Andrew “Pemby” Pemberton is a London spreadsheet-monkey by day, and a budding circus performer by night. He discusses how aerial arts helps him recover after an injury, and what it’s like to train in a female dominated field.
In what type of aerial circus skills are you training?
My regular training is in aerial hoop and silks. I occasionally dip into static trapeze, rope and straps if they are available. I have also crossed over onto the pole side of the class a couple of times when my aerial class has been cancelled. Although my preference is still with aerial.
Which type of aerial is your favourite to perform? And what is your favourite to watch?
I have not yet performed; if I were to, it would probably be on aerial hoop as my most developed skill. I had hoped to perform at a showcase this summer but it clashes with a friend’s wedding so I am unfortunately unavailable. As for watching, I feel it falls into two categories for me, the first is technical performance and the second is artistic. I really enjoy watching a technically difficult or well executed routine where you can see the level of effort the performer has put into it, it really inspires me to improve my own technique and build towards the more difficult moves. From an artistic point of view I love to see someone using the equipment to tell a story or portray a concept, one of my favourites was a fairly technically simple routine on silks that represented the evolution from chrysalis to butterfly. I also love watching doubles routines as I would one day love to build to that.
How long have you been training in / studying aerial?
I have been doing aerial hoop for almost a year and a half and I started training silks in January this year as part of my new year’s resolution to commit more to circus this year.
You did not attend a “circus school”, is that correct? Where are you learning your aerial skills?
Correct, rather than circus school I attended military college. Had I only known back then that you could climb ropes like I can now. I have been training regularly with Spin City Newbury and occasionally at Aircraft Circus, Forgotten Circus and Flying Fantastic in London. I also go to a number of conventions and circus festivals that have some aerial training and I like to get involved.
On your social media you use the hashtag #notyouraverageaerialist, what does that mean for you?
Whilst circus has been in my life since I learnt to juggle in my early teens, aerial was a relatively recent find, when I joined Spinning@ in London and a few of my circus family encouraged me to give it a go. So the hashtag comes from a few places; from a serious point of view, most of people who do aerial are female, younger and have a background in performance, dance, ballet, acrobatics, gymnastics or the like, none of which I have ever done other than the regimented P.E. lessons at school and what ever qualifies as “dancing” on a night out. So as an overweight middle-aged man who had done very little in the way of exercise since leaving the army ten plus years ago I find myself in the minority for once. It is also the phrase that defines my attitude towards aerial when I encourage others to give it a try, and I would encourage anybody and everybody to defy gravity. A number of people think they won’t be strong enough, or flexible enough, or they are the wrong shape and I feel that if I can do it, anybody can.
Aerial circus skills seems to be predominantly female dominated; was that something you were aware of when you started training?
Yes definitely. It was a good couple of years between me trying it for the first time and getting together the determination to throw myself at it fully. In that time I met a lot of woman doing it and only a handful of men. The first night I went along to Spin City I was a little worried about how I would be received or fit in to the female dominated world of aerial.
Have you received support from your aerial sisters? Have you ever received unfavourable comments about your craft related to your gender?
My aerial family are incredible! The Spinderellas welcomed me straight away and have encouraged me and pushed me to my best ever since. There is the odd occasion that we forget the difference between the male and female anatomy… let’s just say that some of those rolls can be, *cough*, painful. I think the worst thing I experience is from people outside the community suggesting that I do it for the women and commenting on the women in my pictures/videos.
Your “day time job” is not related to performing, would you consider ever running away with the circus?
Yes! Oh yes! I would love to run off with the circus. The dream is to open a circus and performance arts space where people can practise to their heart’s content with a real community feel and to bring people together.
You had a serious injury, unrelated to your aerial training, has that affected your training or performance? How do you ensure when you are training that you don’t damage yourself or push yourself too hard?
I started aerial about a month after finishing physio for my injury, so I was really cautious and took it steady. In part I started aerial as a way of training myself back to fitness and strengthening my shoulder. There have been a couple of things in which I am restricted, things which put direct pressure on to the injured area. Through aerial and regular massage I have learnt to listen to my body and when I can push myself and when I need to rest.
What has been your proudest moment so far in regards to your aerial?
That is a really tough question. There have been quite a few, especially recently with finally understanding French climb on silks and getting my tick tocks on hoop as I progress towards meathook.
If you had to provide a training tip, or words of wisdom to our readers, what would it be?
Give everything a go, you may surprise yourself. Oh, and share all the hugs!
Where do you see yourself ten years from now? Still working the 9 til 5, or circus performer extraordinaire?
I would like it to be the latter but I have a feeling it will be the former. Continuing with my day job to keep the hobbie funded 🙂