Flying High: Mel Lim-How and Shannon Prickett are Gemini2 Aerial Duo
With the recent release of the Gemini Collection, we couldn’t think of anyone better to talk to than Melbourne’s favourite double act Gemini2 Aerial Duo. Shannon Prickett and Mel Lim-How have an impressive collection of titles and awards between them, including winning the national title of Miss Lyra Australia 2018 with their duo lyra routine. The word Gemini is of course synonymous with twins, and although Shannon and Mel are unrelated, they move together like mirror images. They both bring beautiful lines and a commanding stage presence to their routines, and in conversation they finish each other’s sentences like they have a secret twin connection. We met up for a chat and to take some photos of the pair in action at Aerial Divas in Richmond, the studio where they train.
Energetiks: How did you both get into aerial arts?
Shannon: I started classical ballet at the age of four, and then I moved down to Melbourne to go to the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet. I trained for four years there, but I realised it was too competitive for me to continue with ballet as a career, so I decided to go to uni. I did a health science degree but afterwards I hated what I was doing! By chance I ran into a friend of mine on the tram who was going to Aerial Divas, and she said ‘I think you’ll really like this’, so I went to my first class and I became immediately obsessed with it. From then on everything I did revolved around getting better at aerials and lyra, so I was doing extra Pilates, extra stretching, and going to practice sessions a few times a week. And now, five or six years later, I’ve become an instructor at the studio I started at.
Mel: I started calisthenics at the wee age of six, and I did it for over twenty years, from performing solos and duos to coaching. I was looking for the next challenge so I went into mainstream dance, and I did a bit of hip hop and commercial. I was a little bit late to the bandwagon, but I didn’t want to lose my creative outlet. I remember stumbling across a YouTube clip of, who was it? S: Elena Gatilova! M: That’s the one! I remember watching her and thinking ‘that looks like fun’, and one of my calisthenics friends was a Pole Diva and told me that the studio also offered aerial. So I came to a class, and I never looked back. I wish I’d found it a lot earlier than I did! And about five years later, I also became an instructor.
S: We did our instructor training at the same time.
E: So how did the two of you meet?
S: We must have met a couple of months after we both started.
M: I think it was in a casual class, maybe lyra basics or hoopsations. I remember eyeing off Shannon like ‘oh, she’s lovely to watch in the hoop’.
S: And I thought the same thing of Mel!
M: Then we saw each other a lot at the studio. During our student competition Unleashed in 2014, I won the beginners section and Shannon won intermediate. At that point I didn’t know that doubles was a thing, but there was a doubles section and I remember accosting Shannon in the hallway and being like ‘should we give it a try?’
S: Yes! I think we were both on stage with our sashes and we looked at each other and had this moment of ‘lets do doubles together next year!’
E: How did you go about training doubles after that?
S: Aerial Divas instructors Raelene and Lauren were running a doubles course and that was our first experience of doubles together. After that we started doing practice time together and hiring the studio hire to train towards our first doubles comp. We came second in that one and I think that just lit a fire inside us. We just trained nonstop, and I think we were in the same class as well. We both got our straddle mounts at the same time!
M: We did, we got our straddles in the exact same class, because Veronica (one of the instructors) yelled at us!
E: Straddle mounts are a difficult strength move, so that must have been a great milestone to achieve together.
S: I think Mel and I had similar challenges. We both have good lines and flexibility, but we faced strength challenges with things like chin-ups, bucket hangs and straddles. When we both got the straddle at the same time it was like we were really in sync.
E: Did you find training in the hoop at the same time difficult compared to solo lyra?
M: It did take a little bit of getting used to, but we picked it up very quickly. We’re both very courteous towards each other, so there was a lot of communication which is super important with doubles. I think that’s come very naturally for both of us.
S: I think when we started to work together it really helped improve my communication skills, because Mel was very courteous from the start and I think I was a bit of a basher. I would move around a bit and shake the hoop and then eventually I realised I should think about the other person.
M: I never felt that so don’t worry!
S: We’ve got our little ways of communicating now, and it’s a good feeling to know that your double is going to move even if you’re not looking at them. We can sense each other and we have non verbal cues like a hand squeeze when the next move is coming, or two squeezes when we need to bail.
M: I think it’s at a stage now where we can almost anticipate what the other person is doing, and feel when they are uncomfortable. And when we have a show, we always have a minor contingency plan.
E: Is the connection between the two of you how you came up with the name Gemini2?
S: Yes! Twin minds!
M: There was a bit of brainstorming, but it really works. Quite often when I watch our training videos or the footage we get back from performances I get a bit confused about who is who. And people see us from afar or up high and say we are like twins, even though up close we’re actually quite different. I think that’s where Gemini came from, they’re twins, but they’re also different.
S: There’s an evil one and a good one. But which one is which?
E: What is your process when you start a new doubles routine?
M: First we need a song. Then we trial and error a lot of tricks, we branch out and try new combos and work out a trick list of things we would like to add into the routine. We try and mould the transitions so everything fits, but some tricks don’t make the cut, no matter how much we want them in there. And then it’s just practice, practice, practice.
S: We try to challenge ourselves by putting new content into our routines so it’s not always the same rehashed combinations. People might think doubles can be a bit limiting but at the same time there’s more possibility. Some things you can only do with two people, like the base flier tricks and you know, holding someone by the neck!
E: Has anything ever gone wrong during one of your shows?
S: Nothing terrible yet! Sometimes I’ll make a silly mistake like shuffle back a bit too much, but nothing catastrophic.
M: There have definitely been moments in training. Once I forgot I was the person holding Shannon’s leg down and then I just let go of her leg.
S: She let me go!
M: Thank god she was strong enough to hold that position by herself anyway! But when we are rehearsing if there was a chance of something going wrong and being detrimental to the performance we would remove it before it hit the stage, because it becomes a safety issue.
S: And the audience just feels that nervous energy, like ‘ooh I don’t know if they’re going to make that trick’. Then they’re not enjoying it, they’re just worried. I’d rather a clean polished routine than a questionable one.
E: You both compete and perform solo as well as together. Which do you prefer?
M: I actually prefer having Shannon onstage with me because as a soloist I sometimes second guess myself, whereas in a doubles routine you can’t. You have to commit, and the only time you would bail is if you felt unsafe, in which case we’ve contingency planned. I like that safety blanket. And it’s a lot more fun onstage with someone else to bounce off.
S: I definitely feel way less nervous onstage with Mel.
E: What have been some of your favourite routines?
S: We did a zombie one.
M: That was fun!
S: In fact that won us Lyra Performance of the Year at the Australia Lyra awards a couple of years ago.
M: That was the first time we performed together and won, and that routine also won the Australian Aerial Award, and that’s when I though ‘oooh actually, we’re pretty good at this’. But I think my highlight was Miss Lyra Australia 2018 when we branched out of our usual style and did a 1920s Chicago-esque routine. It was the most exhausting routine I’ve ever done but it was by far the most fun.
S: We were pulling faces and just having a blast, and the crowd really got behind it too. I would agree with Mel. That’s my highlight too.
E: What other awards have you won?
S We won Aerial Rising Stars in 2017 with a duo routine.
M: Then Australia Circus Festival Gold Award 2017, and then Miss Lyra Victoria 2018, and then it was Miss Lyra Australia 2018, all as a duo.
S: In 2017 I competed in Miss Lyra NSW solo and I came second in the advanced category in NSW and at Nationals, and then in 2018 I won Miss Lyra Semi-Pro Victoria, and came second at Nationals. And this year I competed in Miss Lyra Semi-Pro Victoria 2019 heats and won!
M: And my titles would be Unleashed 2014 Beginners winner, 2015 Intermediate winner, and Miss Lyra 2017 NSW Wildcard, so I got to go to Nationals. Then 2018 Miss Lyra NSW winner and Miss Lyra Australia winner in the Advanced category.
E: That’s a lot of titles! What do you think is the secret to your success?
S: She’s the secret.
M: Aw you’re the secret!
S: I think having a dance background is helpful, having good lines and pointed feet without having to think too much about it. And I find Mel professional to work with, she has a good eye for what will look good on stage, even down to costumes. Also just networking as best as we can, creating relationships with agencies and venues and getting exposure from doing festivals and events.
E: You’ve spent your aerial careers learning and now instructing with Aerial Divas. What is it like to train here?
M: It’s my happy place.
S: It’s a really good place to train and even just have fun. It’s a female only studio so the focus is on building confidence and empowerment, and it’s not about what your body looks like, it’s about what your body can do. That’s really celebrated as opposed to some other fitness cultures which maybe put appearance over ability.
M: Divas is definitely all about strength, empowerment and self-confidence. And so many friendships have formed as a result.
E: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of trying aerial classes for the first time?
S: Oh do it. Give it a try. It can be a little daunting at first but everyone here is really friendly and we’re here to help you.
M: You might regret not going, but you won’t ever regret going.
S: No-one is ever like ‘oh I wish I didn’t take that class’. Just do it!
Interview & Photographs by Emily Newton-Smith