By Jordann Baker, Aerialist & Artist
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
For as long as I can remember, I have always been an artist and an athlete. From an early age,
my dad helped me to cultivate my creative side, and I was happiest when painting, drawing, or
doing some other hands-on creative art. As I became a little older, my athletic side began to
emerge, and I found a love for track and cross-country running starting in the 8th grade.
Running lead to collegiate rowing, and later on an addiction to 60-mile bike rides looping around
the New England countryside. For me, visual arts and endurance athletics were two forms of
meditation, activities that I could fully immerse my mind and body into, and things that would
yield better and better results the more time I devoted to them. I never imagined, however, that
there could be something out there that could fully and completely unite my polar loves into one
Even as late as college, I didn’t have a single idea of what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” An
Architecture major enabled me to take art classes and graduate on time, with a degree I was
kind of into, so I went with that. After a year post-college in Boston working at a holistic health
store, chance and circumstance caused me to move to NYC where I decided it was time to get
a “real job.” I worked in a building next to Grand Central Station doing product development for
a real estate insurance company. I was using my degree, I suppose, and when my inner artist
just had to come out, it was usually in the form of a weird haircut or manic-panic hair color.
Needless to say, I was definitely the odd duck in the office, and the job was utterly unfulfilling to
The Call of the Circus
My life totally took a turn on New Year’s Eve of 2006, when I went to a New Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn at a historical bathhouse-turned-theater. That night, I saw some very talented aerialists perform live, on silks, and only meters in front of me. My mind was utterly blown! I kind of knew about silks...I had seen them on TV once, and thought it was cool...but to see it performed live!
The height and death-defying moves made my jaw drop, and the elegance throughout it all piqued my artistic sensibilities and made my imagination expand. How could one discipline so perfectly combine art and athleticism? I had to try it!
I registered for a 6-week beginner aerial class taught by that same group. I learned to climb, I did wrist-lock splits (with a lot of jumping to get my inversion), and foot wraps. I was a decent enough learner, but let’s face it, this stuff is hard! Even at my top rowing shape, I couldn’t do a single pull-up, and my strength level had a long way to go to catch up with my size. But really, I didn’t care. The challenge was so fun, and I loved working hard.
The end of the 6-week aerial session arrived and culminated in a student recital for our friends and family. I performed a footwrap with side layout! During the post-show celebration I expressed to the company director how much I loved doing aerial and said something like :
“I wish I could do this all the time!”. There was a brief pause in the conversation, and he said,
“Well, how about we talk about an apprenticeship?” While extremely flattered and excited, my rational post-college-trying-to-be-sensible brain took over and I brushed it off. I couldn’t be a fulltime aerialist! I couldn’t even invert!
But life wouldn’t let me quit that easily. Several false starts on branching career paths and the total inability to shake the desire to be in the air led me to accept the offer. I began training full-time, 5 days a week for about 4 hours a day. I helped out the aerial company in exchange for my apprenticeship, and worked as hard as I possibly could. Let me say again, I was NOT good.
But finally, after 2.5 months of training, I got my inversion in the air! I felt like anything was possible, and quit my insurance job to leap head-first into the air.
From Passion to Career
My desire to learn new skills and challenge myself didn’t stop - nor has it since. I sought out teachers and coaches whenever I could. I would train with professionals coming through NYC, travel to NECCA (then Nimble Arts) in VT and visit Montreal. I began to teach out of the Streb Dance Company’s space in Brooklyn, and started picking up performance gigs.
In 2008, the opportunity to open my own aerial studio presented itself, and I partnered with some other Brooklyn artists to found The Sky Box at the House of Yes. My partners and I ran the House of Yes as a premiere underground performance space, and hosted regular aerial and avant-garde performances to audiences of 100 or more.
In 2011, the winds of change brought me to Los Angeles, and the next phase of my aerial journey. Almost 9 years have gone by since I took my first aerial class, and I have had the opportunity to perform professionally in Hawaii, El Salvador, Dubai, NYC, LA, and at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. I have performed in front of celebrities, over water, in airplane hangars, and premiered my original Aerial Rock-n-Roll Circus, SHAPESHIFTER, in LA in May 2014. I have also had the opportunity to teach many hundreds of people of many shapes and sizes to do what I do, and to share my passion with them.
Trusting the Wrap...
I am extremely thankful to the universe for providing me with that one crazy opportunity, for having someone see a potential in me that I could not even see in myself at the time, and to that wild spark that convinced me to give it a try and see how far I could take it. I think that circus is an arena that can bring out the best in all of us. It can force us to confront our demons and work through self-imposed limitations to find facets of our character, and probably also our physical body, that we didn’t even know were there.
“Running away with the circus,” whether professionally or sometimes on weekends, is like a big drop on silks: you make a conscious decision to do it, you wrap yourself up in technique, and then, as if by magic, you are launched into an exciting world of possibility and community, that you can trust will be there to catch you.
Below is my multi-apparatus aerial montage reel, set to a "Venus in Furs" cover by my favorite band, Devotchka.