I am fully aware this may not be a popular post and it is not aimed at anyone particular but simply a response to my experience over the years. In the spirit of furthering invention and celebrating discovery, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Insta-etiquette. I'm not just talking about tagging and bragging, those rules are pretty well observed and are common-sense things we should all do to respect the truly creative artists we ALL copy. I'm talking about acknowledging the fact that as a community - our art is DEFINED by a global community of artists who contribute daily to the shared pool of online aerial knowledge. We can't by very definition own it, we're making it up as we go! That would be like a student getting upset that a lecturer copied Einstein by referring to the theory of relativity - once something is out there and it works, it is going to get absorbed into the general pool of knowledge.
When it comes to aerial skills what is 'invention'? Let's be real here - it would be almost impossible to track down the inventor of every skill. I'm positive that right around the world people are discovering new tricks for the first time, at the same time. So there are likely to be several 'inventors' of any given skill, pose or transition. I don't understand this tendency to try and formalize what is a very organic process of discovery and invalidate someone else's discovery just to claim 'invention'. I see it on Instagram, between studios and even across instructors. And its not only petty, its unfounded. There are a few (but not many) obvious original creations like "Spatchcock" by Felix Cane, but for the most part, the body of online aerial knowledge has come from a community of like-minded enthusiasts, professionals and amateurs alike, whose willingness to share, teach and create together has led to an IMPROVEMENT in quality and vastness of that pool of knowledge.
I consider myself to be creative, but out of all the aerial I teach every week, so far as I can tell I've only truly invented one thing. And I can't be sure; how could I? It's this lovely little exit from Russian Split on hoop into a standing Y. It feels great, it's an expedient transition and it looks cool. But if somebody else claimed its invention it wouldn't bother me in the slightest! In fact I'm positive loads of other people do this transition, I just haven't seen it around much. All I know is than Dan Power and I came up with it at a gig because we needed to change from Russian Split (a shape where we couldn't see each other) into another shape where we could see each other quickly. Necessity as usual leads to invention. And it was a great little find! Now I have students requesting to learn it all the time. My point is this - there's joy in discovery! But as soon we start getting all bent out of shape about who owns a trick and who invented it, the joy dissipates.
Proverb: "There is nothing new under the Sun", meaning that all that is to be discovered has already been, but that doesn't mean that you can't experience JOY in finding these things for yourself! As a teacher I LOVE seeing students' faces light up when they stumble on a new find. In that sense, each and every body's discovery is a valid and authentic experience that we should cherish more than the chance to 'name and claim' something.
In the same token, please respect the work of others by tagging them if you copy their moves and don't write "inspired by" unless your move is truly a variation of theirs - in that way we not only expand the use of creative moves but better ourselves by co-inventing variations to suit all kinds of bodies. Generosity will always disarm disrespect and we only do ourselves an injustice if we start clinging to our 'inventions' and hoarding knowledge instead of contributing, acknowledging and aspiring to attempt the work of those whose dedication and creativity expands our art form. If you don't want your moves to be tried by others, don't make them public, simple as that. Let's not ruin the beautiful ig-vibe that fosters creativity, let's celebrate the endless wealth of aerial knowledge there is to be unearthed and aspire to those who exemplify skills done at their best instead of getting our knickers in a knot because someone copied 'your' move - after all Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery :-)
Recently I found myself thinking back to when I was a gymnast and I realised we never trained with mirrors. The exception would be our weekly ballet class, where we learnt what lines looked good and which didn't and how that corresponded to how it felt in our bodies and brains to produce those lines. Ultimately mirrors are a tool to teach body awareness; a step along the way to gaining a more full picture of what is is to control your body.
I take for granted now, as a teacher of mostly adults, how little we were taught to depend on mirrors. I've particularly begun to notice the effect this dependency on mirrors is having on performers. Whether it's seeing performers on stage who look like their training and don't know how to connect with an audience looking back at them or watching ‘performance’ videos on social media where the person is just watching themselves in the mirror the whole time. I've found myself recently being quite turned off and disconnected from these kinds of videos, because the camera is the lens the viewer looks through and yet it rarely gets acknowledged. This goes hand in hand with another one of my mantras which is ‘You perform how you train’ - but I digress.
As a teacher I use mirrors, especially with new students, but increasingly I question why that is my practice. As a gymnast I couldn't possibly perform a beam routine whilst checking if my leg was straight in a mirror! How did we develop such consistent body tension and control, such acute awareness of a slightly bent knee? We developed this sense because we trained WITHOUT visual feedback. It heightened OTHER senses, namely something called proprioception, or the ability to perceive the position of joints and limbs in space. For example - most of us can imagine straightening our leg and what that looks like. But how does it feel? Which muscles are used and in what way? I can't tell you how many times I've told a student to point their feet (Ok maybe I yelled it) and they've responded "I thought I was!" Now, granted the more extensive your training, the more highly developed this sense becomes and the reality is that a slight sickle here or there will go unnoticed by most viewers, however it's the process of gaining that awareness, at whatever level, that both fascinates and challenges me as a teacher. So as a student, how can you develop better proprioception? Simply put, any exercise that blocks or reduces the use of sight or balance, will enhance this particular skill.
A great example is closing your eyes and trying to train a simple movement or body position that wouldn't normally require any use of vision. I often close my eyes before I invert because for me, that is a skill I can literally do 'with my eyes closed'. Closing my eyes taught me to maintain a neutral position with my head as I inverted (chucking your head back is a common mistake) as without sight, there was no reason to look to the ceiling as I inverted. I know what it feels like to engage my core, pull my shoulders slightly back and down, close off my ribs, rotate externally from the hips and I know when I've arrived in an upside down position and when to balance out my straddle to execute the same invert over and over again. From there I can play with it creatively - bend one leg, or put some different sort of physicality into it like making it look like it's a struggle for example or changing the speed at different points throughout the invert. All these things make me more versatile as a performer.
Personally I like the term 'aerial IQ' - for me that means the ability to think "off your feet" so to speak, an awareness of both your body's' form and position in space and in essence, the language of your body. Creatively, as a teacher who is fundamentally elite but also passionate about performance, that's where the magic starts - because if you're in control and aware of your body's shape and positioning, then you can start to tell a story with your skills, not simply execute tricks. Replicating a skill as it should be done however is the first step to honing your proprioceptive ability. In the same way as doctors learn anatomy from the perspective of 'what's normal' in order to diagnose when something is not right, good performers benefit from a solid foundation of how the basics should be executed. By weaning yourself off the use of mirrors you will more easily master control over your body by training your proprioception.