This message is brought to you by Charly McCreary, Studio Manager at Arcadia and co-founder of The Cabiri and Beverly Sobelman, Owner of Versatile Arts. Both studios are based in Seattle, WA. Versatile Arts has been open and operating since 2008 and Arcadia opened in spring 2018. Together, we have over 30 years of experience in the aerial arts as students, performers, and studio owners. We also have a network of engineering and rigging professionals with whom we consult regularly in our usual course of business.
Owning a studio that offers aerial and acrobatic art forms is an incredible privilege. We are so fortunate to be able to provide space to you – our community of students – so you can learn, practice, and perform the art forms we all love so much. But this relationship is not exclusive. We encourage you to go out into the world and visit other studios, take classes and workshops elsewhere, and diversify your knowledge and experience with a wide variety of instructors. That said, safety is the highest priority at our facilities and you should always be aware of, but never have to worry about, the rigging, equipment, instructor qualifications, or infrastructure we’ve worked hard to put into place to keep you as safe as possible while engaging in art forms that carry an inherent level of risk.
And so, like watchful parents tucking an extra $50 into your bag as you move into your own place for the first time, we offer this list of things you can and should take with you when visiting other studios – whether here in Seattle or in other parts of the world you might visit – in order to be an advocate for your own health and safety. These lists are by no means exhaustive nor are they intended to constitute advice to current or prospective studio owners or students. They are anecdotal food for thought to help empower you to make informed decisions about your health and safety.
Ask Questions, Be Curious
The first time you look at the website or step into a new studio, look around carefully and notice what is or isn’t there.
- Are there mats? Are they being used?
- Does it look like it gets cleaned regularly?
- Is it appropriately heated and cooled?
- What is the energy of the facility? Safe and welcoming or cold and impersonal?
- Do the staff look strong, adept, confident and experienced?
It is always reasonable to ask a studio or school basic questions such as:
- How long have you been open, and who installed the rigging here? What kinds of qualifications do they have?
- How often is your rigging inspected? Is equipment regularly inspected and retired as needed?
- What is the load rating on the aerial points here, and what design factor was used in calculating it?
- Where do you purchase your aerial equipment?
- Can you tell me more about your instructors? What types of qualifications do they have, and how do you select them?
- Does your studio carry liability insurance that covers student injuries?
- Do you have an emergency response / rescue plan in case a student becomes stuck in the air or has a medical emergency?
- Are instructor-led warm ups included with classes?
- What is your course progression?
If you only ask one of these questions, ask what load their aerial points are rigged for and what design factor was used. While the specific answers are important, what worse is if they can’t answer the question or they don’t know what those terms mean. In that case, seriously consider whether this is a studio with whom you’d like to trust your life.
When To Opt Out
- Potential red flags to watch for include:
- No responses or inadequate responses to any of the above questions
- No intake procedures such as a liability waiver and/or new student questionnaire
- Rigging or aerial attachment points that look flimsy or too minimal, e.g. an eye bolt mounted into a wood beam, or a tiny span of webbing wrapped around a beam, or the use of chain to attach any overhead rigging whatsoever
- Rigging points that are too close together – a good rule of thumb is 8’ between active aerialists
- Equipment in use that is poorly maintained or visibly damaged from wear and tear
- Lack of panel AND crash mats if any skills more than a couple feet from the floor are being taught, ever, including aerial yoga classes
- No set curriculum or clear course progression / advancement criteria
- The use of rock climbing “daisy chains” to adjust aerial equipment heights
- Anything doesn’t look or feel right – trust your intuition! Your safety and wellbeing are the most important thing and you are your own best advocate. Sadly, just because someone has the resources to open an aerial / pole / aerial yoga studio doesn’t mean they have the expertise that you deserve and should expect.
The arts we practice carry enough inherent risk – the equipment and facility where you are learning and practicing should adhere to the highest possible standards, no excuses.
Need help deciding whether or not a studio appears to be using good safety protocols and procedures? Feel free to contact Bev (firstname.lastname@example.org) Chair of the American Circus Educators Safety Program, or Charly (email@example.com), Arcadia Studio Manager for guidance. We will answer your questions as best we can, or connect you with professionals in the rigging industry with higher levels of expertise than us. We want you to stay safe and healthy wherever in the world you are flying!
Charly McCreary and Beverly Sobelman