Circus Reviewed: Having FUN with the Fundamentals

A review of Shannon McKenna's New E-Manuel

Shannon McKenna didn’t start circus with a background in dance or gymnastics, but she threw herself full force at circus- applying and being accepted to NECCA’s program nine months after she started training. She quickly realized that she wasn’t as coordinated as her peers and to catch up, she spent hours breaking down simple moves to figure out where she was going wrong. After completing two programs and a teacher training certification, she continued her circus education for three summers in Montreal and three winters in Guadalajara to learn straps technique and improve her skills and strength on silks. When she moved to San Francisco, she was observed training straps with ankle weights on, and somehow was talked into teaching weekly straps classes. All of her years of struggle paid off, when she found she had a talent for quickly spotting and correcting many of the mistakes her students were making.

During her time in San Francisco, she also met Dr. Jen Crane of Cirque Physio who became her friend, physical therapist, and straps student. When Jen suggested that Shannon write an e-book based on her years of giving workshops on aerial technique and alignment, she decided that the time had come to launch her online project: The Artist Athlete. Her goal in writing was to create a manual that was practical rather than theoretical and conversational rather than academic.
— (Shannon’s McKenna, 3/23/18)
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Shannon McKenna recently published the e-book Fundamentals of Aerial Alignment; A practice manual for hanging upside down ($50). She sent it to me to review and I’m so thrilled she did. Even if she didn’t send it to me, I would have bought this manual. Let me tell you why.

 

First and foremost, aerial is very centered on proper technique. Strength alone won’t keep anyone in the air, because, well, we’re not fucking birds. We’re humans and therefore we cannot literally fly. We can however, do aerial and this manual gives an in depth description as to how your back alignment and shoulders can make or break your next skill progression.

I may have some new readers on here so let me tell you about myself. I’m a 5’2 boulder shoulder ass rope girl. I am always complimented on my strength as my greatest asset. And for that reason, I couldn’t think of a better slap in the face reality test this damn book gave me! And that’s because I’VE HAD SOME OF THE BEST TEACHERS EVER. But my teachers alone can’t babysit me when I muscle over technique. This book took what I thought to be simple exercises and put my body in places I’ve never thought of. And I couldn’t muscle-cheat my way through it either.

The books three main points I worked on were; the pike, the tuck and the straddle with an emphasis on body alignment during these key components. The workbook is dissected into exercises some you do on the ground and some, you work with silks or straps.

 

Many aerial instructors I know teach tricks. We all want to perform high levels of badassery so that we can impress an astound ourselves and others. However, sometimes in our desire to get to badassery, we skip over a complete understanding of the building blocks from which those fancy tricks originate..
— Mckenna 2018, pg6
 

Before getting into inversions, I want to applaud Shannon on how she discusses grip strength. Her approach is level headed, concerned for her students well being. She has a mindset that you can both actively work on something to get better, but you can still progress in  other areas. The fact she uses 3 different methods for holding on to the silks is a sign of a great coach- you can be an Aerial Badass and not fart away all your energy. I love that snipped.

The manuel is peppered with insights by circus’ own Cirque Physio, which I think is just a fucking genius move. I mean, yes it’s great to have literary sources when working with non-fiction physiology, but having an in depth description from a licensed Physical Therapists who not only backs you up, but then goes into detail regarding anatomical placement and descriptive language for muscular stacking made me feel... safer doing the exercises. There’s a line where Jen describes all the muscles that are working to help create “the shelf” and I took the time to google image back anatomy, went back and saw how it worked with my own back. And I loved that. Something I would add to the book is an illustration of back anatomy, listing and placing all those key muscles Jen discussed. (But I’m ignorant AF when it comes to anatomy, I mean, I had a preacher's son for my biology class in high school and literally spent 6 months making an otter poster, because Jesus was the only science we needed.. Oh but more of that story another day #growingupsouthern).

 

Okay cool.. But what about the exercises? Do they work?

Listen Linda... Linda.

They worked.

When I went through the workbook, I video recorded the entire thing on my phone. I would go back and take screenshots of my alignments shifting through the various exercises and compare it to the videos provided by Shannon (which are V helpful, btw) and the notes in the manuel. I’m not going to list ALL the Aha- Moments I had but I’ll give this one example. There is an exercise to help readers find their “shelf” or an engaged neutral while inverted. Can I tell you that when I found it, my body was like “oh bitch! Let’s use this and do a full planche!” My legs literally kept swaying back in alignment because my back and shoulders were so stacked. It was the same feeling, when working on handstands against the wall. You feel so stacked that you float away from the wall? It was that. My hips would freak out and immediately pike so I had to squeeze the **** out of my buttocks (too literal of a joke? Who cares!).

 

I felt the same “aha- moment” during every exercise. So do I recommend this manual? You better believe it.

 

Here are some tips to get as much use out of your $50 as possible:

  • Print out the material and bring it to open gym

  • Write doodles on what felt okay and what needed work

  • Watch the demonstration videos before and after your first practice

  • Do the exercises again

  • Have a buddy buy the manual with you and work on it together (this is especially helpful when a few exercises require someone to lift your hips over your ass..)

  • Film yourself! And then take screenshots of your form

  • Do the exercises again

 

You can buy Fundamentals of Aerial Alignment by clicking the link below. Have fun exploring your body and getting stronger and stronger, you Aerial Badasses! And thank you Shannon for taking the time and work put into making students practice more fulfilling and safer.

Like to read our reviews? Do you find it helpful? Want to read more reviews? Click the link below or, in the search option on our site, type "Circus Reviewed". Thanks again for reading all y'all Aerial Badasses! 

Dana <3