Grounded with Emma Poole
From imposter to feeling ‘grounded’ in the aerial world
My name is Emma and I am a 26 year old aerialist from Liverpool, England, who after many years is starting to finally feel a little grounded.
Growing up as an extremely timid girl in a very ‘loud and sure of itself’ city, always made me feel like I was in the wrong place. Scouser’s, (the name people from Liverpool give themselves) say, “I’m not English, I’m Scouse” and are made from loyalty and a distinct accent. However, growing up I was never really certain about anything and didn’t really speak enough to perfect the accent. The one thing I was sure of was that when I went to dance class, I felt at home. It was my favourite time of the week and it was where I could really let go of masses of insecurities and just move. This passion grew, and grew, until I was studying a contemporary dance degree, 40 mins into the countryside, with a bunch of talented strangers. Up until this point I had got by on sheer passion and excitement but this was when everything got a bit ‘real’.
My first lot of grades hit me in the face with a ‘what are you doing here’ and provoked sheer panic that I had been living a lie this whole time. It was around this point that I found an aerial silks class in the loft of an old building in the city where I climbed, foot-locked and cross-back straddled to my heart’s content.
This was my escape from the impending sense of the imposter syndrome on my dance degree that would greet me every morning after the counts 5, 6, 7, 8.
A mixture of the need for distraction, the lovely people teaching the class, and the joy of being off the ground made aerial my new home and I went to as many classes as I could afford and drive to.
After graduating, I came across Fidget Feet’s Irish Aerial Dance Festival (IADF) in the summer of 2015 where my love for the aerial world grew and I was inspired by just about everyone there. After another three weeks in Ireland with Fidget Feet that winter, ( the Creative Intensive), I made my first aerial act which I performed on silks, eyes closed, which I thought was an ‘edgy’ idea at the time but turns out it’s just something I do when I perform anyway. Aerial silks were my thing and I loved moving through the tangles and untangles. As it was all fairly new to me the pressure was off and I was happy making mistakes.
I then found myself in Darwin, Australia shadowing aerial community classes at Corrugated Iron where I first learnt how to teach aerial to the loveliest bunch of teenage girls you will ever meet.
After a year of traveling around the outback and poking my head into different aerial studios across the country, I came home equipped with lots of new skills and excitement to teach them. I was only home for 10 days, (to my family’s dismay), because Ireland had pulled me back again.
I ended up teaching for 2 years at the Irish Aerial Creation Centre with my first groups of students whose names I will never forget. Teaching for me was a constant struggle as it involved speaking loud enough for people to hear, which I was never a fan of. Mumbling or movement were my go-to for communication so this threw me so far out of my comfort zone, I could barely recognise myself! Luckily, Fidget Feet allowed me to start performing which I really loved. Performing is a piece of cake compared to teaching and I got to travel to beautiful places to doing what I loved. The dream!
During this time, the imposter syndrome found a way into my new career plan and the constant feeling of not being good enough, just grew and grew. It felt like a secret I had to stop people discovering. I changed my eating habits and increased training because somehow, I felt if I was physically smaller and always in the air, it would disguise my lack of skill. I ended up in schedule of constant work/training with no free time, leaving me moody and constantly hungry. I can see now that the struggle of trying to juggle my busy, yes saying life, was impressing no one and it only left me feeling more inadequate and exhausted.
I then moved to Edinburgh where I began performing and teaching for All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre alongside travelling around with Fidget Feet. I worked out I was on a flight almost once every week and barely spent any nights in my own bed that year, and though traveling and performing made my heart SING, it was taking its toll on my body and my relationships.
The pandemic forced a stillness on me which I very much needed, and I don’t think I would have listened to in any other circumstance. After the immediate fear and panic for this devastating thing that was sweeping the globe, I succumbed to the slow lockdown life and had chance to sit and reflect on the madness of the last few years for the first time.
I discovered that for years I have tried to morph myself into the perfect/ideal dancer and aerialist and change my schedule accordingly to be the best fit. I no longer believe that. Working till burnout didn’t make me the hero thought, it made me tired, hungry and not nice to be around, (sorry Matt).
Now I have had space, I have an idea of what I want to do and not just what I think I ‘should’ be doing at this point in my life/career/day/hour/moment. I feel free and excited. I know if someone would have told me this at 18, I would have rolled my eyes and thought it was a ‘cop out’ but now, when I think of the hours I used to spend, letting a piece of fabric squeeze my kidneys when I didn’t want it to, it makes me think why???
Now that I have a better balance of work/training and life, I feel like I enjoy every moment of being in the air and that I’m the most creative in the air that I’ve ever been. I’ve also dropped the narrative, that I need to be the aerial teacher who makes all their students ‘fall in love with aerial in an instant’ and who will help them ‘progress at the perfect rate to all become aerialists themselves’, and this has made life so much easier. From feeling like an imposter in my hometown, a feeling I thought would always be with me, I have now let go of the crazily high standards I made up for myself and as a result, feel less like an imposter every day.
If I was to give my 18-year-old self advice, it would be to take your foot off the gas, take the pressure down a few notches and get off the struggle bus. Try and enjoy that unmatchable feeling of flight without listening to the voices that tell you that you are not good enough and you shouldn’t be doing this. There will be challenges, of course, but try not to sacrifice the love that brought you there in the first place.
I am currently studying a master’s in psychology and my dissertation is looking into self-esteem and body image of aerialists. Only part way in, it is clear that many people don’t feel worthy of being an aerialist and making their own work due to their body type or what they look like.
I am REALLY hoping word spreads that ‘the ideal aerialist body/ height/ weight/ background/ flexibility level/ pull up PB’ does not exist and we can all stop trying to morph ourselves away from who we are, and just enjoy the flight.
You can follow emma here:
Insta: @tangledinair Tangled in air
Photo credit: gbdancestars gb swimstars gb dance stars
Image description: Against a black background, a white woman with long dark hair and dressed in an electric blue unitard, is tangled in amongst billowing white fabrics, as if caught mid flight. One fabric is wrapped tightly around her thigh, calf and foot of her bent top leg and held in her opposite hand, whilst the other wraps loosely around her lower extended leg and shoulder. Her eyes are closed, her face directed upwards.