Wac Arts InFlight – An Interview with the Aerial Experts!

InFlight is a unique programme designed to give wings to your dream of being an aerialist. Brought to you by Wac Arts, it offers beginner the opportunity to receive professional training in aerial, completely free of charge! The programme is open to anyone aged 16 and over (there is no upper age limit!).

Over the last 36 years, Wac Arts has become renowned for offering a wide range of arts and media programmes to a diverse range of people. The team at Wac Arts has put forth best efforts to keep the programmes not only up and running, but also varied to keep young people engaged and excited. Wac Arts InFlight, in collaboration with Upswing and Scarabeus, is yet another endeavour in this direction.

Vicki Amedume from Upswing and Daniela Essart, Scarabeus, are working rigorously to structure an inclusive curriculum for the participants, comprising silks, trapeze, cocoon, rope and abseil as well as bungee harness. We got to chat with Vicki and Daniela who were kind enough to answer some of our questions about InFlight, their work, and more.

How did you get involved in aerial?

Vicki – I was at University studying science. I became friends with some women that ran an aerial company, and I started training with them for fun. From the first moment I tried it, I fell in love and at the end of my degree I literally ran away with the circus.
Daniela – Because I always wanted to fly! I grew up near the mountains in Northern Italy and learnt climbing when I was a teenager. When I came to London, I was involved as a volunteer with the opening of the original Circus Space, I took the chance to learn trapeze skills, and I absolutely fell in love with aerial techniques, so I learned single and double trapeze and corde lisse.

What led you to teach aerial?

Vicki – I wanted to share the feeling I had doing aerial work with other people. Up until I first tried aerial work I had never felt as extraordinary, it made me feel like if I could do this, I can do anything.

Daniela – The fact that learning to master your body in the air has a great effect on your self-confidence. I love the artistry in aerial dance mixed with visual theatre and I like to share something so special.

What would you say to someone apprehensive about trying aerial for the first time?

Vicki – You never know until you try, people often surprise themselves and exceed their personal expectations if they are willing to take a chance, listen and put in a bit of sweat.

Daniela – Dare, go beyond your fear. We start by working at a relatively low height, you will feel safe and a great sense of accomplishement when you try.

Is aerial art accessible as other art forms? Or you need to have a dance or athletic background to try it? For someone trying aerials for the first time, can you explain what to expect in your classes?

Vicki – I believe that aerial arts can be made accessible to everyone. If you want to train to a professional level however, having some previous physical training (dance, sport, gymnastics) can help but I have seen people with no training and just natural ability or plain old grit achieve amazing things.

Trying aerial work for the first time you can expect it to be challenging but if you like challenges it will be lots of fun. People also find that no matter what their background is, there are techniques and muscle usage that will be completely new to them.

Daniela – Aerial art is more accessible now than used to be. It helps to have some level of physical fitness, and of course, a head for heights! An aerial class is structured with an initial warm up, learning to work the aerial apparatus, often working with a partners spotting you, and cool down at the end. Everything is conducted safely, to minimise risks, and giving you the possibility to enjoy the learning process.

What is your favourite part about being an aerialist?

Vicki – The sensation of working with and against gravity. The sensation of dropping (in a controlled way), and feeling strong and coordinated.
Daniela – The ‘high’, the sense of feeling graceful and strong at the same time, the adrenaline rush.

What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

Vicki – Spreading the magic by introducing circus to participants of all ages, abilities and walks of life. Particularly working with older people last year as part of the development for our show What Happens in the winter, and witnessing the impact Circus can have on them. As one 83 year old participant said, after our workshop: “Now I feel like I can do anything!”
Daniela – Having co-run Scarabeus Aerial Theatre for 27 years without any regular funding. The commitment that I feel in contributing in accessing new audiences and shaping a cultural landscapes!

What do you do for fun when you’re not doing aerials? What are your hobbies?

Vicki – I love to read and draw.

Daniela – I practice and teach yoga. I think, imagine, dream, have ideas that often transform into performances. I love reading, going to the theatre and to the cinema, walking, climbing, cooking and enjoy life with friends. Above all I love being a mother.

How did the InFlight programme come about? Can you tell us more about the programmes at Wac Arts?

Vicki – We share with WAC Arts and Scarabeus a desire to create new ways for talented artists to fall in love with circus. We have been running our Step Up programme since 2010. Step up is aimed at offering emerging artists who do not have the resources to undertake formal aerial training a free intensive training programme and mentoring to encourage them into circus or to include circus and aerial work in their practice. In Flight felt like a great way for us to collaborate with two other great organisations to provide a longer and richer training opportunity than we can offer independently.

Daniela – Because we have been discussing and planning for years a programme accessible to committed students and artists who cannot afford learning aerial skills in some of the other establishments in London.

What role does technology and art play in your programme? Are these the skills you are looking for in participants?

Vicki – We will be bringing in a digital artist into the programme but we are keen to see how much the people who join into the programme can contribute to the artistic mix. We really welcome people with additional skills in for example digital arts, film or music.

Daniela – We are looking for diverse skills – but most of all for committed participants, who are prepared to work hard and really enjoy this opportunity.

The programme is free to attend as long as the participant is committed, how is the programme funded?

Vicki and Daniela – InFlight is supported by the Arts Council England through the Grants for the Arts programme, and WAC Backers.

We have heard whispers of a very exciting end show; can you tell us more about it?

Vicki – I’m not sure I can. I know it will involve a very exciting collaboration but for now I will keep quiet.

Daniela – You have heard correct! Still top secret…


Wac Arts InFlight is funded by Arts Council England, and is completely free to attend. Participants have to deposit a security of returnable £120, and there will be an application and short listing process. Taster days on Sunday 26th April and Sunday 3rd May, and sessions will begin on 12th May 2015, every Tuesday 6–9 PM.

About Upswing

Upswing was founded in 2004 by Vicki Amedume to expand her solo work as an aerialist and choreographer. Since its inception, Upswing has developed a substantial reputation in the world of circus and aerial theatre. A self funded enterprise at first; the company recruited and grew to become a regularly funded client of Arts Council England (ACE) in April 2008, and was made a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) from April 2012. To read more about Upswing, please visit www.upswing.org.uk.

About Scarabus

Through its 23 year history Scarabeus has played to audiences of all ages, nationalities and beliefs whilst playing in arts festivals, on buildings, unusual sites and natural environments nationally and internationally. Its work has spanned 4 continents, transforming spaces with boundary breaking aerial arts. Visit www.scarabeus.co.uk to know more about Scarabus.