Emily Heap Interview, AAU Community Member

Emily Heap, fabric 2018
Emily Heap on fabric, Aerial Arts of Utah

What is your favorite apparatus(es)?
My favorite apparatus is a bit of a toss up right now between trapeze and lyra. Trapeze has always been what I imagine when I think of the circus, and being up on the bar feels like a wild cross between a jungle gym and a swing (the best playground toys). There’s something about hanging around upside down that is an instant connection to playtime, even when we’re doing something a little terrifying. Lyra adds grace, dance, and power of motion to the parts of trapeze that I already love. Floating and spinning are like flying, and learning to contort in and around the hoop shows me strength and flexibility that I didn’t realize was in me.

How did you get interested in aerial arts?
I first became interested in aerial arts as a kid when I saw my older sister do a dance to song from a Cirque Du Soleil show. When I looked Cirque up, I was fascinated. Next was a tv show that I became obsessed with in middle school following a group of kids training for the youth circus, Circus Smirkus. I wanted to try it myself, but there were no schools anywhere in the state. I let the dream go for a while once I became too old to ever be in Circus Smirkus myself. After I graduated from college, the theatre department I’d just left did a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream with a guest teacher to train Puck and some of the fairies on corde lisse for the show. It was a student only production and I was sooooo frustrated that they were doing this after I’d gone and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to try it! was irked enough to look up training programs again and, low and behold, now there was a school called Aerial Arts of Utah in Salt Lake City! Just an hour and a half (not states) away!

What do you love about aerial arts?
I love the excitement and beauty of aerial arts. I love that it’s so different from any other activity in my life and that there are still moments where I remember what I’m doing is something really cool and weird. The people I have met are all so open-hearted, talented, and supportive of each other. No one is trying to beat anyone down and the competition is just you against yourself. Aerial has also helped me medically. I was diagnosed with an extreme case of Grave’s Disease, which is an overactive thyroid. Your thyroid affects how fast and hard your heart beats, the lubrication and fluidity of your muscles, memory and concentration, your body’s ability to regulate temperature, and so much more. At the time I was diagnosed, I couldn’t run anymore and had trouble walking up or down stairs when the muscles in my legs would stiffen up and stop responding to me. I would suddenly find myself on the ground because my legs had just given out. I couldn’t even brush my hair without my arm shaking from the effort. My resting heart rate was at 150 and I had trouble remembering names of friends I’d know for years. There’s no cure, but I had radiation therapy and now have a low thyroid condition instead that I will be treating my whole life. The best physical and emotional therapy I have found for my condition has been aerial arts. The skills we work on have helped me to feel out my body and discover its new normal. Aerial stretches and strengthens every muscle down to fingers and toes, there’s no floor to roll my ankles on, and I can switch between arms and legs when something gets tired. Best of all, is that class constantly reminds me that I have no idea what I am capable of, but it is so much more than I tell myself.

What are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m learning partnering skills in doubles trapeze, which has resulted in some awesome photos, a lot of laughing until I cry and some exciting new bruises. In lyra class, I’m working on my pullups, inversions, and the cursed straddle up and pull over (without cheating) that I WILL master eventually.