems to fit the bill as ‘the one’ for this year.

Then, the other events get my standard Policy line.

I am much more willing to devote my time and energy to a cause that is near and dear to my heart, rather than to a group or cause that I am not personally invested in.

For example, I performed for free for several years in a row at the CIBC Run for the Cure for breast cancer. A good aerial friend was Run Director and was donating her time for free. A bunch of us performed for the runners as they crossed the finish line, and it was a feel good time for all.

Now that I’m in business for myself, I’ve made it my policy to not accept a gig where the performers and I don’t make SOMETHING. Our hard costs have to be covered (performance fee, costumes, rehearsals, parking, Worker’s Comp). And my soft costs have to be covered as well (insurance, time, website, proposals) for events I’m not personally attached to.

I also consider whether I will get anything out of performing for the event. Will I get to test run a new act? Will I get tremendous video or photos from it? Is there a professional relationship I want to cultivate?

Earlier this year I performed for a reduced, yet reasonable rate, at an incredible venue in NYC. I hired a photographer and videographer, because I wanted to make the event worth it for me. Here’s a couple of the fabulous photos we got from that event:
Capitale Heather Split Flutter

Capitale Guin Inverted Split Med
Photos by Christine Nygueyn

I’ve become skeptical of the line ‘This event will be great exposure for you’. I have yet to get another gig from having performed for free somewhere. Mostly I find other people who want me to perform for free or for a ridiculously reduced rate. Maybe you will be luckier than me, but probably not. I have, however, performed for free at a couple of events for event planners and have gotten a couple of leads.

Also chances are the charity is paying for the venue and the caterer and the DJ. So why should you perform for free?

Often a charity will say they’ll give you a charitable donation receipt for your services. I’ve experienced a couple of problems wit this set up. Either you never get the receipt, or, you learn, as I learned after the fact from my accountant, that charitable donation receipts don’t count for a donation of services (but they do count for donations of goods).

If you want a valid charitable donation receipt, the cash actually has to change hands. This means they pay you your standard fee and then you write them a check for the amount you’re donating. Imagine yourself getting a check for your full fee (yum!). Now imagine yourself writing them a check for several hundred dollars as a charitable donation — how does that feel?

At times, I have felt in necessary to give the client my laundry list of what my expenses are and I why I can’t perform for free (or for peanuts, which is essentially the same thing). I’ve explained that we are the first to arrive and the last to leave, that we have to rent rehearsal space at $25/hour to choreograph to their selected piece of music, that I have to pay for insurance, Worker’s Comp, that I believe in paying myself and my talented performers a living wage, that we are not a charity even though they are… and the list goes on.

Mostly, I have found it’s helpful to know these things quietly for myself, so that when I deliver my policy line “It’s our policy to offer charitable organizations an xx% discount”, I can say it without defensiveness or anger. The client can take it or leave it, and so can I. Just as a client gets to pick whether we are a good fit for them, I get to pick if the client is a good fit for me.

I have learned to believe in abundance. The more I say ‘no’ to gigs that I don’t want, the more better gigs come into my life. It was hard to believe in abundance when I first started out. I was much more willing to sell myself short to at least be performing. But, that model wasn’t sustainable for obvious reasons.

Are you afraid of getting a reputation as the artist who wouldn’t perform for free? Egads!

So the real work is to become comfortable with charging what we are worth. I’ve had to learn that just because someone doesn’t value my worth as a performer, it doesn’t mean I’m worthless. We teach people how to treat us. If we teach them we are not of great value by working for free or for peanuts, then we are our own worst enemy.

So let me hear you, all together now, “It’s our policy to offer an xx% discount to charitable organizations. Does that work for you?” It works for me!

Happy performing!

Results of Quiz Part 2: Creative, Controversial or Clueless

September 10, 2013 Comments Off on Results of Quiz Part 2: Creative, Controversial or Clueless Ask Mama Silk, Controversial or Cluess, Uncategorized

Part 1 of our Pop Quiz was all about getting you to think about what the difference is between being a creative, controversial or clueless artist. Read those results .

Part 2 is devoted to finding which artists inspire you and which you find controversial. The results are interesting both for who they mention and who they don’t. You’re inspired by aerialists new and old, um, I mean, experienced, musicians, visual artists and even comedians. And, how curious that over half of you couldn’t list one other artist who inspired you. Time to do your homework, people!

The names are presented in the order in which they were received. It’s not a ranking of any sort. Where possible, I included a link to each artist’s website. I learned so much. I’m inspired! I hope you’ll take the time to peruse the websites below, and to continue the dialogue.

Who’s missing:
Who else do you think is missing – jot us a line. Or, let us know who’s on the list that you disagree with.

How about Cirque du Soleil? Cirque has made ‘aerialist’ a household word and their brand is immediately recognized throughout the world. They employ 5000 people and including more than 1300 artists. They combine dance, acrobatics, theatrics, imagined worlds, I was surprised to see that no one mentioned them. Really? They have undoubtedly inspired thousands to take aerial classes and learn these incredible skills. Most of the aerialists I know have considered auditioning for them at least once, and employment with them is still seen as a badge of honor and respect.

1. Frank Zappa. He’s fearless, controversial and creative.
2. British Graffiti Artist Banksy For bringing something that has little performance element into that realm. Controversial.
3. Artist, author and Educator Judy Chicago. Controversial.
4. Aerialist Lisa Natoli. Controversial, Creative. She’s really beautiful and simple and doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody and just lets her work speak for itself.
5. Nouveau circus company Les 7 doigts de la main
6. Aerial dance pioneer Susan Murphy. Creative. Mentioned twice.
7. Aerial dancer Mara Niemanis. Controversial.
8. Aerialist Dolly Jacobs. Strength, beauty, exceptional line and glamorous costumes. She is committed to excellence in circus performance, and in training for others. Creative
9. Circus artist Terry Crane Innovative and kind.
10. Aerialist Lauren Joy Herley. Like her style and power on rope, but she’s also a graceful contortionist. Creative.
11. Artist Salvador Dali. Controversial, creative.
12. Aerialist & performance artist Leo Hedman – aerial plastic…’nuff said.
Leo Hedman Aerial Plastic
13. Aerialist and dancer Kevin O’Connor Creative & Controversial
14. 7 Fingers co-founder Shana Carroll – uses dance and movement in circus, doesn’t rely on contortion or big tricks. Beautiful and creative. Started 7 Fingers and still creating beautiful ensemble work.
15. Acrobatic performance maker Codhi Harrel, masterful technique mixed with bare creativity and emotion. Creative.
16.Ruth Mills, dancer/teacher. Encourages and challenges people and audience. Creative.
17. Aerialist Laura Stokes because of her creativity and commitment to finding wraps and movements that are not mainstream. Creative.
18. Chuck Close, American Painter and Photographer
19. Aerial Dance Pioneer Terry Sendgraff. She changed my life, for the better. Creative and controversial.
Terry Sendgraff
20. Comedienne Carol Burnett. She proved that women can be funny, and she did this without ever resorting to cheaper sex jokes or losing her charm. I believe that she was controversial, but in a quiet way, as opposed to more blatant ‘in your face’ type of way. Controversial and Creative.
21. James Thierree creates structure and spaces that have both narrative and are acrobat friendly. Creative
22. Basho, Japenese poet. “Learn the rules well. And then forget them”. Creative.
23. Aerialist Eliane Domanski. A performer of high flying aerial feats. Humilty, fearlessness & grace. She shares her vatage points through photography & video, from her hot air balloon aerial suspensions. Creative.
24. Aerialist & Event Producer Heather Hammond – no I’m not butt kissing. She is making a living doing what makes her heart race and adding beauty to the world while doing it. THAT defines inspiration, strength, and living with purpose. Creative.
25. Action Engineer Elizabeth Streb…because she just wants to fly and so do I
26. Director Ang Lee has inspired me tremendously. He has the most wide range of any film director past or present…a nd proves over and over that he excels over all those different sytles of movies. It is hard not to be inspired! Creative.
27. Thom Yorke, lead vocalist Radiohead. Creative.
28. Edward Gorey, American writer and illustrator. Creative.
Edward Gorey
28. Rapper 2-PAC, from beyond the grave.
29. Singer Mariah Carey Creative. Controversial.
30. Madonna. She pushes boundaries. Controversial.
31.Passe pieds aerial trapeze theater: great show without music, but speaking. Creative and very skilled.

1. Damien Hirst
Stubbed Out Love by Damien Hirst
2. Salvador Dali
3. Paper Doll Militia
Paper Doll Militiaphoto by Marilyn Chen.
4. Mara Neimanis In-Flight Theater
5. Streb
6. Seanna Sharpe
7. Haven’t noticed anyone who is clearly controversial, at least in the circus world.
8. Marget Atwood
9. Keith Henessey Mentioned twice.
10. An artist that I cannot initially decide whether I hated or loved their work.
11. Hybrid Movement Company
12. Eiko and Koma
Eiko and Koma
13. Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy
14. Coco Rosie
15. 2PAC

Did you make it all the way down here? Hope so!

I hope this compilation has given you a moment of pause to think about who you are as artist and what you value. I know my artistic voice has changed over time and continues to evolve.

Make beautiful thoughtful art – and report back to us.

Heliummm offers a hardcore workout!

September 6, 2013 Comments Off on Heliummm offers a hardcore workout! Classes, In the News
Société Perrier came to check out our hard core class for NY Fashion week.
Societie Perrier

A Heartfelt ‘Thank You’ from a Student

September 5, 2013 Comments Off on A Heartfelt ‘Thank You’ from a Student Ask Mama Silk, Classes, The Business of Aerials

We were thrilled to receive this lovely Thank You from International Student, Sabine B. She has trained with Helium 3 different times over the period of the last year or so. She has grown by leaps and bounds, and has started performing for different circuses in the UK.

Sabine writes,

“Thank you so much for another great training time here in NYC. 

What I’m able to learn in your classes is so different, in a good way, compared to lessons with other instructors.

It was you that helped me overcome my fear of any kind of drop last year. Plus, I was getting my first job in a traditional circus after my first visit here, something I  wouldn’t have thought possible for me.

You have a different way of teaching that works better for me.

And I wish that if I ever come that far, getting more into teaching, that I can take some of what you’ve taught me.”

Thanks, Sabine. We’re delighted to have a dedicated and determined student like you! Hope we can make it to teach in London in 2014.