Grounded with Lindsey Butcher

Grounded with Lindsey Butcher

Inspired by Understory – a collection of insights from a diverse group of artists in the dance world – I felt it would be useful to curate a series of articles, musings and videos from professional aerialists at all stages of their careers on how we go about navigating these new times. Looking at our diverse pathways into the aerial arts and the breadth of practice out there, these contributions will be released every Wednesday.

I’m Lindsey Butcher and identify as she/her. I’m writing from my sofa in Brighton, in what is now our 3rd lockdown (sigh) pondering what might be useful to share with you, hmmm…

I describe myself as an independent aerial dance practitioner and also Artistic Director of Gravity & Levity and the European Aerial Dance Festival. ‘Practitioner’ seems to best describe the myriad of ‘hats’ worn here, that of performer, teacher, choreographer, director, administrator, fundraiser etc. I tend to shift variously and mostly contentedly, between the worlds of dance and aerial, sometimes alighting on my sweet spot of the perfect combination of both.

My routes in to aerial

I guess I’ve always been quite physical. I climbed (and fell out of) a lot of trees as a kid but I definitely wasn’t a natural at sports. I danced from being quite young, around 5 years old I think, attending classes locally at Mavis Burrows School of Dance in Barnsley, a couple of times a week. I’m sure I must have enjoyed it since I kept going and it was definitely the hub of my social life and main interest in my early teens.

At 16, I auditioned and was accepted for London Contemporary Dance School, having never seen any contemporary dance in my life prior to that! After LCDS, I joined Extemporary Dance Theatre and in my 2nd year was asked to learn Spanish web for a touring production, and yep you guessed, I was hooked. I began training with the legendary Sue Broadway, who was then Co Artistic Director of Ra-Ra Zoo circus theatre and basically hung out and trained with them whenever possible.

To cut a long story shorter (I’m trying to keep this brief but I have been around a long time…), I left the dance company and ran away with the circus. Yep I know that’s what everyone says and that it sounds corny but back in the 80’s, there were no circus schools or aerial training studios in the UK – unbelievable huh?! The only way to study aerial, was to join a company and to learn on the job, which is basically what I’ve continued to do ever since.

I don’t know, or at least can’t remember what kind of career I envisaged for myself back then… that I’d perform for a bit, actually probably for quite a while, and then something else would demand my attention. I’m sure I definitely didn’t imagine that I’d be quite so intimately and intoxicatingly involved in the aerial arts at the ripe old age, ahem, that I am now.

What have I learnt along the way

Many things just happened, they weren’t planned or driven by a particular intention – although some things definitely were. Often I followed my nose or heart, took a chance on something and dove in – which isn’t to suggest that this was never nerve wracking and even bewildering at times.

You also never know where one thing might lead. A conversation or one off workshop, for example, taught years earlier can suddenly blossom into something wonderful and totally unexpected – the world moves in very mysterious ways.

What else

I also said yes to everything in the beginning, particularly when I first went freelance. I was often driven by the fear that if I said no I wouldn’t get asked again, or latterly, that I’d actually retired and that nobody had thought to tell me!! Seriously though, it took me a while to figure out that this wasn’t actually working out so well for me; in saying yes to everything I was actually saying no to something else and that was often time for myself and/or my own work.

Over the years, (did I mention there’ve been a few), I’ve had to constantly remind myself to treat ‘me’ like a ‘longed for’ project; to afford myself the same respect, commitment, honesty, patience and curiosity, I would a project.

Also, remind yourself to enjoy the good stuff whilst you’re in it, revel in it!

There’ve been a few lean times where I worried about paying the bills and also that I’d retired – see previous section! I re-trained as a sports massage therapist, worked as a painter and decorator, washed peoples hair, worked behind a bar, packed parachutes and refuelled aircraft. I didn’t always make the best decisions!

Failing is important and also hard but if you only go with the stuff you know you’re not growing or learning, so why bother? You’ll also just get bored.  And sometimes through trying and failing and trying again, I actually learnt something new.

Advice I’d give to my younger self

…would most likely be ‘awww jeez, don’t be so hard on yourself’. As artists striving to improve and be the best version of ourselves, positive self-critique can be useful to a point but not if that starts to teeter towards beating ourselves up. Aspirations are good, comparisons to others are often unhelpful and success is a difficult thing to measure. I think a little more appreciation and self-love are good life skills to practise. We all feel like imposters at times. Acknowledge the areas where there’s room for improvement whilst keeping a focus on what you do well. And yes, yes, yes, to working hard at the thing that you love but not to the point of exhaustion.

Any artists starting out now, I fully believe that you’ll make work that I couldn’t even begin to dream of. My advice would simply be to keep learning and exploring, stay curious and see as much other work as you can. Keep making and sharing stuff. It doesn’t all have to be wonderful, it just gets you into the habit. And it’s likely it’ll never be ready to show in your mind anyway!

Ask for help if you need it. Ours is a pretty generous community  – other than the FB safety in aerial arts group, which can be vicious!

Be on time, show up fully, work hard, be nice. This is definitely not original advice but I stand by it, it’s served me well.

And finally

2020, what a beast! It’s been so cruel, decimating our performance sector (amongst many others) and revealing in stark contrast our more immediate and global inequalities. And yet it’s also been a time of reckoning. It certainly gave me an opportunity to reflect on what’s been, and the opportunity to examine my privileges and assumptions about the world and how often the inequalities show up within the art form I’m so passionate about. It was also a time to start unlearning some behaviours and examine unacknowledged prejudices, to notice who’s missing from our community and start working on how to actively address that.

My hope for 2021 is that (eventually) it’s a kinder and more just year for everyone.

Happy New Year.