‘Bend Over Backwards’: Contortion portrait of Maia Adams in backbend

I spent the most time with Maia Adams when I attended the Yoga and Aerial Arts Retreat in Costa Rica. Maia taught the aerial sessions on the retreat, but I had already met her taking aerial silk classes at Aerial Artique, where she is the owner and fabulous boss lady! Maia is inspiring on so many levels. She is an excellent teacher, imaginative performer and amazing small business owner. I wanted her portrait to reflect these qualities. To do this, I drew this piece of Maia in a backbend contortion pose to show off her balance, strength and flexibility both in body and spirit.

‘Bend Over Backwards’: Chalk pastel pencils and charcoal on mid-tone grey paper (portrait of Maia Adams in a backbend balance)


The first time I ever saw Maia perform was at the Aerial Artique Teacher Showcase where she did an exciting lyra routine in a fierce bodysuit. That was one of the first ever lyra performances that I had seen and I was amazed at the way that Maia was able to sinuously wrap herself around the hoop and transition seamlessly from one beautiful shape to another.

Aerial Artique – Teacher Showcase 2016  from Kaleb Wyman Videography

I was fortunate enough to get to learn from Maia whilst on Retreat with her in Costa Rica. I really enjoyed the way that each aerial silks session on the retreat had a different theme. We were put through our paces in conditioning, coordination, flexibility and performance skills. I liked the variety and the sense of dynamic fun that Maia brought to each of the sessions. She helped us to maintain our enthusiasm, even as we got more and more tired throughout the trip.

On the retreat Maia taught a sequence that I loved called the can-opener. This slightly unusual move is indicative of her unique aerial style. It is now one of my favourite moves, that is not particularly well known. Even some experienced aerialists I have come across had never seen it before.

Me showing off the can-opener pose wearing my ‘Look At Me Leggings’ at Circobats Community Circus, photo credit Alex Charman


Q&A with Maia:

What made you want to try aerial when you got started?

I have always been “embodied” wanting to emote with movement or when processing emotion I have found the deepest release and cathartic experience in any physical activity: yoga, volleyball, soccer, dance, acrobatics. When I was 23 I had hit a lull in my relationship with movement and was searching for something new. Aerial ignited my curiosity and excitement like nothing else, I was instantly hooked upon my first try at it.

Has that changed from what motivates you now?

Great question. Over the last 7 years of practicing aerial acrobatics/dance it has changed. It’s a grounding mechanism (haha, the irony) my meditation that helps me feel centred and now that i have the vocabulary down on a deeper level it is a brain challenge. I love geeking out on technique and breaking down new pathways and drops with other aerialists. Performance is the biggest motivator these days though. What can I find through character and refined movement that will connect with someone’s deeper emotions to move them in some way or inspire them.

What are your favourite aspects of teaching aerial?

I absolutely love to be the one to show someone aerial for the first time and what they are capable of that they didn’t fathom prior to. Its like doing a magic trick for someone but the only illusion is the that voice telling you you cant do something new. 

What are your favourite aspects of performing?

For me, performance is everything. It is a sacred experience between performer and audience as well as a celebration of all my blood, sweat and tears and endless hours of relentless practice to bring a piece together. Also, I absolutely love putting on ridiculous eyelashes and costumes!

What motivated you to have your own aerial studio?

I have envisioned myself with a studio almost from the first months of starting yoga at 19. Since then in one way or another through my personal practice through employment I have found myself spending most of my time inside a studio learning all aspects of how it runs, what it can do and how it helps community. 

What do think are some of the aspects of Aerial Artique that differentiates it from other studios?

We certainly have a tight community. I have witnesses very strong bonds created amongst our students through showcase, trainings, intensive and classes in general. I am always seeking new ways to keep strengthening those bonds as this is the most amazing aspect of being a studio owner is watching the love of community grow through a shared passion and art form. 

What do you hope students take away from your classes?

In my personal classes I want students to feel free to be themselves, safe from judgements and self judgement in particular. Learning to treat their practice/training like an exercise in self talk. Saying “I can” or “I am open to trying this” rather than “I suck”. It’s a hell of a lot more fun that way. 

What are your favourite types of aerial performances?

I love it all! Solo, duo, silk, rope, lyra, original appartus! There is so much for the eyes to feast upon. Full on circus shows that have inspired me are Lucent DossierAntic in a drain and and Troupe Vertigo!  

Reference Image

When I asked Maia if she would be a featured aerial artist on The Art of Flying, I intended to create a portrait of her in the air. When I saw the picture of her in the backbend balance, I couldn’t resist it! The lighting in the reference photograph highlighting Maia’s muscles looks so amazing that I had to use that shot. I also wanted to make sure that I could capture a lot of the fine details of the pose. So I decided to make this portrait a drawing.

Photographer: RJ Muna

Progress photos of ‘Bend Over Backwards

Artistic Process

I feel like I have more control in drawings than when I paint. This is why I chose to draw this piece with chalk pastel pencils and charcoal. I used a mid-tone grey paper to accentuate the highlights created by the lighting in the photo. This is a technique that I really love. My work is generally very high contrast so it lets me stick to using strong blacks and whites. I used the blue colour as a shadow to soften the transitions between dark and light. Together, these techniques allowed me to capture beautiful details from the reference photograph and accentuate the amazing highlights.

I hope that you enjoyed the variation in artwork this week having a more contortion yoga type pose instead of an aerial silks or lyra trick. I am hoping to include more variety of subjects and techniques as I go along and develop in my figurative style. If you have any suggestions of the different apparatus or disciplines that you would like to see, or if you would just like to see more of what I have done so far please let me know in the comments section. I am very open to feedback and I will do my best to make it happen 🙂

Prints of this piece (and all my featured pieces) are available in my online store.