An aerialist is a performer who works high above the ground. Aerialists are commonly associated with circus performances, but they can appear on their own, and can be part of other types of productions. For example, some dance companies integrate aerial acts into their work to expand the boundaries of the stage. It is also possible to hire aerialists for a standalone act, as is sometimes done for big events where people want some form of entertainment for the guests.
In order to become an aerialist, it is necessary to complete training in the aerial arts. This work can be very dangerous for inexperienced or poorly trained performers, and it requires an extensive knowledge of all of the safety procedures involved. In addition, aerialists have to be trained athletically, as the work is often physically demanding. Finally, they need showmanship skills so that their acts will be dynamic and interesting; even if aerialists are choreographed by someone else, they still need the ability to carry the act and hold the attention of the audience.
One way to train is to attend a circus arts school. Such schools often have aerial arts programs which offer training in trapeze, silks, tightrope walking, and other aerial skills. Some offer specialty training and certifications, such as training in unusual aerial techniques which are used by a limited number of circus artists around the world. In some cases, a circus arts school is a standalone facility, and in others, it may be linked with a circus which prefers to train its own staff.
Historically, many aerialists trained through apprenticeship, and some continue to pursue this approach to learning. In this case, an aerialist works with a circus, receiving training when performances are not in session and slowly developing skills which can be used in performance, initially on the ground and later in larger and more technically demanding pieces. Once an aerialist has completed an apprenticeship, she or he can work independently, design routines, and train other aerialists.
Many aerialists are relatively small and lightweight, but they are incredibly strong. They can work alone or in tandem acts with other artists, and they are usually flexible, toned, and capable of immense muscle control. A skilled aerialist makes the work look like nothing, appearing almost to float in the air. However, this work can be among the most dangerous circus work, as for certain kinds of acts, safety measures such as harnesses and nets cannot be used.