"Dance Belts for Aerialists” - by Asher Taylor-Dawson

It’s a foregone conclusion that dance belts are useful, even necessary, for dancers. They’re called dance belts, after all, which implies a certain specificity of purpose. It turns out, however, that they’re also useful for a host of other disciplines that share some of the characteristics that make dance belts necessary for dancers.

Among those disciplines are the aerial performance arts, or “aerials,” which combine elements of theatrical dance and gymnastics. They fall under the greater umbrella of Circus Arts ­­ more at the Cirque du Soleil end of the spectrum than the Ringling Brothers end ­­ but now appear in many other contexts as well, from Broadway musicals to serious theatrical dance settings.

It’s now possible for aspiring aerialists of all ages to train in almost any moderately­sized urban area in the United States and beyond, which has led to a surge in the population of novice aerialists. It’s also increasingly easier to find information on technique, conditioning, rehabilitation for aerialists with injuries, how to find good instruction, and how to identify safe apparatus and rigging ­­ but, so far, little attention has been granted to the place, purpose, and importance of dance belts in the sphere of the aerial arts.

I hope to begin to address that question here. The aerial arts pose a special set of challenges to the humble dance belt, and my goal is to dive right in, take a good look at those challenges, and make some recommendations for dealing with them.

First, let’s look at the basics.

For aerialists, as for dancers, the dance belt fulfills three primary functions: support, modesty, and comfort. Let’s take a closer look at each of those functions.

1. Support
Like theatrical dance, aerials are immensely athletic and involve all kinds of movements that can, shall we say, endanger the hereditary storehouse. Dance belts are designed to address that problem.

A good dance belt largely obviates a host of risks from simple strains to testicular torsion. However, what creates adequate support can vary significantly from one body to another, or even for the same body as it changes in response to training, weight gain, aging, and so forth.

For aerialists, as for advanced dancers, the key to support, essentially, is complete immobilization without excessive constriction.

2. Modesty
Like dancers, aerialists often train and perform in skin­tight Lycra. While a certain theater 
snob I know jokes that he isn’t satisfied with his seats unless he can tell the religion of the male dancers, a good dance belt can keep the details of one’s private assets exactly that ­­ private.

3. Comfort
I’minclined by nature to regard comfort as a minor consideration: for me, function is the critical thing, and function trumps comfort.

On the other hand, a lifetime of dance has probably warped my understanding of the importance of comfort. In the end, a really uncomfortable dance belt is one that robably won’t be worn ­­ and a dance belt that isn’t worn is a dance belt that doesn’t work.

An adequately­supportive dance belt gathers up the dangly bits and cradles them firmly (but not painfully) against the body.

Most guys will have at least some experience with athletic supporters (also known as “jock straps”), which makes them a useful point of comparison. The average athletic supporter is less supportive ­­ that is, it offers more room for free movement ­­ than the least supportive dance belt on the market. Moreover, the typical athletic supporter essentially more or less cradles things where they are, whereas dance belts are designed to be worn with things pulled up and forward, where they wo n’t, for example, get crushed during a double cabriole avant or torqued during a revoltade.

For beginning dancers, a little wiggle room isn’t the end of the world, though it also isn’t ideal. Advanced dancers needmore security: steps like the aforementioned double cab avant call for unremitting restraint. Aerialists, too ­­ especially for those working on what we call bar apparatus, such as trapeze, lyra, and cube ­­ need reliable restraint: any wiggle room at all is too much from the word “go.”

In short, an aerialist needs to know that his parts are going to stay put ­­ otherwise, it’s all too likely that something’s going to get caught, pinched, torqued, or even crushed.

To draw a specific example, let’s examine a lyra skill called “vine climb.”

In case you’re not familiar with it, a lyra is a big hoop, usually around a meter across, that hangs (usually from a single point, sometimes from two) from the ceiling. It’s considered a bar apparatus because its original and most common form is shaped from a single, continuous steel or aluminum bar. The bar itself can be solid or hollow; either way, it’s harder than any part of the human body.

A lyra can swing, spin, shift side to side and back to front, and otherwise do the things that dangling objects, in general, do; it also moves with and frequently against the aerialist, a trait that lyra technique uses to great effect. Aerialists employ both the hoop and the rope from which

it dangles, executing skills of grace and daring and transitional movements that join the skills together into an artistic whole.

Vine climb is one of the transitional movements, and it’s one that most aerialists learn early in their training. The aerialist grasps the lyra with one or both hands, extends a leg up towards the hoop, hooks it over, then uses the leg, core, and arms to propel his body onto the lyra and pivot around the bar, finishing face­down, with the body arcing up the inside of the lyra and the bottom of the bar tucked into the hollow where the pelvis meets the leg. During this sequence, the pubic symphisis (and, one hopes, everything in its vicinity!) moves from one side of the bar to the other while the aerialist’s weight is supported in no small part by the upper thighs.

You can probably see why, when executing a vine climb, you not only want to know exactly where you’ve stashed the family jewels (so you can move around them accordingly), but also that they’re not going to shift so much as a millimeter. If your junk moves as you pivot around the bar, things could get badly pinched or even crushed.

Aerialists work very intimately with their apparatus, and we acknowledge that our bodies will give before the apparatus does. Even the ropes of the trapeze have to be strong enough not to break under load. It’s pretty normal to end any training session or performance covered in very interesting bruises ­­ so you can imagine what aerial equipment is capable of doing to the more sensitive parts of the human anatomy if they’re not well­secured.

As an aerialist, I specialize in bar apparatus ­­ particularly trapeze and lyra ­­ and the quality I look for in a dance belt for aerials is complete immobilization. Fortunately, that quality serves for dance as well, so I don’t have to own two completely different sets of dance belts for aerials and for dance.

Prior to finding a dance belt that completely immobilized my anatomy, I often found myself making adjustments while on the apparatus; at least once, an unexpected mid­skill junk shift resulted in a very, very uncomfortable pinch. I now have two dance belts that really do immobilize everything very effectively; since I acquired them, I have had no further pinching incidents (though no dance belt will save you from the walk of shame when you inadvertently drop yourself onto the bar of the trapeze!).

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that there is no way to predict with certainty which dance belt will best achieve the goal of complete immobilization for any individual aerialist or dancer. Trial ­and­ error is the most reliable approach to finding the right dance belt ­­ although, sadly, it’s also the most expensive one.

For me, the process of finding the One True Dance Belt for aerials involved, over time, purchasing and road­testing four different models.
For me, the wide WearMoi belt works perfectly for aerials,
while BodyWrappers’ M007 is nearly as good.
BodyWrappers’ M006 does the immobilization part of the job 
about as well as the M007, but the 4” waist band feels weird on aerial apparatus.
Capezio’s N5930, meanwhile, is not adequate ­­ the design of the thong seems to be the problem, there; it’s too long for my body and, as a result, doesn’t sit flush against the perineum and tailbone areas. There’s too much margin of error involved. It might work better if I was, shall we say, better endowed ­­ that might take up more of the slack ­­ but I have my doubts

It’s worth considering the structure and layout of your dangly bits when choosing a dance belt. My better half, Denis, and I have different needs in this area: I am both quite a bit younger than he is and, shall we say, equipped with smaller parts. Size­wise, I am below average, but not so small as to render the dance belt irrelevant, while Denis is above average. As such, I do better with dance belts with smaller pouches; the bigger ones can actually be too roomy for me. Denis, on the other hand, can wear my dance belts without things being uncomfortably tight, but some of his don’t really work for me.

Furthermore, differences in overall build can affect how well different dance belts work for you. I am fairly short­coupled, wasp­waisted (seriously: I have a 28” waist, but measure 37” around the gluteus medius), with the flat belly and big, square butt typical of male ballet dancers. My body composition is about 15% fat, but it’s essentially all subcutaneous, rather than visceral, and very evenly distributed over my entire body.

Denis, on the other hand, is long­waisted with straight sides, has a higher fat percentage than mine that accumulates centrally and thus gives him a “beer belly”(even though he hates beer), and is less, um, gifted in the posterior region.

As a result, Denis needs a higher rise than I do to achieve adequate tension in a dance belt. For me, a higher rise can mean that I have to pull the waistband up until it’s no longer comfortable.

Lastly, though my husband insists on using them, I think aerialists should stringently avoid full­seat dance belts. The thong of the dance belt is what provides the tension that keeps everything still. It’s not possible to design a full­seat dance belt that will do that job adequately ­­ a point which is very effectively borne out by the fact that Denis frequently winds up adjusting his dance belts while working on bar apparatus, while I adjust mine once (when I get dressed) and forget about it. 


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