Siobhan Johnstone: Aerial Queen and Global Traveller
Siobhan Johnstone is an Aerial Queen, with an Instagram feed full of beautiful, seemingly impossible poses on aerial silks and lyra. She regularly travels across the globe to perform and run aerial workshops and retreats in stunning locations, so dangling from a palm tree in paradise is all in a day's work for Siobhan. With the recent release of our Paradise Collection, and as dedicated followers of Siobhan's Insta - seriously, check out her feed here - we thought it was the perfect time to share a little bit about this multi-talented artist. We chatted to Siobhan about her training, career highlights and her advice for any budding aerialists out there.
"I trained as a gymnast from the age of five, and competed in both artistic and acrobatic gymnastics," Siobhan begins. "After leaving the sport in my teens there was definitely a big hole in my life that I struggled to fill for many years. I just couldn’t find anything I enjoyed as much as gymnastics," she explains. "In my early twenties I was travelling around Thailand and my boyfriend booked flying trapeze lessons for me as a birthday present. From the very first lesson I was hooked! Two sessions later my hands were ripped and my muscles ached but I was blissfully happy and already researching places I could train when I returned to the UK." From there, Siobhan's aerial training began in earnest. "It was a natural progression to start exploring more aerial apparatus and I decided to try hoop and silks," she says. "At the time, studios were few and far between and all over an hours journey away, so I decided to teach myself. My years of gymnastic coaching experience certainly proved very helpful for this and I went back to my old gymnastics club, rigged the apparatus and began to train."
Despite her affinity for the art form, Siobhan didn't see it as a career option straight away. It wasn't until she started receiving job offers that she realised she could pursue it full time. "I trained at the same time as other professional acrobats," she explains, "and when I started to get offers of work I realised I could actually do this for a living. I made the leap and I’ve not looked back since!" She now specialises in aerial silks, lyra and harness work, but her favourite is silks. "It's because of its versatility," she explains. "You can choose between stretch or non-stretch fabric, use it as a single silk or double, work with the fabric open or closed - so much variety to be had with one bit of fabric. Second to that it would have to be flying trapeze for the sheer exhilaration of it."
Siobhan's career has offered plenty of opportunities for exhilarating experiences - like performing suspended from a huge heliosphere over a stadium of revellers for example. "Getting to fly the heliosphere over tens of thousands of people in the audience certainly gives me those ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ moments," she says. "Crowds that size create an electric atmosphere and I get to enjoy it with the best view in the house!" She has been fortunate to do so many different types of performances during her career that have taken her all over the world. "Every day is different," she says, "which is what I love about it. My acrobatic work has ranged from performing at corporate and commercial events and festivals, to filming for TV shows and commercials, modelling for magazine adverts and clothing brands, teaching workshops and hosting retreats."
The retreats Siobhan hosts are called Aerial Escapes, and offer "escapees" the chance to train with Siobhan and fellow British aerialist Tori McGrory (as well as guest instructors such as Australia's own Rony Lebovics). In addition to their training agenda they offer supplementary workshops, activities and excursions, in beautiful locations. The retreats give Siobhan extra opportunities to indulge her passion for travelling. "Havana, Dubai, Seoul, Marrakech and Bali are just some of the places I have been so far this year," says Siobhan. "I also have performances lined up in Europe at the end of summer and after that, who knows? I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite place," she says, "but getting to see new sights and experience different cultures is what I look forward to."
In addition to instructing at her retreats, Siobhan teaches classes and one-on-one sessions at home in the UK. "I created a syllabus for my classes and sessions are structured to provide a logical progression," she explains. "I prefer to teach in small class sizes so that I can focus on each individual and ensure that they are learning at the pace that is best for them. I always include conditioning when teaching as it creates a solid foundation from which to build skills, improve fitness and prevent injury. And I love the challenge of teaching," she says. "Everyone learns a different way and it’s your job as a teacher to find what works for each student. To take them from day one 'you want me to do what??' and build their confidence to the point where they look at ease in the air. The reward is seeing the joy in your students when they accomplish things they never thought possible."
Siobhan teaches all levels, and for those that are considering taking up aerial arts as a hobby, she simply says, "Do it! It’s so much fun and it will challenge you in so many ways, but you will also achieve things you would never have dreamed of." Those that take it to the next level as a professional aerialist will benefit from the incredible feeling Siobhan experiences when she performs. "I love seeing the wonder on the faces in the audience," she says. "When individuals take the time to come up to you afterward and tell you how magical your performance was, or how you have inspired their child to become an acrobat, those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to bring a little happiness or inspiration to someone’s day." Despite the highs, Siobhan is realistic about the challenging nature of her work. "You have to be adaptable for sure," she says. "Things rarely go perfectly to plan on gigs so you need the ability to be flexible and cope well under pressure, to know you’ll be able to produce a show no matter what. You also have to be passionate. That is what shines through on stage and makes the difference between a mediocre performance and a magical performance." Her final piece of advice? "Don’t be afraid to be yourself," says Siobhan. "Originality is valued in this industry and the beautiful thing about aerial arts is that there is no right or wrong way. You have the freedom to express yourself how you wish, so make the most of that opportunity!"
Siobhan has big dreams for the future, and along with planning even more incredible trips (there's talk of a Sahara retreat), she has one bucket list experience she can't wait to tick off: "I’ve always wanted to do silks from a highline, somewhere spectacular, so watch this space!"
If you would like to find out more about the Aerial Escapes retreats Siobhan hosts, visit the website here
Interview & Article by Emily Newton-Smith