by Julianna Hane
I’ll never forget accidentally feeding a whole tortilla chip to a toddler (I was only 7 years old at the time and didn’t know any better). Of course, the child choked. Luckily her mom was nearby and as trained nurse, she administered “back blows” to save her. After that frightening incident, the mother kindly said to her daughter, “take baby bites.” This lesson has stuck with me and still influences my teaching today.
I often see teachers shoving metaphorical tortilla chips into the beginner aerialist’s mouth by teaching way too many steps at once. The funny thing is, I used to teach this way, too. When I was a new teacher, I didn’t realize I was teaching too many steps until the students responded with blank stares, head scratches, etc.
Part of the challenge is that many of us teachers learned aerial arts in environments designed for advanced movers. While a gymnast, dancer, or other high level athlete can process high level sequencing and coordination, the typical recreational learner isn’t prepared for that. They need more incremental progressions leading up to what acrobats classify as “basic” skills.
According to web designer Susan Weinshenck, the human brain can only remember four steps at a time. It’s important to break skills down into small bites so more students from different backgrounds can find success.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, check out the classroom scenes from Sorcerer’s Stone (1st book/movie). Notice how the instructor gives a brief demo and explanation of a single skill. The students then practice that single skill under guidance of the teacher, who offers small corrections and reminders along the way.
An aerial class can run in the same fashion. The instructor models one skill at a time (with a maximum of 4 vital steps or details to remember in the first attempt), and then students practice that skill with teacher guidance. If there are more details to highlight in that skill, the teacher can layer it on during a second or third turn, or save it for another class day.
If you offer “free time,” games, sequence building, or explorations at the end of class, try incorporating the skills learned that day so students can review them more independently. Repetition is key to remembering skills over a longer period of time.
How do you know when a student is ready to move on to the next skill? See the next post on assessment to find out.
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinshenck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
by Julianna Hane
“Discipline” is a tough word for some to swallow in this day and age, but it is absolutely crucial to a safe and fun aerial practice. As the instructor, it is your responsibility to set the tone for safety and to enforce rules appropriately.
Discipline is generally related to working with kids, but it also applies to adults (as those of you who teach adults know!). The goal of discipline is to create a safe, respectful space in which to explore, create, and learn. Discipline done well actually creates more freedom, because it allows all students access to quality instruction, support from one another, and ample time on the apparatus.
Why is discipline necessary?
During their development, children move through multiple stages of rebellion, or healthy separation from their parent(s). The terrible twos and the teenage years are the prime times of separation. Rebellion statements include, “No,” “I don’t have to,” and “Why don’t you make me?” as the child test their boundaries. The child is finding out if the parent means what they say, and if there are real consequences to their actions.
Even though children are rebelling to get their way, what they secretly crave are healthy boundaries enforced by a loving parent or teacher. Boundaries actually make people feel safe and cared for. In Bringing Up Bebe, an American mother describes the task of raising her child in France while learning about the French concept of parenting. French parents believe that discipline frees children from their own inner tyrant (the ego or selfish one). Discipline teaches children that true pleasure in life cannot be experienced without learning how to wait. What a contrast to American society’s focus on instant gratification!
How does discipline apply in the aerial world?
Success in the aerial arts requires patience, consistency, and perseverance. Our classes are a great opportunity to teach these character traits, which give students access to vast potential in the art form (and in life). Getting a solid straddle inversion takes a lot of time and hard work, and so it should - it requires a great deal of strength, coordination, and body awareness to accomplish. This hard work establishes a solid foundation for students to progress safely into learning their first drop.
How can instructors enforce boundaries consistently?
First, share behavior expectations with the students by posting studio rules on the wall and reviewing them on Day 1 of a session. Eliminate any arbitrary or unnecessary rules, and keep the list relatively short and easy to remember.
Once rules are established, decide what to do when a student breaks the rules. This list is known as a Progressive Discipline Plan, and it outlines consequences for poor choices. You may need multiple plans for different populations (see below).
The plan progresses from light to strong consequences. For example, in a kids class, the first time a child breaks a rule, simply remind them of the rule. If they break the rule a 2nd time, you decide whether to stand near them and remind again (if they truly forgot), or have them sit out a turn (if they were being defiant). If there are too many or too few steps in the plan (or deviations in application) students may call the teacher out and begin to lose respect for them.
Consistency is key, hence the need for a solid plan:
Progressive Discipline Plan for Kids
Progressive Discipline Plan for Adults
The number of times you repeat each level depends on your studio’s goals as well as the population you work with:
How do I know if I am using the discipline plan effectively?
Have a more experienced instructor observe you teaching and get their feedback. You may also ask your instructors or studio manager to help establish specific discipline plans per population served. Perhaps the staff could observe each other testing out different plans, noting what works and what does not. Then modify accordingly.
How can I discuss discipline issues effectively with parents?
For larger classes or multiple classes, you may wish to document disciplinary actions in a daily log. Note the date, child’s name, class, situation/portion of class, and action taken, which can then be a solid piece of evidence to use when talking to parents. If you present a clear log of events to parents, you are able to speak in facts rather than with emotions.
During a conference with a parent, show them that you are on their side and that your goal is safety and enjoyment for all. Preventing defensive reactions through positive language can usually generate a productive conversation. The goal is to let parents know their is a problem and to decide on next actions, both for the instructor to use in class and the parent to use at home. You might also ask the parent for suggestions on how they’d like to move forward.
In spite of your best efforts, the parent may still become upset. Remember that safety and respect in your class/studio is of prime importance, and you could be held responsible if a student gets injured. Some parents may still be pushing boundaries themselves or may not instill much discipline at home. Others may be dealing with divorce, losing a job, etc. and the child might be acting out as a result. Use compassion here, but stay on task regarding expectations for behavior at the studio and take the necessary steps to remedy the situation.
How can I discuss discipline issues with adult students?
If you need to have a private conversation with an adult student who repeatedly dismisses your directions and authority in class, it’s a chance to figure out whether or not they are the right fit for your studio. In that private conversation, remind the student that safety is your top priority.
If they want to advance more quickly than the class, you could put them in a different class or enroll in private lessons. If they disagree with your teaching methods (and you have carefully reflected on your methods and have positive feedback from most of your students), the student should consider training at a different studio. If there is a personality clash between you and the student, perhaps they could try a different instructor.
In any case, the goal of this conversation is to settle the matter. There is no reason an adult should continually disrespect an instructor in the recreational environment when they have choices about where they take class. You also have choices about what behavior you’re willing to tolerate in your class/studio. When in doubt, document each contact with the student in a log so you have evidence to present to a supervisor for advice or intervention.
For more student scenarios and suggestions for next actions, see The Aerial Teacher's Handbook.
In spite of the challenges of discipline, your other students may thank you for it. While a disciplinary action might upset one student, it can actually improve the experience of the rest of the class because boundaries and safety were protected and prioritized. When you see a positive response and renewed sense of trust from the rest of your students, you’ll see that it’s worth it.
Have you experienced a disciplinary problem in your class that you’re not quite sure how to solve? Let us know! We’re happy to answer you privately if you submit your request to email@example.com.
by Sarah Bebe Holmes
So many things come into play with this question, ego of course being one of them.
The first question to ask is: WHO’S EGO IS AT STAKE?
Followed by: HOW DO I DEAL WITH IT?
It’s important to distinguish the difference between YOU thinking your student is seriously advancing in skill and YOUR STUDENT thinking they are advanced in skill. Sometimes you will agree, but not always.
If your student thinks they are advanced it’s important to ask yourself if they really are or not. If truly not, then your job as an instructor is to continue to instill the safety, and foundations that they need as well as continue to challenge them in fun ways. Students can fall under the false impression that they are better than they are. Delusions of grandeur can commence. It may be because their understanding of the material, their proprioception and their general ability are better in their minds than in reality. This is when we as teachers need to be our best and lovingly hold these beauties back. It’s not about stunting them, it’s about maturing them through giving them variations that stretch their understanding or extra challenges that increase their strength.
It’s your job as a good aerial instructor to only give them tricks when they are ready. Make sure they meet the prerequisites that you think are necessary, even if they think they are boring. The number of times I have walked into a private lesson and had an “improver” level student ask me to teach spiral drop to ankle hang or some other advanced drop is wildy frequent. It’s ok to say, “Great, we can work up to that, let’s start here . . . “ Again, it’s about being loving. Not saying “NO” or “You’re not good enough”. But instilling the concept that this is a journey and you are happy to be on it with them, but we need to start at the beginning together.
So you’re a teacher, you’ve been doing this for a long time. You earned it the hard way, before Instagram or YouTube. You had to get the nuts and bolts first, you worked hard, you got injured and for some time you have not been working on yourself and your skills, but you’ve been teaching. And here comes this young student who has climbed to your level in a third of the time it took you to get there. They may or may not think or know they are advanced. But you know it, and you don’t want them to surpass you.
Well, tough luck. It is not our job to hold people back when they are ACTUALLY READY. Even if they are going to get the next gig, or start teaching where you teach. If you are their teacher and you love teaching, then teach them what you know. If they surpass you in skill but keep coming remember they are coming because you have something to offer, it might be nuance, it may be creative choreography, it may be character work, or they just may need some outside eyes and they respect you. If they ask you for a skill that is beyond your level think “IS THERE ANYTHING I KNOW THAT CAN HELP them with this skill?” You may have some excellent conditioning or pre-requisites that can get them ready.
Do as much as you can as long as you can and then RECOGNIZE WHEN TO LET GO. The best way to do this is to send them to someone else you know. They might not even live where you live, but give options. This is the role of a real teacher, to have grace and acceptance of ourselves for who we are, where we are, and when we are; and to help the future flourish.
Dedicated to: Althea Young (17) and Ellie Rossi (13), Students of Paper Doll Militia who we've had the pleasure of watching grow from aerial fledglings. They now soar to impressive new heights and continue to take the aerial world by storm.
by Julianna Hane
The art of cueing can be a tricky subject. At times it’s over-rated, and at other times overlooked. Cueing well requires multiple layers of understanding of not just the skills themselves, but also in noticing how students respond and adjusting your strategy as needed.
I’ve broken the verbal cueing process into 6 stages. (Physical cueing is also incredibly useful, and will be featured in another post). As you practice teach, notice which stage of the process gives you the most trouble. Each section below contains a description and suggestions for improvement. The stages of effective cueing are as follows:
Stage 1: Understand the goal.
Fully understand the body position or movement you are going for and why. What is the ultimate goal? This means knowing proper alignment and appropriate range of motion of each joint as it applies to aerial arts technique. Rather than memorizing arbitrary arm and leg positions, what actions or muscle activations in the body make each skill possible?
Stage 2: See what the student is actually doing.
Cues should always be given in a context rather than arbitrarily memorized. Use both your knowledge of the body and your observation skills to really see your student. To see accurately, do you understand basic alignment principles of the body? Do you know what muscle activations support various movements? Do you understand the difference between anatomical terms like hip flexion vs. hip extension and how they keep you connected to the apparatus?
Stage 3: Compare the goal to the current reality.
How does the student’s current expression of the skill differ from the goal? Analyze and draw conclusions. This will form a blueprint of your long-term goals for that student (which could be a few weeks, months, or years).
Stage 4: Choose what to focus on first.
Students who have restrictions and weaknesses (pretty much all human beings) will be able to make drastic changes in their bodies over time, but not in one class. Choose the most important goal or concept in order for that student to: 1) be safe, 2) experience a new sensation (i.e. muscle engagement) within the skill, and 3) get a little closer to the goal.
Stage 5: Try out different cues.
Select words, an image, a phrase, or a physical cue that might connect with that student. Start collecting cues by observing other teachers, taking classes, practice teaching, and developing a personal practice to help you describe what is happening in your own body. Notice how movement patterns reflect nature or other common things in our world (i.e. the spine articulating like a string of pearls).
Stage 6: Note which cue worked and which ones didn’t.
Observe the student’s response to your cue. Did the student get closer to the goal? Did they do the opposite of what you wanted? Students pour out a plethora of information if you simply observe how they react! Then, consider how to proceed. Try out other cues and see what happens. When in doubt, try a different route. When a cue wins, use it again!
Do you have other ways of breaking down the cueing process? Do you have specific requests to help you further develop your cueing? Leave us a message below!
By Julianna Hane
I made the big move to Colorado to help Rebekah Leach start her new studio, AerialWorks, and to further develop the Born to Fly™ Aerial Teacher Training Program. It has certainly been a busy year! Both of us have had studios in the past, but starting anew eight years has brought back some important lessons. Here are the highlights:
By Elizabeth Stich
My aerial dance partner, Becky, and I are getting ready to take our act on the road to AerialWorks Castle Rock next weekend. We are excited to perform and teach doubles workshops on our unique over-under trapeze. Having just finished our first big performance after a yearlong partnership, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the gifts this collaboration has offered:
I’m in the homestretch now of eight weeks out of the air due to a silly finger injury, a metacarpophalangeal joint collateral ligament sprain, to be precise. I’m usually pretty private about injury, but nearly two months of buddy taping my middle and index fingers together kind of let the cat out of the bag.
Throughout a lifetime of dance and aerial, I’ve never taken time off for injury. Not that I haven’t been injured—I’ve had bulging discs in my cervical spine, tendonitis in my elbows, and most recently, a torn labrum in my hip—just that I’ve always kept dancing right on through it (admittedly, not always the smartest choice...).
So it’s almost funny that something as seemingly small as a finger has taken me down. While I’m not trying to paint a picture of my recovery time as all sunshine and rainbows, I have been trying to focus on the positive opportunities that have come from it:
About the Author: Elizabeth Stich is an RTAP reviewer and contributor to Born to Fly™. She holds an MFA in Modern Dance, a Certificate in Movement Analysis, and has performed as an aerialist in various parks including Sea World. She currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College and Aerial Arts of Utah.
Brought to you by Rebekah Leach
Several months ago, AerialDancing.com featured an article on a studio in Louisville, KY. Here's a link to that article.
Below is a live interview conducted at the studio with the owners, Anne Brock Miller and Meg Wallace. This interview was done February 2016. (Sorry for the late posting.) It's a great look into the lives of two incredible women who are embarking on the journey of opening and sustaining an environment for the aerial arts. Listen as they talk about the surprises of opening a studio, structures that have worked/not worked, and balancing home life with the studio life.
My suggestion: treat it like a podcast. Start making dinner, and hang out as Anne and Meg share their journey with you. Enjoy!
The growth of a teacher is a fascinating process to witness. Having observed many teachers, I’ve noticed some common trends in the way teachers progress in their practice. For simplicity and the sake of this article, I have divided the growth process into 4 phases.
Phase I: Beginning
Where they are:
The brand new teacher may format classes a bit randomly at first. Warm-ups might not connect to the goal for the day, and there may not even be a theme. A teacher who is new to either the material or the process of teaching may hesitate to be an authority figure, or they may try to teach things they really don’t understand in an effort to impress. They gradually become aware that becoming a strong teacher is a long process. It involves observing, assisting, practicing on one’s own, cueing colleagues through sequences, studying each skill in-depth, and teaching a ton.
How to move forward:
A teacher in this phase needs structure. They should take and observe more classes, and pay attention to how other teachers structure the learning experience, cue, and respond to students’ needs. It’s important to realize that teaching is a completely different skill set from having a large aerial vocabulary. Teaching involves understanding the body, mind, and heart.
Phase II: Emerging
Where they are:
This teacher may have been teaching for a short while, and is still getting the hang of things in terms of goals and theming. They may have a clear beginning, middle and end in their classes, but feel like they are only one step ahead of their students. Sometimes, stepping into the role of authority figure results in dogmatism (this way is the only right way). An emerging teacher might expect students to perform all skills in exactly the same way, and not understand why their small batch of cues don’t work for everyone. They might also expect every student to learn in the same way. This teacher’s cues are usually based on personal experience of each skill, but they may not necessarily see each student as a unique body/being just yet.
How to move forward:
A teacher in phase II needs to observe many, many different bodies moving in the air. Even people-watching at malls and airports can be enlightening. It’s important to recognize that different bodies require different alignment, cueing, and so forth. Learn to treat each student as a unique individual not just in their movement, but also in their mental processing and emotional landscape (while still maintaining clear boundaries). This teacher should search for new ways to teaching old stuff. Studying anatomy, kinesiology, and even educational psychology can also help. Finally, collecting images and cues from other knowledgable instructors will support this teacher’s ability to work with diverse movers and learners.
Phase III: Expanding
Where they are:
This teacher has likely been teaching movement for an extended period of time. They modify and adjust class content based on the unique bodies and minds in the room. They can easily focus on proper alignment because of their knowledge of the body and their ability to move around the room while cueing and spotting. It’s possible that this teacher is getting bored or burnt out because they have a consistent routine, and they don’t know how to grow from here.
How to move forward:
A teacher in phase III could explore new teaching methods that are outside of their norm (i.e. using global methods, puzzles, etc. instead of always teaching linearly). They might benefit from a deeper study of anatomy, kinesiology, developmental movement, and other movement practices to carry new information back into the aerial studio. Learning to cross-pollinate aerial classes with other movement forms can provide a breath of fresh air if classes are becoming stale. Advancing one’s technique and vocabulary as far as possible is a great goal, but studying the theory behind aerial work may be even more powerful because it leads to invention. And if the teacher understands how skills are invented, then that process can be taught to students also. Then every class will bring out something new and unique.
Phase IV: Innovating
Where they are:
This teacher is evolving the form through experimentation with various teaching methods and the invention of skills. They carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different movement training systems, and make appropriate choices based on their findings. This teacher focuses on efficient movement patterning (working smarter, not harder) by emphasizing proper alignment, movement phrasing, initiation and follow-through. They appropriately challenge their students, but also encourage rest when it is needed.
How to move forward:
If the phase IV teacher has become caught up in training elite level aerialists, they should remember what it’s like to be a beginner. This teacher could find ways of viewing the most basic skills in a completely different (or deeper) way for a change in perspective. Or, this teacher might finally pursue the pet project they’ve always wanted to but never had time before. Studying another movement form or enlisting a teacher for oneself can also be powerful at this stage. Most importantly, this teacher must remember why they teach in order to sustain their career.
I had the great pleasure of presenting workshops at the 1st Atlanta Aerial Arts Festival 2 weeks ago (thanks to Constance Echo Palmer at The Space for organizing it!) What an amazing event. Instructors and speakers from aerial arts, physical therapy, sports massage, make-up, and other specialties contributed to a well-rounded program.
My workshops focused on fundamental movement patterns and how they inform our work in the air. As a Certified Laban Bartenieff Movement Analyst, I often reference these movement patterns when working with dance and aerial students. Since the system is rather large, I chose to zoom in on a specific pattern for each workshop.
On trapeze I focused on flowing through the spine, or the head-tail pattern. The articulation of each vertebral joint as well as the relationship between the head and the pelvis is a powerful awareness for an aerialist to develop. This pattern enables us to speed up or slow down rolls, balance across the bar, and slither around the apparatus using various pathways. Learning to lead with the head and flow through the spine, or lead with the tail offers us more movement possibilities that not only create more support in the air, but also invite more creativity.
I also offered a mixed apparatus workshop focused on the upper-lower body pattern. This workshop could become a 1.5 - 2 hour session because there is so much to explore! This pattern helps us to ground into one part of the body to facilitate freedom in another part. On the floor, we typically ground through the lower body to find freedom in the upper body. This is the basis for dance, Pilates, and yoga. But once the body is in the air, any part contacting the apparatus can become the foundation for grounding.
We began on the floor exploring how babies learn to crawl, because that is where the upper-lower pattern begins to form. This connected us to a sequence that Bartenieff called, “yield and push to reach and pull,” the foundation for walking and complex movements in aerial arts. Taking this idea into the air was both fun and challenging. I found it easier to access the “yield and push to reach and pull” pattern from seated on the bar, but it can also be translated to mounting the bar and other movements using hand holds.
When an aerialist embodies the upper-lower body pattern, the performer appears to be in true relationship with the apparatus. I think of the great aerialists who know their apparatus so well, it’s like having a dance partner. As a mover, I personally feel more relaxed and efficient when grounding into the apparatus. I can move with greater ease and joy because I am not holding so much weight in my upper body, but allowing my weight to be supported by the bar.
I am excited to develop these workshops further, especially since there are 4 other body patterns besides the 2 mentioned in this post. If you’d like to learn more about Bartenieff Fundamentals or movement patterning, please contact us and we’ll send you some references.
What have you noticed about movement patterns in your own movement practice? Please let us know in the comments below!
About the Author: Julianna Hane traded life on a cotton farm to become a dancer and aerialist. She is the author of the Aerial Teacher's Handbook and Director of Training for Born to Fly Productions.
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.