“Bring your leg behind you. That’s in front of you.”
“OK, now reach your right hand down…. your other right…”
Conversations like this can be heard in every circus studio across the globe! It’s not just you. 😉 So, how do you make reliable sense of directions given in the air? Why do we get so darned stubborn about our understanding of orientation? See below. No, scroll down. OK – scroll up. Ugh – just keep reading.
The Student’s Challenge
When you’re learning a new move, particularly if it’s a brand new one, or if you’re new to circus, the whole process can seem Entirely Overwhelming. Here are a few things that may help.
- Work the position low and slow. If you are a student who routinely tries to place new things up high (*climbs up to the top* “OK, now what do I do?”), I want you to seriously rethink that choice. Not only is it a safety issue, but a) I don’t like hollering instructions up 15 feet, and b) you miss out on having the benefit of my hands to guide you through the move.
- Stop, listen, and think. We often just want to move and try stuff, but if you stop for a second, really listen to what your coach is saying, and think it though, you’ll have better results (Hint: think more zen tortoise than chimpanzee on meth). One thing that helps me tremendously when I’m trying to master a new move is repeating the coach’s words back to myself. “Bring tails to poles, and key to the wrapped side”, “move towards the free leg, and continue the rotation”. You get the idea. Sometimes, just saying it out loud deciphers it in your brain.
- Take the time to get familiar with your teacher’s particular orientation vocabulary. It’s kind of like learning a foreign language! It’s likely that you’ll hear key phrases again and again – once you’ve cracked the code, you’ll be fluent in this teacher’s “aerial-ese”.
- Perception can be crazy subjective. BUT, some things are always the same! The front of your body is always the front of your body. Towards the floor is always the same direction (unless you are living in an alternate reality, in which case please disregard). This is more of that stopping and thinking business – just because you’re upside down doesn’t mean the floor becomes the ceiling or your front becomes your back!
The Teacher’s Challenge
Every student learns and hears things differently, so it’s a helluva challenge to come up with instructions that make sense to most of them, let alone all of them. A lot of verbal cuing is trial and error as you seek to find “magic phrases”, but here are a few things I’ve found helpful.
- I personally shy away from directions of right and left, mainly because of the sheer chaos that ensues when they need to switch sides. I prefer using body or silk landmarks (“towards your free leg” or poles/tails).
- If you are using a phrase repeatedly that’s just not getting the desired result, no matter how logical it is, the problem probably isn’t the student. 😉 True confession: I struggle with this so much! I find myself just saying the same thing over and over (and louder and LOUDER) as if I could just yell it into their bodies. Le sigh. The more ways we have to explain things, the better the chance they’ll understand.
- The “tag” method. If it’s a particularly weird wrap with lots of go-here-then-go-there-and-wrap-this-and-flex-that, I position my hand so that the student has to tag my hand with the specified body part, thus (ideally) leading them through the move. Doesn’t work every time, but it can help.
Question time! Students – what verbal cuing do you find most useful? What frustrates you the most? Teachers – same question! What have you found that is particularly helpful in regards to direction? Where do you struggle? Post your comments below – let’s get a great conversation going!!!! Love and pull-ups, Laura
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