Archive for Ask Mama Silk

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Tips for warming up in winter.

January 24, 2014 Comments Off on Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Tips for warming up in winter. Ask Mama Silk, Training

Yup. It’s cold out. As a Canadian, Mama Silks says, “Stop your grumbling, get out your tuque and your down coat and get your behind to class.”
Many of my American students may not understand my ‘Canadian’, so here’s an image of the ‘tuque’ our Canadian athletes will be wearing at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Canadian Tuque.
You should get one and wear one to class.

Just as it’s important to dress properly for the outdoors, it’s also important to dress smartly for the studio. Let’s face it: many aerial studios are big drafty spaces that are hard to heat.

Here are some tips for staying warm, before, during and after class.

1. Wear layers
We love layers! Choose merino wool. It wicks moisture away from the skin, keeping you warm and dry. Different weights are available for different seasons and uses. Cotton gets wet and stays wet. Yuck.
The experts at outdoor outfitters are a great resource. Here’s a link to REI’s Layering Basics.
Don’t worry – no one will see your long johns underneath your leggings.

2. Warm up from the inside out
Arrive a few minutes early and do some jumping jacks or other cardio to get your blood pumping. While layers are great, clothes are not a substitute for getting your blood coursing through your veins.

snow angels
This is the best way to do jumping jacks in the snow.

When you start to break a sweat and want to take a layer off, you know your muscles are getting warm.

3. Warm up your hands
Make sure your hands are ready for gripping your apparatus. Stick them in your armpits or between your legs. Or, rub them together quickly like you’re trying to start a fire.

4. The harimaki
My wife introduced me to the Japanese harimaki. It’s a wool band than keeps your waist and lower back super warm. Yum! I got mine at UniQlo last year. You can also wrap a nice warm scarf around your waist.


5. Do dynamic rather than passive stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves active stretches while moving the muscles through movement patterns that mimic those you’re about to do. Save the passive stretching for the end of class.

Active stretching should not be confused with old-fashioned ‘ballistic’ stretching where you bounce in a stretch beyond your normal range of motion. This ballistic stretching is dangerous and can lead to pulled muscles.

6. Socks
Socks can do more than keep your tootsies warm. They are a great training tool for intermediate and advanced students. Once you’ve got a nice secure foot grip, try climbing with your socks on. It’s much more slippery than climbing barefoot. But that’s exactly why it’s a good training tool – you have to develop your foot grip even more. Try your non-dominant side, too!
Here’s a pair of my favorite Icebreaker socks. Note the helpful ‘L’ and ‘R’ to help know which foot is which for those advanced moves.

7. Don’t forget to cool down
After a great class, the last thing you want is to cramp up on the way home when you head back out into the cold. Remember to end class with a cool down to bring your heart rate back down. Do some stretching of your hands, forearms, shoulders, back and legs. Change the layer closest to your skin if it’s wet and non-wicking – otherwise you’ll turn into an icicle!
icicle woman
What are your favorite ways to warm up your body in frigid weather? Send Mama Silk a message and let us all know!

Stay warm and train safe.


Mama Silk

Please, Stop the Music!

November 27, 2013 Comments Off on Please, Stop the Music! Ask Mama Silk, Performance Tips, The Business of Aerials

Yup, sometimes you just don’t like the music you’ve been asked to perform to. And sometimes artists make peculiar, I mean, interesting, choices as to what will fit an event.

So, what to do?

Your job is to sell it, no matter what your personal feelings are. I have had to perform to songs with lyrics like “A love emergency, don’t make me wait…” and sell it even though I’m dressed in pink and performing in an atrium with another woman and it’s not a love thing at all…

Another time I was performing to an electronic soundscape that wasn’t really countable. The choreographer added a ‘click track’ that we dancers could hear, but the audience couldn’t. Clever.

And then there was the aerial improv portion of an audition where instead of the super cool jazzy music everyone else had, I got “Send in the Clowns”. I’m not joking. This stuff really happens. After a brief moment of “What the…?!”, I channelled my inner Clown and got the job done. And, I got the part.

clown red wig
1. You’re a professional, so make it work.
Put your personal feelings aside. Laugh all you want in rehearsal. Then put your game face on.

2. If you really don’t like it, suggest alternatives to your client
Nothing is worse than, “I don’t like it” or “It’s just not working” unless you can offer suitable alternatives.

Make good use of YouTube. Many songs are available there, and it’s a great way to send songs to a client, without having to buy them all on iTunes first. Here’s a Beats Antique song I sometimes like to perform to.

Some clients are willing to listen to your suggestions, and others, sometimes for reasons beyond their control, must require you to perform to a certain song. There’s no way to argue with someone’s favorite wedding tune…

And, Facebook is a great place to put up a post saying, “I’m looking for a piece that embodies the theme “Shine”. Any suggestions?”

3. Not liking a piece is not the same as the piece not being a good fit.
Just because a song is not your personal taste doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit for the event. You’ve been hired to do a job, so get it done. Preferably with a good attitude.

4. What makes a good piece of music:
Variety: Look for music that has a definite, beginning, middle and end. The music has to go somewhere. Avoid music that is too ambient: Brian Eno’s Music for Airports doesn’t have enough action, unless you want to put the audience to sleep.
music notes
5. Lyrics vs No Lyrics
Many people have a strong association with a particular song and it’s lyrics, especially if it’s a popular one. Avoid being compared to someone’s memory of the video or to whom they were partying with when the song was big. Look for instrumental or cover versions.

Performing for kids or for Bat Mitvah or Sweet 16? Make sure you Google the lyrics first. Daddy doesn’t want to hear the explicit version of his baby’s favorite song with Grandma and Grandpa watching.

That said, we’ve used lyrics with great effect to bring an event theme to life. We used Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” and “New York, New York” for an Olde New York themed event to great success. For a large “Shine” themed gala, we tried several songs, starting with REM’s “Shiny, Happy People” (too commercial for the crowd), and Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light” (too slow and just not the right amount of punch for a final featured act. The disco remixes were way too disco). The client’s friend recommended Spectrum by Florence + the Machine (a FB post in action), and it was GREAT!

Sometimes a cover version by another artist gives you a new twist on an old standard. And mixing old and new versions can be fun.

6. Practice Practice Practice
Try to get the music as early as possible. Listen to it over and over till you can hear all the nuances. The better you know the music, the easier it will be to perform the piece, rather than being stuck counting or listening for the end.

7. Two Songs, Two Styles
Have your act ready-to-go to two different musical genres. Maybe one version is dramatic and Cirque-like, and the other is suitable for nightclubs. Then, you can send your standard songs to the client, and chances are, one will be a good fit.

8.. There’s always ear plugs.
If you really can’t stand the song, get yourself a pair of earplugs that muffle the sound but allow you to hear your cues. And remember, that earplugs are intensely practical for gigs near super loud speakers…Always good to have a pair in your make-up kit.

Have fun – and make beautiful aerial music!

Mama Silk

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.

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.

Pop Quiz: Creative, Controversial, or Clueless?

May 30, 2013 Comments Off on Pop Quiz: Creative, Controversial, or Clueless? Ask Mama Silk, Performances, The Business of Aerials, Training, Uncategorized

What makes an artist creative, commercial, controversial or clueless? What kind of artist are you? There’s an interactive Pop Quiz at the end, so read on, and please answer honestly, so we can have a fruitful discussion.

Today’s post is inspired by a recent article in the NY Times about the controversial Chinese artist and social activist, Ai WeiWei’s latest work. In this video called “Dumbass”, he graphically recreates scenes from his illegal detention, set to heavy metal music.


Love it or hate it, Mr. Ai’s work usually provokes some kind of emotion. His work is often a staunch commentary on the Chinese government, which has landed him in jail on more than one occasion. So there’s definitely some ‘juice’ to his opinion, that seriously rocks the status quo in his environment.

So it got me thinking about what it means to be a controversial artist, and what’s controversial in the aerial arts world these days.

What’s controversy anyways? According to Merriam-Webster:
con·tro·ver·sy — noun
1: a discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing views : dispute
2: quarrel, strife

I used to shy away from controversy. I was too afraid to be on the ‘wrong’ end of a discussion, to be disliked or to be ridiculed. I’ve grown to learn, however, that controversy is positive. In fact, it’s a key component to the entire democratic system. Discuss, listen, agree to disagree, and perhaps change your mind or someone else’s. Controversy shakes us out of our complacency and helps us to evolve, personally, professionally, artistically, however painful that may be.

While my art is still far from controversial, I’m OK with that. I’m not ‘the disturber’, nor do I wish to be. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But as I’ve found my creative voice, I contribute to my art form in the realm of fusing aerial and dance and character for the WOW factor with beautiful lines and pointed toes for my corporate gigs, and emotion and humanness expressed inventively for my more artistic gigs. I’m creative and I’m commercial – a combination that keeps me busily employed at a high level and providing work for other artists.

Many aerialists are intensely creative and are really moving the art form along by fusing diverse art forms, media, props, incredible virtuosity, new apparatus, costuming and music. But how many of us are truly controversial, with a capital ‘C’? I’d love to hear from you about who you think is controversial in the aerial world, and what discussion or opposing views that artist brings forth with their work.

As a point of comparison, I found this list of 10 Controversial Artists of the last Century by Annemarie Dooling (God, I love the internet, sometimes). The list includes artists like:
-Georgia O’Keefe, who painted nature is ways that were interpreted at the time to be racy representations of the female anatomy,
-Pablo Picasso, who once stated, “For me there are only two kinds of women: goddesses and doormats.”, and
-Christo Javachev, whose work “The Gates” covered part of Central Park with orange banners. Art to some, a waste of fabric to others.

So, aerialists, do you have to get yourself arrested like Ai Weiwei to be a controversial artist? No. Does getting arrested mean you’re controversial? Not necessarily. Did your act lead people to consider the world differently? Were you challenging existing norms, commenting on the current state of society, the government or it’s people? Or did you just want to create a stir on Facebook, and gain some notoriety?

The aerial controversies I’ve come across lately have more to do with whether aerial instructors should be insured, and whether teacher certification is good for the industry or is elitist. But these are controversies for a subsequent post. And is bad rigging controversial, or is it simply bad?

I’m not suggesting you have to be controversial to be a respected artist. But I am suggesting that if you want to call yourself a ‘controversial aerialist’ you probably want to challenge the status quo in more ways than safety and creative costuming.

Here’s our Pop Quiz to keep the conversation going: We will tabulate all results.

1. NY Times Article “Prison Was Awful, but He Likes the Video Version”, page C1, May 22, 2013. Full article here
2. Ai Weiwei website: (accessed May 22, 2013)

Going for Gold – How to train to be a professional aerial artist without coming in last

April 26, 2013 Comments Off on Going for Gold – How to train to be a professional aerial artist without coming in last Ask Mama Silk, Classes, Training

woman climbing rope

Today’s question comes from a recent aerial addict. She asks, “Mama Silk, I LOVE aerial and want to become a professional. I’m going to train six days a week to get super good, super fast. What do you think?”

I love the enthusiasm. And, if you believe the adage that it takes 10,000 hours to be a master at a particular skill, then I can understand the sense of urgency in getting good fast. The thought process goes something like this: ‘Let’s see, I could train 5 hours a week from now till the end of the world, or  I could train 1000 hours a week* and be an expert by the end of the summer!’ Let’s face it, who doesn’t love a shortcut to excellent results? But are the results from super intense training all that excellent?

Sadly, no. And overtraining can actually set you back instead of helping you reach your goal faster. That sentence bears repeating. In bold. Overtraining can actually set you back instead of helping you reach your goal faster.

It’s important to take good care of your body and to pace yourself if you want to have a career of any longevity. The impatience and exuberance of youth can lead to over doing it. Injuries stink, slow down your training, and are often with you forever…

‘But it won’t happen to me. I’m super fit already’.

You may be. But ask yourself if your current stability and strength lie in the key body areas we use in aerial.  Many times I have cautioned eager new students to take it slow and easy. They groan when I start class with warming up shoulders, back and lower abs, and when we end class with conditioning. They just want to get right to the drops.  There are places that ‘teach’ like that, but I don’t recommend them. The risk of injury is far greater.

image icining knee

What is overtraining?

Overtraining means that the volume and intensity of your training exceed your capacity for recovery. Listen to your body. When you overtrain, you can actually lose strength and be more prone to injury.

Signs of overtraining:

-constant muscle soreness

-more injuries


-weight loss

-more frequent colds/flus


Prevention is key.

Increase the intensity and frequency of your workouts gradually. Allow for adequate rest between workouts. Focus on stability first, then on increasing strength and endurance.  Remember that training volume should be inversely proportional to intensity. The higher the physical intensity of a particular skill, the less frequently it should be done in a workout.

Your training plan should contain adequate rest periods and vary the amount of stress placed on the each part of the body to build strength and prevent injury.  There’s a reason those bodybuilder guys don’t train chest and back 6 days a week. Their muscles, and yours, need a rest in between. Consider keeping a training log and consulting a skilled teacher who can help you build a training program that will help you meet your goals while keeping you as healthy and injury free as possible.

Stay safe – Train Smart.


Mama Silk


*Yes, Mama Silk knows there are really only 168 hours in a given week. I took artistic licence with the math to make a point.

In Our Circles, In Our Circles: How to Spin Without Losing Your Lunch

March 9, 2013 Comments Off on In Our Circles, In Our Circles: How to Spin Without Losing Your Lunch Ask Mama Silk, Classes, Performance Tips, Training

A concerned lyra student asks:  Mama Silk, how can I not toss my cookies when I start spinning? I almost threw up on the subway platform after lyra class last week. Help!


Good question, concerned student!  The short answer regardless of apparatus is: build up slowly, and practice till you get your sea legs (I mean your air legs). But let’s investigate the spin phenomenon a little closer:


Your brain gets information on its position in space from visual (eyes), kinesthetic (touch) and vestibular (inner ear) sources. When conflict arises from what you see, what you feel and what your brain perceives, you end up feeling crappy.

With respect to your ears, there are three semi-circular canals in each ear, one for each plane of movement (up/down, left/right, front/back).  These fluid-filled canals in your head tell you which way is up and which way is left and right so you know if you’re standing up or lying down.

Semi-Circular Ear Canals

When you spin, the fluid in these canals will spin around.  If you stop suddenly, your body stops, but the fluid in your ears is still going.   You think you’re still spinning, but your eyes are telling you that you’re not spinning. Your brain gets very confused and you feel sick. And, the ’tilt and rotate’ combination frequently used in aerial choreography is extremely challenging for the brain’s processing systems.  The scientists call it ‘aberrant  vestibular inputs’. Tourists call it “Stop slamming on the brake, cabbie!” Aerialists call it ‘Oh, my God! I’m so barfy!”

south park queasy

Scientists think some of these phenomena may harken back to our caveman days.  The same inner ear balance mechanism that is responsible for seasickness also handles the body’s ability to detect ingested poison; the signals sent to the brain when a person is spinning or seasick are the same as those sent when a person has eaten something dangerous, and the body’s protective response to poison is vomiting. Therefore, when you’re seasick, you vomit. Same goes for smells. I always feel worse at shows with lots of sensory overload: flashing lights, loud music, food odors (or worse, somebody else’s body odor), diesel fumes from generators, etc, are likely to make me feel more barfy.


  • Freshen your breath.

I got this tip from an old boyfriend who was a bosun with the Canadian Navy.  If it works for the sailors, it can work for us aerial beauties.

Keep a small travel toothbrush in your training bag, or some sugarless gum so you’re all minty before you spin.  [Remember to spit the gum out BEFORE class or performing.]

  • Smell something pleasant.

Keep a small handkerchief that’s been scented with lavender oil, or some other smell you associate with comfort. Breathe in the scent to help clear your channels.  Move away from strong odors. [Or nicely tell your classmate to please go buy some anti-perspirant].

  • Train yourself to ignore your brain.

With repeated practice, you can train your brain to ignore the conflicting input it’s getting from your fabulous aerial gyrations.   Astronauts do it, and so can you.

Start by spinning slowly, right side up, then upside down, WITH YOUR HEAD IN A FIXED POSITION. Look at something stationary, like your hand, or the lyra.

Then repeat, with a soft focus, and then with roving eyes, right side up and upside down. Add  head tilts, and finally head rotations while you’re spinning.

With repeated practice, you’ll find the method that works best for you. Some people swear by staring at a fixed point. Others prefer a soft focus, or even closing their eyes. I have a straps routine that involves orbiting and spinning and inversions and head tilts all at the same time.  When I haven’t done the routine in a while, I always feel a little off the first few times I rehearse until I get my sea legs again.

  • Stay hydrated

Keep your fluid intake high. Water is best.  Avoid de-hydrating drinks like coffee, and Red Bull.

porcelain god toilet barf Don’t come to class, rehearsal or performance hung over.  It’s unprofessional and dangerous.

  • Eat Right and Light

Eat light, easily digestible food before rehearsal or performance. Time it so you’ve digested before turning upside down. Avoid fatty, spicy stuff, unless you’re OK with the consequences.

  • Spin at the end of class or rehearsal

Save the spinning until the end of class or rehearsal. This way if you do get naseous, you’ve already worked on stuff.


Prevention is really the best medicine. Once you feel like crap, it can take a while to come back to normal.

  • Candied ginger

candied ginger

Delicious and nutritious (except for all that sugar). Keep a bag handy, and indulge as needed.

  • ‘Unspin’

When you touch ground, step off the mat and away from the apparatus and turn in the opposite direction to unwind. Or spin slowly a couple of times in the reverse direction.

  • Hop

Hop up and down while staring a fixed spot on the wall.  This may settle the liquid in your ears, and align the physical and visual input.

  •  Lie down

Sometimes I just like to lie down on my back, with my knees bent and my feet flat on the floor.

  • Dramamine

Spinning stimulates the cholinergic system,  producing: sweating, increased stomach acid, a desire to, um, ‘go’.

Dramamine is now available in two forms: dimenhydrinate and meclizine. Both are anti-histamines that help reduce the cholinergic reaction. Take as directed on the package – they can cause drowsiness, so don’t down it for the first time before driving to your gig, or right before you perform. See how you do on it in an un-pressured setting, first. And no post-ingestion imbibing, unless you’re taking the subway home.

  • Antacids

Keep a roll of Tums or Rolaids in your bag. Zantac and Pepcid are other good choices.

What works for you?

Mama Silk is always looking for new tips and tricks. Let us know what works best for you, so we can share it!

So spin, my darlings, spin. And create many beautiful things.


Mama Silk (and Lyra)




The Morning After The Night Before

September 4, 2012 Comments Off on The Morning After The Night Before Ask Mama Silk, Costumes, Performance Tips

We all love a good party. The planning, rehearsing, checking things off the list. Then there’s the excitement and anticipation of the event itself. Will it all go as planned? (No, but we’ll make it work). Will they like it? (Yes, we’re trained professionals – this is what we do).
Then there’s the day after. The afterglow of a job well-done. The remnants of glitter in the hair and eyelash glue around the eyes. The slight ache of a muscle overused with the pump of showtime adrenaline. The partially empty water bottles (Is this one really mine?). Oh yes, and then there’s the laundry. The not-so-glamourous part of showbiz.

In a physical business like ours, it can be olfactorily catastrophic if one forgets a sweaty costume balled up in the corner of the suitcase. It’s even worse if one throws it in a plasitc bag while damp. Ever put a costume away thinking “I didn’t really perspire that much” only to take it out for the next gig and be overwhelmed by putrid vapors? Worse still, ever had to put on a costume with someone else’s pungent sweatiness oozing from the fabric? Well, I have. And I’m here to save you from these unpleasant experiences.

1. Shower before the gig
You might think this one is no-brainer. Sadly, it’s not.

2. Wear Anti-Perspirant
Enough said.

3. Freshen up
Freshen up the armpits between rigging and warming up and putting on your costume. Wet Ones aren’t just for baby bottoms. And, there are lots of fun naturally fragranced wipes now available. Pomegranate, Lavendar, Green Tea – oh my! Visit a pharmacy or health food store near you, and keep a stash in your bag.

4. Febreeze
Bring a spray bottle of Frebreeze and spritz the pits and crotch of the costume before you put it your bag to bring home. This gesture is especially appreciated if you’re been lent a costume and you’re giving it back to someone, like me, else to launder.

5. Unpack right away
Unpack your bag as soon as you get home. Air your costume out to dry RIGHT AWAY. Time is of the essence. Or should I say “Es-scents”. Don’t give the bacteria a nice moist home to thrive in. Once the smell gets in, it’s super hard to get out.

6. Launder ASAP.
Add some Woolite to cold water. Gently handwash your costume, giving extra attention to the pits and crotch. Roll delicate costumes up in a towel to squeeze out as much water as you can. Then lay flat to dry or hang on clothesline.

7. Put clean dry costume away for next time
We store our costumes in see-through Ziplocs for ease of identification. Get a system. Use it.

That’s today’s lesson on bringing you fresh entertainment, in super fresh costumes, one amazing event at a time.

Sore Biceps – Help!

July 29, 2012 Comments Off on Sore Biceps – Help! Ask Mama Silk, Training

Today’s “Ask Mama Silk” question comes from Rosemarie M. in Edmonton, Canada.

She writes:
“I have been using my arms a lot (chin ups, pole tricks) and one of my biceps got irritated… now after swimming this morning, the other is irritated. Have you had this before? If so, how did you take care of it? THANKS!”

Mama Silk says: Rest, rest, rest. Chin ups, pole, and swimming are all heavy upper body activities. You may be experiencing Pattern Overload, which results from consistently repeating the same motion patterns, thus placing abnormal stresses on the body.

Pattern Overload is bad, as it may lead to the Cumulative Injury Cycle.

Tissue trauma —> Inflammation —> Muscle Spasm —> Adhesions —> Altered Neuromuscular Control —> Muscle Imbalance —> Cumulative Injury Cycle —> Tissue trauma and on and on and on…

So take 2 Advil, and call me in the morning. And don’t forget to ice, 20 mins on, 20 mins off (never put ice directly on your skin, unless it’s in a refreshing beverage on your tongue).

When you’re adequately healed, evaluate both your training and cross-training:

1. Choose activities that aren’t all ‘upper-body-all-the-time’.

At the pool? Use the flutterboard – rest your arms and work out those legs.
At the gym? Lower body and legs can get neglected in aerial class. Get on the treadmill, or do some leg presses.
At the park? Hop up on the bench (preferably when there’s no one sitting on it) for some plyometric exercises.

2. Concentrate on using your back and lats when you climb and when you are holding yourself up.
How is your technique? Are your shoulders up? Are you using your biceps when you should be using your back and lats? God gave you lots of muscles. Use them all. Your biceps were not meant to hold your entire body weight.

Biceps strain is frequently seen in new aerialists who overtrain without proper technique. Consult your professional aerial instructor!

3. Cycle your training to rest muscle groups
Pace yourself. Muscles can actually get weaker if they are trained every day. Break up your training to give muscle groups a rest.

4. Stretch
Use a combination of self-myofascial release (e.g. foam roller), static stretching, active-isolated stretching and dynamic stretching. Again, ask your experienced aerial instructor or personal trainer for help. A good class will include a variety of stretching.

5. Drink lots of water, eat your vegetables and get lots of rest.
Lights out, cub scout! Aim for 8 hours of sleep. Your body needs repair and rejuvenation. You need to be well-hydrated and nourished for your body to withstand the rigors of aerial arts, both in the short and long term.

Sending lots of aerial love and healing vibes.

~Mama Silk

Sources: NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training
Photos:,, Mama Silk