Swinging from the rafters is Emily Fournier’s specialty. As an aerialist, Emily draws from her theatre background to weave stories without words.
“Progress may move slowly, but if you lean into it, you will certainly always be in motion”. I absolutely love that quote from your Instagram account. Last time we spoke, we were both living in NYC. I was actually homeless for a month and you helped me find a temporary stay. I don’t know about you, but a lot has happened since then.
Yes. I would definitely say a lot can transpire here in a short amount of time. New York is an intense city in that way, yet there is so much creativity, drive, and magic here. I think the art of progress has and will be part of my life’s work. Without embracing the twists, turns, unexpected leaps, and seemingly dull plateaus as a whole – we cannot truly advance our understanding, mastery, and perspective.
In college, you were a theatre major. Now you are a professional aerialist. In terms of your career, what have you learned from staying flexible?
Whenever people ask me how to be more flexible or how we do what we do in circus they typically frame it in our all too human qualifying remarks: “I’m totally not flexible…” or “I’ve never been able to..” or “I used to be more flexible, strong, athletic…”. I secretly love this because we all do it and it’s an ideal opportunity to point out the first step to becoming better at anything – belief in change and possibility. My answer is always this – “If there’s anything I’ve learned from my training and life itself is that flexibility is not a fact.” It is something that can shrink and expand like any other skill. Creating new patterns, being gentle, listening carefully to the body, but also being willing to breathe through discomfort before immediately bailing at something you’ve never done before.
Julia Cameron is an author I love who writes and teaches a great deal in Human Creativity and the same principle applies. Everyone has some form of creativity within them whether or not they believe or recognize the obscure ways it manifests itself. Creativity is a muscle too. She writes, “It is impossible to look good and get better at the same time.” Many of us are perfectionists at heart and diving into something new in any arena can be terrifying, frustrating, and also bring so much insight if we persevere. Sometimes the only way forward is to fall. Fail. Repeat.
And something as specific, demanding, and gradual as flexibility simply does not happen overnight. Secretly, this is something that gives me a lot of hope for anyone because the deepest truth of learning is that continued dedicated practice will strengthen and expand what is possible. Creating fluid, informed Muscle memory can be as powerful as learning a language. It does not matter where you start – only that you do begin. And continue choosing to every day.
And what about staying flexible in your career path? That’s quite a leap you made: actor to aerialist!
Oddly enough, I have always felt very at home with heights. When I discovered Aerial was a skill and an expressive dance I could learn in the present tense, in NYC where I already lived, I knew it was my path. Acting – though vital – felt hollow to me at that point in my life. Fitness has always inspired me – I played sports, climbed many trees, learned to kayak very young – but the whole industry of weight loss and body image and the superficiality of working out to contribute to society’s false standards of beauty fought against what I had learned from my own journey. That, and so many female roles are really just body measurement preferences and style descriptions to insert women – yet they have little to no motivation or depth. I committed to only working on projects I believed in with people who had reason to do, write, produce, create what they were doing. I also saw that Aerial fulfilled my need for movement in a whole new way that I also consider to be a major creative outlet and a beautifully unique platform to stage ideas.
Of course, the distance between me spontaneously deciding to become an Aerialist and being in a place to perform and present work is vast – but every stage has been completely worth it. In Circus, I feel there is always one more rung to the ladder, one goal, one move, one achievement is only followed by many variations and building blocks. You could let the weight of the sheer magic and impossibility of what you know and see to be possible in human form when you see your coaches, colleagues, and visiting shows showcase such feats be heavy on your shoulders and your own frame of reference for comparison.
Or….You can just keep climbing. Keep breathing. Practice humility and dedication. And remember how far you have already climbed – how many things you have overcome that appeared nothing short of impossible at the time – and yet, here we are to tell the tale and live the lessons.
Watching video of you perform with aerial silk is incredible. It’s so dramatic and sensual. How does your theatre background influence your aerial work?
I would say that general body movement and athleticism was the one advantage I had. Many gymnasts and dancers take to aerial very easily because they have already developed years of muscle memories to support lines, play with gravity, and achieve beauty and balance.
I discovered and adored yoga in college which is also a major supporting thread that runs through my exposure to dance, combat, stunts etc. They all brought attention to the importance of breath, “Daring to suck” & “Hiding the work” which were acting mantras we had. Everything I gleaned from the theater program at UMD was applicable in some way – some has just taken years to become relevant. Hiding the work is about the same way we develop technique is such a way as to seem effortless. Just as you would memorize the hell out of lines and rehearse the blocking, choreography and so on to the point where movements and words are second nature and presence in that moment can take over.
Give me an idea of your day-to-day: Where do you wake up? What’s your routine?
I work at a technology company – primarily on the people end of it. I put in weekly hours to the circus space I train to help them run and to have membership training capacity. And then the summer kicks up a notch and I help my friend and boss Sean sell meditation benches at yoga festivals around the country. I moved around quite a bit here over the last 6 years, but Brooklyn is where I have certainly felt the most at home.
You’re from Minnesota originally right?
Yes. I moved East the week after Grad. I love the city and the many unique experiences and privileges of such an epicenter. However, I have been incredibly thankful for the opportunity to literally expand my horizons with travel.
How does your family back home feel about your profession? Are they in awe?
It’s funny, I am the youngest of 7 and everybody is fairly athletic – 5 older brothers and a sister. Two CrossFitters. Two brothers are Marines. My sis played the hell out on the volleyball court highschool and college. One brother in particular is quite the daredevil – now wakeboards – but he has always been able to pick up new athletic skills and extreme sports quickly. Nonetheless, yes, I would say awe is a good word. It’s a strange wonderful world I stumbled into. And it just so happens to be the perfect way to make use of the crazy bendy back I was gifted with for some reason. Splits I had to work for and it demands continuous practice to maintain but the backbend I started with gave me a huge advantage and the challenge of learning to offset the countering muscle groups to be flexible with strength not passivity.
Serendipitous for sure!
You have to find good coaches and be willing to bend your mind, not just your body. This kind of intense training will highlight strengths, weak links, bad habits and potential. Personally, this also helps me approach life and others with more grace and willingness to be a beginner.
Lightning round! What’s your favorite snack food right now?
Chocolate. There must always be chocolate. Darker the better.
Item of clothing you’re obsessed with.
High Waisted Black Leggings by Natalie – discountdance.com – the best leggings for aerial – hands down! And they’re shiny.
Breathe. (This moment – that’s more powerful to me than other more eloquent ones.) Another I love from theater days is Beckett: “No Matter. Try again, Fail again. Fail Better.” *Shortened to “Fail Better” in my head.
You do work with Simply Sitting, the company you mentioned earlier that makes portable kneeling meditation seats. How did that relationship start?
Synchronicity – like many of the pivotal crossroads in my life. A friend of a friend who was a set builder in NYC invited me to see a tv set in CT when I first arrived. He wholeheartedly recommended if there was anyone I should meet – it was Sean. Sean wanted to be an actor, also works in carpentry – started his own renovation company at some point for more freedom and also meditates heavily. He had a vision for this seat because his own practice was racked with pain trying unsuccessfully to find easy pose or lotus. Instead, he created a one-legged seat that can travel. Ironically, it supports the spine so well in virasana that it has many benefits beyond being a meditation tool.
Wanderlust fell in love with it because our vendor coordinator had torn her ACL and had been unable to meditate as she preferred without the seat. Then he needed help traveling and Jonas – his roommate at Vipassana – which is how they met and the same silent retreat that inspired the seat design. And me.
Sean is a major people connector and supporter of the arts – he buys Banff Film Festival tickets every year and invited friends. That’s where Jonas and I met and why I began helping Sean with bookkeeping for his company. So, in essence, I’ve actually known him five years. It’s quite amazing remembering how the 3 of us felt watching this fantastic curation of inspiring stories and films set in the outdoors, wondering as we sludged back out onto a cold, snowy 96th street wondering how to be outside, to see more of the world, to lead more fulfilling lives beyond the island of Manhattan. It took a few years, but that wish has certainly come to fruition for all of us.
What place does meditation have in your work?
For a long time, I only truly meditated in motion. I see aerial as immensely meditative in its all-encompassing demand for presence. But there is a deep value to stillness too. Finding the quiet within and learning to listen – just listen. Too often we can get caught up in the carousel and forget how much choice we have in each passing moment. Every situation, every relationship – including the one with yourself can benefit from taking the time to be still and choosing joy, love, kindness, and gratitude as often as humanly possible.
What advice would you give a Midwestern theatre grad about to take off for New York City?
Trust the path. Stand firmly in who you are and what you wish, but don’t let it stop your feet from moving, stepping forward, climbing. Enjoy the journey. Work hard, be nice, show up. Stay kind – no matter how bristley the city can make people, there are beautiful souls everywhere, you will lose nothing by being willing to look around you and engage in the challenges and triumphs of the present. Do not attach yourself to one possible outcome or life that you picture. Reality can truly outdo your imagination if you are willing to lean into the unknown.