Being left out sucks. No one ever likes to be left out (not to be confused with left alone). Whether it’s being “cool”, smart, athletic or artistic, everyone has experienced being left out in some shape or form, and it is shitty.
Acro is no stranger to that situation. I’ve heard too many people get discouraged from acro because they are somehow “disqualified”. You think “I’m too heavy” or “I’m not strong enough”. When you see a muscular six footer lift a featherweight person like nothing, it’s so easy to think any of those things. You feel weak or heavy or tight and start thinking: I can’t. The thing is, you can.
Acro is the perfect environment to exist and evolve with other people, no matter how different they may (or think they may) be. It is a science of complementary work. It is the frickin fun activity of people matching the other’s shortcomings with their own strengths and vice versa. Acro, simply put, is an amazing practice of harmony.
So why do I hear these self-disqualifying statements so often? Yes, there is the aspect of fear and self doubt. But in true acro fashion, us teachers and monkeys need to be the ones to help those doubters thrive through our own practice. This led me to make changes in my practice to play in a way that no monkey is left behind.
Take Off Your Training Wheels
People gravitate to partners that make it easy for them(or as I like to call them, Ideals). Notice it the next time you play: the more advanced the acro gets, the more roles get defined by ideal strength and size. Smaller flyers lifted up by ginormic bases. Not that this is wrong, but what if you weren’t ideal? I hear “I’m not strong enough” when a slight technique adjustment would have made it work. Or, “I’m too heavy” when really the execution just needed some tweaking. My own complaint was “My feet and hands are too small”. I later discovered that smarter placement was all I needed. But in order to discover that, I had to play with people that gave me an extra challenge. I had to get out of easy mode.
Only working with people that make everything easy is like biking with training wheels. It’s a great method to start with. But advancing without trying to work with more challenge is like saying “Look Ma, No hands!!” while the training wheels hold you up. Take off them training wheels! Not only will you be refining your own technique, you will be helping others do the same as well.
No one is too whatever
Stella Adler said – You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing. It is very easy to be unsuccessful, label it wrong, and then blame something else. Sometimes we even blame ourselves! Instead of finding something to blame, figure out then do what’s needed for progress. And one of the ways to make that easier is by knowing more about whatever you are doing.
The evolution of acro as an everyman(and woman!) practice has brought new challenges that traditional acrobats did not necessarily need to face. The practice of acrobatics is not exclusively for gymnast physiques and training-since-childhood people any more. Therefore, more knowledge is needed to safely and successfully teach and practice it. That’s a huge reason to play mindfully with everyone we can. Especially with people that might kick our ass. Because it is in playing and learning with them that we discover things that will grow our knowledge and skill. It helps us realize that in truly mindful acro there are really no “Ideals” . There is no too small, nor too weak, nor too heavy. There are only people possessing distinct sets of strengths and challenges.
I am not tall. This means that anyone who flies on me needs less effort to get up, which makes me ideal for people starting to learn to jump up. That is one of my strengths. But my shorter limbs mean less space for movement and will require more precision and/or strength from whoever is flying on me. That is one of my challenges. I have both, and their effect depends on who I am working with.
This illustrates the importance of awareness when it comes to partnerships. Become acro-aware by discovering and knowing your advantages and your challenges. The great Batman taught me that preparation is a superpower. By knowing the advantages and challenges present, we can be ready to deal with probable struggles so our focus stays on what we want to get done.(and eventually get it done!)
It is important to know that advantages and challenges are not pluses and minuses. Whenever you see signs on the road such as “slippery when wet”, or “steep incline”, it does not change the fact that it is a road that can still get you to where you want to be. Knowing the specific strengths and challenges just gives you the awareness needed to navigate it safely and efficiently. With these acro strengths and challenges, neither gives or takes away from being a person you can do great things with. In fact, knowing them gives us the advantage of finding exactly who we can work with to improve!
Equal Opportunity Give and Take
The great thing about acro is we get endless opportunities to help or be helped. Especially if your practice is like mine, where the intention isn’t to become competitive gymnasts or circus acrobats. Instead, acro is done for the fun, fitness, awareness and community that it brings. Instead of harsh coaches or judges, we are a community of co-learners where people who can help willingly share to people who ask for it. So Ask! Know your challenges and advantages, and go play with people who can work with you to improve!
Feel you’re too heavy to fly? Ask for someone comfortable basing you!(Trust me, we’re out there :D) Or ask someone for weight control advice! (either diet-wise or tightness-wise) Feel you’re too weak to base? Ask to play with a lighter, tighter flier or ask for some strength drills! It really isn’t important what feels like it’s in the way. Because acro is the perfect place to ask and get help to surpass our challenges. I have seen paraplegics, kids, seniors, and all sorts of people find success in acro by finding the right person to complement their challenges. We are surrounded by people to work (more like play) with, so take advantage of the equal opportunity exchange and make things better for everyone!
(Kendra wrote a great article on asking in acro! Check it out!)
Let’s Find Our Sweet Spot
Here is the part where I call out and challenge the people who are experienced and especially those who teach. How much different people are you able to share this amazing practice? (and not just mywaying and muscling them with zero benefit for them) Does your technique and knowledge spread out beyond the “ideal” setup? Do you consider your advantages and challenges when you play? Do you consider students’ differences? Or do you order them around as if there’s universal instructions that are (supposedly) guaranteed to work with everyone? Do you only command and control, or do you teach and coexist?
Coexistence is a huge challenge in life. One big reason for that is that success has been defined as having collateral damage of leaving someone behind. Acro taught me a definition of success that I prefer: That success can mean working and eventually reaching a higher place together(in acro, literally higher). An acrolibrium, so to speak. And the magic is that it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is equal. (I would think that would be quite monotonous and drab.) Rather, everyone has their own identity, strengths, and weaknesses. And all of those are in honey-sweet, butter-smooth harmony.
Try for acrolibrium in life. In acro, it’s that sweet spot where doing amazing things becomes almost effortless. Getting this dynamic in any situation will bring us to higher levels in whatever we do. And instead of succeeding in a way that leaves someone behind, we can start lifting everyone up and get to new heights together. Whether in relationships, groups, work, family, or acro, you’ll find that achieving acrolibrium will make your success not only much easier, but also much, much sweeter.