Katherine Huang | 27 | Circus Silks Aerial Dancer

Circus Aerial silks artist

Speciality time: 6 years

Inspiration for starting: I started aerial silks as a hobby, inspired by the incredible strength of advanced performers that I had seen. I’ve dipped my toes into some dance classes in the past but being (still) very uncoordinated, it never came naturally to me. I continued and grew my passion for aerial silks when I realised it gave me a sense of grace and creativity that I’d never found before.

Full time, part time or hobby: Part time

What’s your biggest claim to fame to date?
My hobby has turned into a job of passion, having won work as a performer for corporate gigs in brilliant venues from Movieworld to Luna Park.

Can you share your training journey?
My main job for the last four years has been management consulting, which requires working long hours throughout the week and flying into different cities throughout most of the year. At first I trained more casually, trying to find weekend classes that suited the schedule of my main job. As my passion for aerials grew, I found ways to prioritise it in my working week. I’ve had the opportunity to train in different cities around the world, from Melbourne to New York to Auckland. Over the last 2 years I have started teaching aerial silks, and currently train at least twice a week on top.

What are you most proud of accomplishing so far?
I’m proud to see that others find value in my work as an aerialist, whether they are my audience or my students. I could never have imagined this years ago because I had always thought I just didn’t have the innate creativity or coordination for physical performance.

How has COVID-19 affected your ability to do your craft?
I quit my job in April 2019 with a plane ticket to move to Latin America permanently. One of my goals on arriving in Latin America was to pursue a performing career as an aerialist. This was a big step for me – to realise that I have the capability to make this real, and decide to invest more in becoming a professional performer. COVID-19 not only cancelled my plane ticket but it shut down the entertainment industry globally. I believe it’ll be tough to start a performing career in the next couple of years, because demand will be down and many performers with strong existing careers will also be seeking work. Still, I’ve had the silver lining of staying in Australia and being able to teach aerial silks at my home studio (Wild Spirit) when it reopened. The first couple of months of shut down were tough – figuring out ways to keep strength and skills up at home without equipment or the metres of height needed – but I feel lucky to have resurfaced on the other side with a strong community in my home studio.

How did you feel when lock down was announced?
I found the border closures most difficult, as I live in Sydney but the only family members I have in Australia were living in Brisbane at the time. I left almost everything behind to spend the lock down period together with family. It felt frantic trying to pack what I’d need, not sure when I’d be back, what I’d do when I got to Brisbane. My home studio and other studios closed down soon after, which just magnified the feeling of uncertainty for all of us.

How do you feel not being able to perform/participate because of COVID-19?
Initially I was frustrated and felt a sense of loss realising how difficult it would be to reignite my original plans. I was itching to keep my training up with whatever equipment-less exercises I could, but also losing motivation without the joy of truly performing and creating, and the inspiration of doing so with other aerialists. Still, I was lucky enough to have my own aerial silk and a low-height point. With the support of my aerialist friends, I learned to find joy and motivation again in creating flows even with basic moves. It’s not the same, but I count myself lucky to have had enough stability to be able to use this time to reflect, even if not able to do what I’d originally hoped or planned.

What do you think will happen to society as a whole, if the general public can’t access the arts - either to practice or to enjoy watching?
Art is crucial as a way to express and to escape. There are many complex social issues that are hard to understand or absorb in normal discourse, especially when the experiences differ from our own. Yet we can be moved by the story of a performance, and learn to see through the eyes of others. The arts can bring joy to people through pure entertainment, and it has the power to tell stories that change people’s minds – even if ever so subtly. I can’t imagine a society without the arts, and if it existed, I think it would be a less empathetic one and a less joyful one.

What are some positives that you’ve experienced during lockdown?
On a creative level, it’s forced me to focus on performance flow and technique (rather than strength and skills). I’ve enjoyed creating routines with a smaller set of moves that really let me focus on the joy of moving and on finessing the details, without the pressure of constantly working on new tricks. On a personal level, I’ve had the time to reassess my values and how I use my time to reflect them – especially spending time with family and friends.

If you could ask politicians to consider one thing about the future of performing arts, what would that be?
Like many industries, performing arts will need help to recover. Unlike many industries though, the financial viability of sharing performing arts often depends on large enough audiences – and while online tools are helpful, we all know the experience is not the same as in person. People need to be able to see performing arts not only for enjoyment, but also to learn and to feel and to be inspired. We almost definitely will need support for the diversity of performing arts to continue, especially while audience sizes are restricted.

If you could ask fellow Australians to do one thing about the way they support/consume performing arts, what would that be?
Be safe in how you socialise, but don’t forget the performing arts. Even as venues start to reopen, there are still plenty of websites where you can find online events. Have an intimate cocktail evening in your own home to the sounds of a streamed jazz concert. Bring the circus to your home for a family weekend with a streamed show. Many of the performing arts are now more accessible than ever, even if not quite the same as in person – please make the most of it.

What are the greatest challenges facing Australian performing artists?
We have a relatively small market in Australia due to our population and how widespread we are – not just the potential audience that can be reached, but also the number of performers. I think that the more high-calibre performers there are out there, the more opportunities we have to be inspired and driven to create at a higher level. In circus arts specifically, countries like the USA and Europe have much higher concentrations of incredible performers and it shows – not just in performing style but also the availability of dedicated initiatives like aerial festivals. Still, there are definitely a number of amazing artists in Australia and I’m excited to see the growing popularity of circus arts in the last few years.

If you had a magic wand, what would you do next with your speciality?
I’d find a way to make more time… I love a variety of other aerial apparatuses – corde lisse (aerial rope), lyra (aerial hoop), straps, trapeze – and would love more time to train these to the same skill level as I have on silks. There’s a lot of interesting nuances of each apparatus that influence how I perform on other apparatuses – for example, I love taking the dynamic flares and movements from corde lisse and doing the same on aerial silks.

What do you hope for future generations of performing artists?
I hope future generations continue to find inspiration and confidence in what they are capable of building – even if it takes some training and hard work to get there. Becoming a performer through aerial silks has taught me so much about myself and what I want to share with the world, and I can only hope that many future generations get similar opportunities.

Funny recollection
I remember my first time learning one particular dynamic move called the “pancake flip”, which is essentially a backflip in the air where you need to catch the silk when upside down. I asked my coach what to do in case I missed, and he said “Just do a roll”. I asked “How do you do a roll?” It’s a pretty basic move that many people will know from gymnastics, martial arts, contemporary dance – but did I mention how uncoordinated I am? He laughed assuming it was a joke… So I proceeded to attempt the trick for the first time – and faceplanted hard. Thank goodness for protective mats! Moments like this make me laugh and remember how far I’ve come with aerial silks, despite my background – or lack thereof. Pancake flip is one of my favourite moves now!

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