Acro dance is a lot of work, especially in the first few years of training while going through the meticulous process of building a strong foundation. Many students don’t ever get past this part of their acro education because they grow impatient, mistakenly thinking that the “fun tricks” are supposed to come quickly and easily.
As teachers, we need to effectively communicate with students, parents and our superiors, that building a slow, steady and safe foundation of acro dance results in long-term success.
Most of my students are regularly sore and tired with the amount of conditioning that we do in the first few years of acro dance. At the same time that bodies are getting into top acro shape, wrists are getting sore from increased pressure on the hands (while upside down); necks are feeling tight as those (typically) weak muscles are getting stronger; and bumps and bruises appear while stumbling through the process of muscle memory development. In fact, the simple act of falling (and getting right back up!) trains the body to move more smoothly and efficiently (think: trial and error)!
A couple of years ago, I began teaching a nine year-old male student with very poor motor skill development and body control. To add fuel to the fire, he had also been diagnosed with ADHD, which often presents challenges and delays in physical ability and coordination.
Never shying away from a challenge, this little boy was determined to overcome his obstacles and fulfill his goal of “becoming an acrobat”. I consistently worked on developing a foundation of strength, flexibility and technique for him. More on this example in a minute…
In acro, building a “Foundation of Technique” really means: establishing a baseline of strength, flexibility, and motor skill development that will allow us to safely and effectively start introducing basic acrobatic tricks. The amount of time this takes, and the difficulty of this process, is different for each student.
The students who will have the most difficulty, bumps, bruises and soreness in the beginning are the students that have had very little dance and/or athletic experience, and thus have not yet streamlined their motor skill functionality. This just means that, as acro teachers, we have to spend a lot of time creating a foundation of body movement and awareness for them before introducing basic acrobatic tricks.
Back to my nine year-old student…
We spent a solid year just working on body awareness, core control, stretch behind the knees, and upper body strength. This was because his handstands were very jerky and unpredictable, a stretched knee during splits was non-existent, and shoulder flexibility was extremely tight. We also did some very basic acro tricks each class to keep him motivated, and so he would feel like he was “doing acro,” but building a strong foundation was the focus, NOT the tricks.
In his second year, with the strength, flexibility
This young student fell a LOT in the beginning, and had SEVERAL bumps and bruises to show for his hard work and persistence, but the results speak for themselves: just like he had set out to do, he was truly “becoming an acrobat.”
Now, he is a confident and capable 11-year old, in his third year of training, and reaping the rewards of a well-built foundation. He is moving forward faster than ever, with continual improvement and progress in his training. Now, he is able to start learning the “fun tricks” in acro dance that everyone hopes to get to.
At the present, he can walk across the floor in a solid and very controlled handstand (5 steps to be exact!), can do a safe and strong back bridge from standing (by himself), is working on mastering his back walkover (with a spot), and most recently, is loving his role as a strong male base for basic partnering.
There have been a lot of highs and lows, bumps and bruises, along the way so far, but the confidence that he has earned by achieving his goals has made it all worth it.