Dear Male Coaches, Here are some things I’ve wanted to tell you.
2018 has been a year to celebrate women speaking up...
With the radical movement of #metoo, a platform which has raised women’s voices for their stories to be louder than their perpetrators. Never before has there been a push to ultimately listen to the story of the victim, before coming to the offense of the perpetrator. Never.
America works within a society to blame before they protect the victims. This defense is arguably set in place to protect those with the most privilege first, a trickle down theory of power, privilege and silence.
I’m so very fortunate to say my experiences with male coaches have never crossed the lines from student to victim. I can’t, however, say that for some of my peers.
Circus is show biz. It’s not a complete bubble of socially conscious, socialist and non-gendered norms. There is blatant sexualization, objectification and monetization in shows and in some studios. Just like in other facets of performance, the creators aren’t immune to the worlds they live in and sometimes, it’s easier to heighten those rules for entertainment than build your own ideas for a performance.
In my experience within the Seattle Circus scene, my classes and studios are predominantly staffed and owned by women. When women or minorities are in positions of power, it forces the isolated systems to rethink and renegotiate what’s acceptable. For example, typically there is less sexual assault when women are in charge because the person in power can see to it that consequences occur. People are subjective like that (which is a good thing in this instance).
I say this to point out my own letter to male coaches is filled with “luck”. I’m lucky to never have a coach grab my ass, a producer ask me to **** him for a starring role. I’m lucky to not get raped at a circus retreat.
But I know people who have.
In this letter, please know those extremes exist and are real points. I just can't write about them from a personal perspective. It's not my story to tell.
As a female rope artists, I’ve had the same amount of male coaches as I’ve had females. This includes not only regular 2 to 3 month class cycles, but also workshops,events, and administration as well. And this isn’t just for my own male coaches, but the coaches I see online. I see you on instagram, FB and Youtube. Here are some viewpoints to just sit with.
Your male privilege doesn’t go away because you’re in the arts.
In fact, it actually increases due to you being a scarce resource. So yes, you may get my dollar when you put on an “all male aerial performance” but you’ll also get a HEFTY side eye because… how does this make your life hard?
I once worked with a male danseur who overtly said “yeah, I’ve had a career in ballet. I’m lucky. But I’m mediocre at BEST. And it’s because in the auditions there’s always 100 women to 1 male. So the males just get the gigs.” (Insert photo of literally any aerial gym)...
Your strength shouldn’t overcome technique.
Yes. You’ve been told you’re strong your entire lives. And you have muscles, we see them. But your strength should not be the only factor for how you get in a trick. Please remember that when teaching women and girls who, just recently accepted the "Strong is the new pretty" as a form of mainstream acceptance.
There’s more to dating or sleeping with your students than you think….
I know of a coach who started working at a studio. He was new-ish to the area and met a woman, who was a student around the same age as him. They secretly dated and hooked up before he started openly dating someone else. The student felt terrible afterwards. Avoiding the couple at all costs, missing classes, workshops because of how awkward it was.
The artist who asked me on a date, and when I declined but wanted to hang out and talk shop- shot that down because they “were really only focusing on their love life at the moment”..
I, unfortunately, have the rule that I don’t date anyone in circus. So when I got a text from an artist I’ve looked up to for a while asking me to coffee and talk shop I told them yes, but as friends. They declined the invite all together.
Here’s what that tells me- “In my professional clout, I only want to get to know you if f***ing you is an option…” I have not heard back from this individual and yes they still live locally.
These have been the interactions that stick out to me, but, it hasn’t been all bad. No no no. There have been ways male coaches have truly inspired me, taught me and lifted me up in the times I needed it most.
I had an amazing rope coach, who worked with my moods while I was going through withdrawal from opiates a few years ago. I didn’t say anything outwardly until the end of the 12 week class session, but I was noticeably more quiet, removed and scared of heights. He respected that by giving me choreography that pushed me mentally but wasn’t overwhelming. When I said I didn’t feel comfortable going higher, he was okay with it. Looking back, I relied so much on that experience of aerial while I completely re-wired my brain. I think, wow, what if I had a terrible experience. What if my coach was a complete turd? It would have been the easiest thing in the WORLD to rationalize quitting. But instead, a kind, sweet natured man with an accent gave me the space and push I needed.
Oh man. That reminds me of February 17th, 2016. I had just hit my milestone of 2 weeks sober. My body at that point was done with withdrawal but my brain? Ugh. It was frazzled. I was stuck in this weird nebulous- constantly worried what other people thought of me. I hated the sound of my voice- my thoughts- me. I later found in therapy that it’s really common for addicts to go through this “relearning and hating of the sober self”. And I FELT It.
And then I signed up for a damn workshop with Emiliano Ron.
I scrapped together the $130 (the most I’ve ever paid for a one day workshop) and finally took a day off from work. Me and my baby bird body had the most intensive 4 hour workshop of my life. I was in a room of my “peers”, amazing artists like Jenny Atomic, PJ Perry, Avery Cherie, Rosanna Starr, and Pam Inveen and then there was me- with the greatest amount of imposter syndrome EVER. And I couldn't believe how many compliments I received that day. I remember being stuck on a move and Rosannah saying “oh with your shoulders? You’ll have it in no time” and then I stuck the move. And Emiliano. He was so encouraging. Walking around, assisting with form. He would take photos and have this large smile on his face. At the end of the day, we all posed for a group photo. My heart was full and my hands were literally missing skin from rope burns. That day wouldn’t have happened without Emiliano. That day I felt like an Aerial Badass.
So M-aerials… this is for you. It's not an attack, just something to think about. Thank you for all you've contributed to the fabulous world of circus and all that you will.
And a big thanks goes to my bud Andrew J for editing this document. Thanks for helping me not sound like a giant Ass-Hat
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