Archive for Safety

Our Greatest Fear: Falling from the Sky

As aerialists, we know what we do is dangerous. That’s partly what people pay for. Driving, however, is also fairly dangerous. I remember whiteknuckling my first time out on the open road, harrowing for both my mother and I. However, after doing it regularly for a while, one gets comfortable (often too comfortable). The same thing happens with performing. Once you are strong enough to hang by one arm for a while and get yourself out of silk knots and the like, you start to feel pretty damn confident. While intellectually we know that the danger still exists, it just doesn’t feel super present after a while.

    Aerial work, statistically speaking, doesn’t have the same rate of injury as other common athletic activities. More gruesome injuries happen more often playing basketball or skiing than doing aerial work. It’s not like people are constantly falling out of the ceiling. That said, any professional who has done it long enough will probably have the scary big fall at some point. It’s awful and shocking. If it’s a rigging failure, you develop major trust issues. If you just screw something up yourself, it may be hard to get your confidence back.  What may be the worst scenario though is being dropped by a partner or dropping a partner. I’m not talking trying a new trick over mats. I mean in a real situation.

The total surprise. The stuff of nightmares. I know, because I missed a catch. The moment when another human slips through your fingers; a human whose life depends on you holding them, and they just slip away. That eternal time before they hit the floor and you grasp in the air powerlessly after them. That moment when you can do nothing. That moment where you actually contemplate leaping after them as if you could race them to the floor and catch them in time. That moment you realize you’ve let someone down in every way. That moment you really hurt someone badly or had the enormous potential to and you are responsible.

Winter Silks

Even silks on either side wouldn’t be enough.

Then comes the guilt. Why didn’t I..?! How could I let that happen?! If the person is angry at you, it’s almost easier. If they aren’t, you make up the mental beating yourself. Every situation is of course different. And complete freak accidents do happen. But I’ve also witnessed it happen in front of me. And it brought back all the awful memories, the visceral sensations of panic. The biggest problem is that we don’t quite believe it can happen to us. Until it does. And while it may not be entirely preventable, there are some factors to be on the lookout for.

1. Frenetic Energy: You are in a situation where there is a lot of rushing, there is a dress rehearsal and the tech is behind, but you want to run your act, but you didn’t get a chance to warm up properly etc. or maybe you were rushed to the venue from the airport. Or maybe it’s just how a producer always just whips everyone into a frenzy on a regular basis.

2. Distraction: Usually there is some external factor involved that is hard to push away. Maybe the space is weird or there is a bright light or smoke in your face. Maybe you are concerned about the rigging. Or it’s hot and you are sweating more than normal. Maybe suddenly a piece of chalk or dust gets in your eye. In my case, it was a guy shooting a camera right below us. It was clicking loudly and he was circling us and the noise and the close circling stole a piece of my focus.

3. Pressure: Often, you feel like you have to run the piece, even if you are feeling off. Either it’ll be the only chance before a show, or everything is behind and you have to get through stuff as fast as possible. Or a producer insists on seeing it. But usually, you feel like you have to do it and NOW.

4. Lack of communication: Perhaps your partner is in your hands, and you realize that you don’t quite have them, but the music is pumping too loud for them to hear you. Or perhaps you try to say something, but you can’t quite get out clearly or articulately what you need them to do in that moment. Or maybe it’s off but you don’t say anything, and you just think it will be fine, because up until this point, it always is.

Double Trapeze

Double Trapeze

I think the hardest thing to do is to take a moment mentally, before you go up in the air, always. Take a moment to focus on what matters: safety and connecting with each other. The performance or rehearsal is always secondary. And then we have to be brave enough to stop everything when our gut tells us “no, something isn’t right”. That can be hard to do especially when pressure has built up. I have had two times when my gut said “Come down NOW” in the middle of an actual show. And both times I did and both times, the rigging was in the middle of failing, because somebody else had to rig for me for a quick transition and didn’t pay enough attention and it was rigged improperly. I was very lucky. But I wasn’t brave enough that one time to stay “stop”, and Laura paid the price with fractured ankle.

   We always say safety matters and we might do all the necessary rigging checks and keep our equipment up to par, only use steel, check cue angles etc etc. But still, we may forget in the moment that we ourselves are indeed fallible too, and we need every part of us to be there in every moment. And isn’t that partly why we even do this in the first place?

We all as a community need to support each other when things get hectic to remind ourselves about what really is important. Safety first. Always.

Angela Attia

Dare to Imagine….

The One Thing Every Aerialist Must Know

April 30, 2013 Comments Off on The One Thing Every Aerialist Must Know Safety, Uncategorized, Working in Circus

DRUMROLL……..Answer: Rigging (duh)

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 8.45.25 PMDo not go on a professional gig without some basics. Do not rely on other people to know what they are doing. This is the single most important part of being an aerialist. Now, of course, it is all fine and good for me to sit here and wag a finger, but how do you know what you don’t know?

First, take a class if at all possible. It is worth going to another city to do so. Also join the aerial riggers yahoo group and listen to the conversation. Knowledge is power as they say. Find a rigger that is highly recommended and use that person whenever possible. The problems come when a job already has a technical person on it, but you have no idea what their experience actually is and you don’t get to meet them until the actual job. Whatever you do, unless you know for certain that good riggers know this person and recommend them, don’t just trust what they tell you. Double check everything.

What are the actual problems that you run into?

On several occasions, we thought we had made ourselves ultra clear about what we needed only to find something was missing or misunderstood.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 8.44.44 PM

We have been told a rigger has circus experience only to realize they still didn’t know what they are doing. It really helps to have someone you can call if you aren’t sure. Better safe than maimed. A scenario recently that we ran into… We arrived at a gig, were told that the rigger had circus experience and from far away it looked like a straightforward square box truss. Upon closer examination, it appeared what was holding the top section of truss on each leg was some wrapped chain (not secured) and a two by four. First, we made them remove the chain and use truck straps and secured them ourselves with moused shackles. Then for extra security, we had them remove the two by four and put in steel pipes that were thick and had some lip on either end. All this I ran past our amazing rigger friend who okayed it.

Ideal set up for trussThe client doesn’t often know about these things so they may not know who to hire to do it or there may only be one person available locally who does everything. So again it is super important to ask what each part of your rig is rated for separately. Do not be afraid to rock the boat. It is hard to do, but you will feel better and ultimately it serves everyone when you stay safe.





Excuse Me Ma’am, Do You Know How To Drive This Thing? Cirque Style Safety

October 11, 2011 Comments Off on Excuse Me Ma’am, Do You Know How To Drive This Thing? Cirque Style Safety FAQS, Safety, Uncategorized

ImaginAerial with the rigging team from Hall Associates Rigging FX

When you ask us, “Are you insured?” we suspect that what you really want to know is, “Are you insured? And is this safe? Is it scary? Have you ever fallen? How do I know you won’t land on my Aunt Daffodil?” Fear not, mah peeps! We’re going to break it down for you.

Is this safe?

Well, it is circus after all, but you have to figure that if we were constantly getting injured, no one would do it! We have spent the past decade training hard (getting up half an hour before we went to bed, eight days a week, through the snow, uphill both ways, etc.), and take what we do very seriously. We don’t work with amateurs or “green” performers for precisely this reason.

“But None Of The Other Companies Had A Problem With That!”

Dear Friend, we cringe when we hear those words. Usually, it’s when we are asked to do something we know compromises the safety of performers or audience, like perform directly over people’s heads without a safety wire, over tables, shark tanks, etc. Allow me to be candid – those other companies are cuckoo! Believe me, we want to perform over your shark tank (really!), but these things have to be done in a safe way, cause you know if we land on Aunt Daffodil, you’ll never hear the end of it.

Do You Use A Net?

Nope! For what we do, a net would actually be more dangerous than a fall! We use safety wires when appropriate or required by law (swinging trapeze, for example), but more often than not, these things actually get in the way and can do more harm than good.

Our Crackerjack Rigging Dudes

How do you know it won’t be raining aerialists at your event? The Fly Guys, that’s how! We’ve assembled a dream team of riggers and specialists whose very existence revolves around keeping us safely in the air and your venue intact. In all seriousness, they’re phenomenal at what they do, and they smell really good (BONUS). Shout out to Bill Auld (the only rigger I’ve ever managed to get in a head lock – it’s a long story), Tony Bonilla from B&W Rigging, our NYC go-to man with the great hat, and the rest of The Fly Guys – we couldn’t do it without you.

Well, I hope that answers a few of your questions! As always, feel free to zap us an email or give us a ring – we’ll have coffee and talk.