Visual mnemonics for stunt pilots

Stunt pilots, preparing for aerobatic routines, have converged on a fascinating form of rehearsal: they dance.

If you see a pilot before an airshow, they may well be doing the so-called “Aresti dance”. It’s a series of movements which encode the manouvers they will make up in the air.

Besides being a charming idiosyncracy, this makes total sense. Physical movement is a powerful aide to memory. It is one of many reasons for the role of dance in traditional rituals from any number of cultures. It is under-used in modern education partly because we are just overall bad at teaching, and partly because dancing does not fit obviously into a classroom.

The Aresti dance also deals with a problem more unique to aerobatics pilots: it is hard to get enough rehearsal time. Stunt flying is inherently dangerous and expensive. So as much work as you can do on the ground, should be done on the ground.

Online information about the Aresti dance is pretty scarce. It takes its name from Aresti figures, which are a standard nomenclature and digramming system for aerobatic manouvers. I have found plenty of videos of the dance, but no in-depth description of how it works.

Written on August 8, 2020