Interviewing My Aerial Silks Instructor On Making It As a Professional Performer

Trigger Warning:  The content of this article discusses sexual assault.

 

 

I’ve been doing Aerial Silks on-and-off since I was 11 years old. It’s an activity that keeps me mentally and physically healthy, and something that I could never imagine not being a part of my life. It gives me confidence and it makes me feel good. Honestly, I would recommend everyone to give it a try.     

    When I arrived in Chicago last year, I landed on MSA Circus Arts on Logan Square. I met the beautiful and inspiring Ashely Addison, a 31-year-old aerial performer. Ashely is a mom, a girlfriend, a performer, a teacher, and a role model. Recently, I got the chance to interview her, and this is her story. 

 

Ashley 

 

I grew up in West Virginia, and I hated it. All of my family is from New York and Ohio, and I wasn’t born there so I just did not like the mentality.  The state doesn’t have very much money and I feel like it affects the education system, which affects the people and they have a very close-minded mentality there. I was not a big fan of the area. As soon as I turned 19, I started popping around the country trying to find a place to live. When I was 21, I landed in Wisconsin and met my now ex-husband, and less than a year later got pregnant and was married. So, he went on a deployment, when he got back we moved in together, newborn and everything. I was in a state where I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have any family and he was working like seventy hours a week, so, I signed up for pole dancing classes because my neighbor said that her cousin tried it and loved it and I was like “OH MY GOD, POLE DANCE CLASSES, THEY HAVE THOSE? like it was so taboo.

 

Fast forward some years to me becoming a stripper. After the divorce, I moved back to West Virginia and because someone had seen one of my pole dance video they asked me if I wanted to come out to Chicago and do circus. They mentored me and I was like “THIS, THIS IS WHAT I WANT, I WANT THIS.” I never even thought that it was a possibility that I could do circus; I was a personal trainer and I was teaching pole dance out there, before stripping or anything. I quit my two jobs, I got out of my lease, I stayed with a friend for a couple of weeks until it was time to move in with him and he actually flew me out to Chicago to see the club I’d be working at, to see the gym I’ll be working at, stayed at his apartment... everything seemed really legit. Once I moved out of my apartment he was like “sorry…me and my ex-girlfriend got back together, we’re gonna do the duo act, I can’t help you anymore,” which was devastating, so I got on Facebook and a bunch of studio owners were like “I’ll hire you to work at my studio” and I was like “you know what?” and I made this decision two hours later. Luckily I knew a few people in Madison, which is like two and a half hours away, I didn’t have a job or a place to live anymore but I packed up everything into my car, including my sleeping kit, in the middle of the night, drove to Madison and within two week I had a job at Flirty Girls Fitness and LA Fitness and a place that I found a rent off of Craigslist.

 

Where was your kid during this time? 

“We lived out of the one bedroom that I would rent. He was with me all the time, every class that I taught he would come with me or I would have to get daycare and that was it, I didn’t have any friends or family here so I just had him constantly.

A year after all of that, "Tease, Dance and Fitness" reached out to me in Niverville, because they were looking for somebody to teach pole silks, and they said “I want you to figure out this apparatus and figure out how to teach it,” I walked in and I was like “you know…your ceilings are kinda high, you could do regular silks too” and I started the whole aerial program out here. Now I’m the logo for that studio and have a whole aerial program which is kinda cool. When my kid’s dad got out of the military, they hadn’t seen each other much for two years, so we decided that a little boy needs his dad, and his dad had a whole slew of family to help him and was working a more steady nine to five, while I was pursuing circus in Chicago and who does that? My kid moved in with him, but the first month I couldn’t go up to the visits because I couldn’t afford it, so I started stripping. I was like “I don’t care what anybody has to say, I’m not giving up circus and I’m not giving up my kid”.

 

Why do you think is important to be sex positive? 

“Sex isn't dirty and it doesn't need to be. It's healthy and it's good for your brain and your body. It’s how every single person got here. There’s no reason to have shame about it. We make it so taboo, people freak out about it and it’s completely unnecessary. Nobody should be shamed for something so natural. And I feel like women are especially objectified so much. We're told where we're expected to be sexy, and that we can‘t enjoy our own sexuality and that's ridiculous.”

 

How do you balance training, working, being a mom, being in a relationship and staying healthy both physically and mentally? 

“Luckily, my ex-husband is a fantastic human and I was a stay-at-home mom. I was supporting his career, and now he's been really good at supporting mine. He's flexible if I need him to watch our son a little bit longer.  I only have my son during the school year for two days a week, and during the summer I have him for four so I'm able to work. I go to Madison, Wisconsin to be with my son since I can't take him out of school to take him down here, and I can't take weekends off to go see him because I work every weekend. Luckily, my ex-husband is a good person and helps with that. Apart from that, I live with my boyfriend and he helps me with cooking, like meal prep and getting the laundry thrown in or throwing it in the dryer cause I’m rushing out the door. He’s extremely helpful .”

 

Have you ever experienced misconceptions about who you are as a person for being a performer and having striped? 

Mostly just online. The nightclubs are if anything, very respectful, I've never had a problem with a nightclub being like “you’re just a stripper,” they are like “Really? You did that? Man, I have more respect for you now” or something. I was only able to quit stripping last year thanks to performing, but I did strip for three years. Luckily, it [performing] seems to be working out now. 

 

What kind of performances do you do now?

I mostly just do aerial silks and Lyra (Lyra is a form of aerial dance that is done within a hoop that hangs off of a ceiling, and is moving while suspended in the air). Lyra hurts, Aerial Silks definitely has my heart.

 

What’s the Nightclub performing industry like? 

There’s a lot of Tequila, it seems like everybody who drinks regularly likes tequila. I’ve never had anyone be disrespectful to me, and maybe I’ve just gotten really lucky. I would say security guards hit on me all the time, but no one who has ever been in charge has tried to make a move. The people are very sweet, when I’m up there, while I’m up in the air performing they’re like “oh, my heart,” they make me smile, there’s so much love there, and nothing is ever going to be as uncomfortable as stripping, cause that’s awful. People don’t think of strippers as being real humans. 

 

How was your experience as a stripper? 

In any kind of sex work, sexual assault is inevitable, and it's treated as an occupational hazard and brushed off. This happened to another girl while I was working- a guy would hold themselves out, come on a girl and then she'd be giving wet wipes and free drinks in the back to calm down. Like, “go clean up, have a drink, relax, it's cool we don't have to worry right now.” Never a police call or a report written, and there are cameras and stuff but people aren’t watching the cameras all the time. I've had people expose themselves to me. I had one person, a very tall person…this is the worst thing that ever happened. He wrapped his arm around me while I was on his lap, so he grabbed both of my arms and then reached around and stuck a finger in. That sucked. I was younger, I was in shock, I had been drinking. It wasn’t even that long ago, it was three years ago, and I'm 31 now. I don’t even know the person’s name. If you don’t take care of it right there, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Everything’s done through cash and it’s so common.

 

How’s your experience teaching silks like? 

I love teaching silks. I feel like it pushes me because I don't want to let you guys down. One girl today got a new move she wasn't able to get two weeks before, and she's so happy, she's like “you taught me that!” and I’m like “yeah! I taught you that!” When I taught at "Teas", I was teaching for almost two years, and I had a lot of the same girls from the very beginning all the way to the very end. They would send me heartfelt messages about how they never thought they could do this, how I'd changed their lives and given them confidence. 

 

What’s the best part about being a performer? 

Everyone’s so nice to me, the adrenaline makes it so dancing on silks doesn’t hurt as much and I love the excitement and the energy from the room when people are just looking up in amazement. They're amazed at my like regular everyday routine type of stuff. I get to be fit as a byproduct of it. So, I'm not thinking about working out when I do silks, but you are. You know what a workout it is, it's hard. Also, I think just being transparent and loving what you do. As long as you are happy and they see that you are genuinely enjoying yourself, they wanna watch.

 

What’s the best part about being a mom? 

Being proud of who he is which is not all my doing, a lot of it is just him, his dad, and his amazing school. A couple of months ago- this is how sweet my child is- we pull up to Noodles and Company in the parking lot, it’s raining and he gets out of the car without saying a word. He comes over to my door, he opens up an umbrella over my door, waits for me to open the door, holds it over my head and walks me into the Noodles and Company. He's so perfect, I got very lucky, that is his own doing. He does things like this all the time just to make me smile. He likes to open doors for me and if I'm in a bad mood he'll try and be goofy and do impersonations. I know that it stems from the divorce happening and seeing mom sad because he was with me through the whole thing while his dad was away. He just loves doing anything to make me happy. I gotta give him a little bit of tough love though. He’s still very much a mama's boy, he always wants to hold my hand at the playground. He'd want to do everything with me. Eventually, I had to sit on the bench and be like “No, you want to play, go play or we’re leaving”.  It sucks sometimes because you just want to play with your kid.

 

What are some of your future goals?

 

Family related, I just want my kid to stay being awesome. As far as work goes, I really want to make Cirque Du Solei. I feel like that's a very cliche thing but it's what I wanted from the very beginning. I'm self-taught, and when I moved to Chicago I couldn't afford classes so I would go to open gyms for like three hours and pay seven dollars, or I started teaching so I'd be able to train at spaces, then get paid to be there. Usually, whatever teaching job I toook, Graham (her son) was able to come with me so I'd just look on YouTube, or get manuals off of aerialdancing.com. I would pick people's brains around me sometimes, like friends, but I couldn't afford classes until recently. And now I've been doing private lessons to try and catch up with all the training that I missed out on before.

 

Where can we see you perform? 

 

Every Saturday night at PRYSM Nightclub, and some Fridays at the restaurant Carnival on Fullerton. 

 

Any advice? 

Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about how you get to them and make it work. Things go wrong at every single gig, you can't get your panties in a twist. You have to be like “Okay, this is the situation, this is how we problem solve, and I'm happy to be here. This is still better than a 9 to 5. This is still what I love to do.”

 

You can follow Ashley on Instragram @ashley_addison_aerial