Aerials are generally any move in which a partner’s feet leave the floor. Some aerials are also lifts, while other aerials have one partner completely airborne for a moment. I am generalizing the difference between an Aerial and a Lift by whether the move involves a great deal of risk and planning.

In the movie Dirty Dancing did Johnny just pick up Baby for that fancy lift on the first try? No. They practiced it over and over again in a shallow body of water. Even if he had done this move before, he needed to practice it with her to get it right.

So my point: Always practice aerials with a spotter and/or a safety net of some kind, and a trusted dance partner. Never do them while drunk or otherwise impaired.

Can Opener

How to Practice Aerials Safely

  • Both partners should wear comfortable, stretchy clothing that does not have loose layers that can get caught. Make sure your pockets don’t have sharp or bulky objects like keys. I also recommend that the follow wear pants to avoid friction burn. You may wear footwear, but you might not want to depending on where you are practicing and what you are practicing.
    • Try: yoga pants, loose fitting jeans with a simple belt, regular fitted shirt.
    • Avoid: skirts and dresses, tight jeans, belts and accessories with sharp edges, lace, baggy sleeves
  • Find a large open space with a high ceiling and no overhead obstacles. I recommend a room with a soft floor like carpeting or a gym or studio that has tumble mats.
  • Find a friend or two who can be your spotters.
  • Describe the move accurately before attempting it. I recommend re-watching videos of it performed a few times beforehand.
  • Explain to your spotter where you need them to stand. For example, in the Candlestick, you should have two spotters–one behind each partner.
  • I recommend breaking down the move in stages so that you can ensure each step is prepared correctly. For example, in the Can Opener, practice the set up and basket a few times, then add the leg over and check the hand position for the pop. If it’s wrong, you can correct it before moving forward. If you practice it incorrectly and bulldoze through it, it will be hard to break your bad habits. That leads me to the next point…
  • You don’t really know the move until you can do it correctly and consistently every time. If you practice and messed up five times in a row, but the sixth time you got it right, your work is not done. Take a break if you need to, but keep it in practice mode until you can nail it every time.
  • If you are mentally or physically fatigued, take a break. It’s better to practice a little bit on a regular basis than to power through and injure yourself.
  • Treat every new dance partner as if it’s the first time practicing that move. There are variables with each partner to consider such as height, strength, etc. Also, you might each know a version of the move, and that can make a huge difference.
  • The point of dancing is to have fun! When it starts to get frustrating, leave it alone for a while, or decide if you want to skip that move altogether. You’re doing this for you, and so it’s up to you to decide what moves you want to do.