Perhaps now more than ever, dance has become directly linked to acrobatics, stunts, and tumbling. Shows like Dancing with the Stars, Cirque du Soleil, and contemporary Ballroom, Salsa, and Cabaret have revived the high-flying partner tricks of yesteryear, when the new Jazz and Swing styles were synonymous with overhead lifts and backflips.
Often the biggest challenge for a new dancer is overcoming the fear of acrobatic elements in class.
How does one, who may have never done a Cartwheel, enter into a realm in which every routine contains some element of gymnastic ability? This is not an uncommon fear, and is, from my experience, fully conquerable.
Whether worried about matwork yourself or dealing with your timid child's hesitation in class, there are some simple ways to combat anxiety when it comes to Acro:
1. Learn How to Properly Stretch
Stretching and Acro go hand-in-hand. At the start of class, your instructor should take you through a warm-up and group stretch, preparing your muscles for practice. Learning how your own body stretches helps prevent injury by insuring a sense of understanding of your flexibility and strengths. Armed with the knowledge of your body's current strengths and weaknesses, the fear can begin to break down as you take mental control of each practice.
2. Begin the Acro Element of Class with the Right Attitude
There's something BIG to be said for those who begin each task with a can-do attitude. Especially when it comes to those things which bring you fear, it's important to recognize if there's a real potential for danger. Recognize when it's ok to just go for it, and if you're unsure, speak up. Remember, you should also be aware of your body's energy, flexibility, and strength going in, so tricks at your learning stage can be accomplished safely by you.
3. Build Trust with Your Instructor
Be sure you know who you're learning from. The right instructor will always be there to Spot (physically help you accomplish a trick), Demonstrate, and Break Down each pass before you try it. It's their job to help with strength-building, technique, and physical trust, as well as help instill confidence along the way. Don't be afraid to ask for extra help or explanation as needed, although your instructor should be able to recognize the areas that may need further discussion or practice.
4. Practice- Safely!
Be Advised: Acro elements are not to be taken lightly. Practicing outside of class (and off the mat) is only recommended once the instructor has given an ok for a specific element. They know your progression just as well as you do, and don't want to see an injury happen! This in mind, practice only what you feel comfortable doing and what your instructor has approved. ALWAYS stretch, and be sure to practice in an area with plenty of space, soft flooring (grass, thick carpet, mat) and a spotter if possible.
Take-Away: By learning the proper technique, recognizing your body's strengths and weaknesses, learning from a trustworthy instructor, and practicing safely outside of class, you can begin to feel more prepared and in control of your body's response to Acro. Once you gain that control, fear will no longer be a stopping point in class. Best of luck, a be sure to share with us your questions, comments and pics of progress!
Jose & Chelsea