What the Heck IS Proficiency in Aerial Teaching, Anyway?

Photo by Brigid Marz.

Photo by Brigid Marz.

I’m so glad you asked, Dear Dangler! If you missed the first post in this series, click here; otherwise, carry on.


Proficiency – a high degree of competence or skill; expertise.


We live in a pretty DIY time, with resources positively oozing from every nook and cranny of the internet. With a click or two of my keyboard, I can learn to re-caulk my shower, save my dying succulents, get that stain off my new white shirt, and learn advanced moves on aerial silks. All in an afternoon!

Something I find myself coming up against in the USA again and again is our disregard (and sometimes blatant contempt for) expertise (great article here). WHY should I hire someone to re-caulk my shower if I can do it myself? Well, in this case, it depends on how nice I want it to look and how much time and effort I wish to spend. Besides, the worst thing that could happen if this goes terribly, terribly wrong (and, if you know me and home improvement projects, it definitely will) is that I get a really messy, caulk-y shower and my husband gets cranky.

What about things like aerial silks? Does it matter where we learn it or who we learn it from? (I’ll give you a hint: YES. It matters quite a bit.) We expect that the person imparting the knowledge has a firm grasp on what they’re teaching, and isn’t just winging it with a “How To Do Aerial Silks” manual and a YouTube video. And by the by – if you don’t expect that, perhaps you should. Raise your standards.

Realistic Levels of Proficiency in Aerial Coaching

The first question has to be: what are you teaching and to whom? Let’s be very candid – teaching summer camp kids three moves on a static trapeze is a far cry from coaching at Ecole Nationale de Cirque. I generally think of it in the following levels:

  • Three Trick Tallulah – You know a handful of moves inside and out, and are able to teach and spot them with confidence. You do not call yourself an aerial teacher, but you are comfortable putting on this hat for an hour every day at camp.
  • Assistant Teacher Alastair – You are on the teacher track, and actively working as an assistant under the guidance of a teacher training program or a well-established professional instructor. You’re not ready to strike out on your own, but are working to increase your understanding of spotting, methodology, essential technique, communication, and other teaching essentials.
  • Recreational Rainbow – You have hung out your shingle as a Teacher to the Masses. You have a thorough understanding of the foundational moves on your apparatus, and how to teach them in a variety of ways to suit different learning styles. You understand the how AND why of technique, are well-versed in applicable anatomy and injury prevention, and are confident in modifying moves for varying bodies. Your students are primarily recreational.
  • Professional Petunia – You mostly train folks with aerial stars in their eyes, or very serious students. You have an incredibly broad vocabulary, and are an innovator in your field. You are an aerial problem solver – from technique to choreography. You demand excellence, and know how to get the very best out of each and every student. Your resume is extensive.
  • Elite Eloise – You are a badass. You are the teacher we all aspire to be, and will jump at the chance to train with (Master Teacher). You live and breathe this apparatus, and have for years. Your teaching resume is a mile long, and you are very well respected throughout the industry. You are a first-class leader and expert, and I probably stalk you on social media.

 

Many of us probably fall somewhere between two levels. Where would you be? If a professional watched you teach and evaluated your class, would they agree? Note: if you’re very nervous about being evaluated by experts in the field, you probably know that you have some work to do. Pay attention to that feeling – it’s like an arrow pointing towards what needs improvement.

Staying Within Your Scope of Practice

When I got my personal training certifications, there was a phrase that was frequently bandied about: “scope of practice”. I love – LOVE – this phrase, most often used in the medical field. To me, it’s the bedrock of honest teaching. If we co-opt it for aerial instruction, the premise is simple: teach what you know well. It varies for everyone – whether it’s 5 moves or 500. For example, I hated open drops when I was in circus school – hated them. Consequently, I only really worked on a hand full, and I consider many of them to be beyond my scope of practice. I teach the ones I’m supremely confident in, but, beyond that, it’s a no-go, even when my students beg and plead and bring me pie (but keep the pie coming, guys – someday I might cave!). Pretending to know more than you do, not understanding that there are areas beyond your scope of practice and not knowing what they are, or “winging it” puts your students in very real danger.

False Advertising

hell nawM’Kay. Shade warning (for additional shade, please see below). If you know yourself to be a Three-Trick Tallulah, but advertise yourself as a Recreational Rainbow or a Professional Petunia, we’ve got a false advertising problem. If you think it goes unnoticed, newsflash – it doesn’t. Now, most of the time, I think it’s an issue of ignorance – Tallulah just doesn’t know that she’s got a lot more to learn. But if you’re doing it deliberately, that’s not OK, and here is the face I make when I encounter this. Now that you know better, do better.

So yes – proficiency is a Big Topic, and this is a Little Blog. Here’s my action step for the week – please join me if you feel so inclined! I’m going to go through my general progressions and curriculum, give everything the “scope of practice” check, and identify 3 areas that could broaden my practice (open drops for sure, roll-ups, and planches over here). What are your areas? Post them in the comments below!

And now, for no other reason than it came up in my feed as I was searching “shade”, here is your daily dose of Ru Paul, to be watched in 6 inch heels. Werk! Love and pull-ups, Laura


 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Spread the word. Share this post!

4 comments on “What the Heck IS Proficiency in Aerial Teaching, Anyway?”

  1. Jean Reply

    …a really inoffensive article, on the basis of my own learning experience I only really feel comfortable learning from someone who has at least a degree in circus arts, who subscribes to or is in a training organisation adhering to professional, ethical and teaching standards formally set by an outside organisation like FEDEC see http://www.fedec.eu/en/projets/maillons-atelier-des-directeurs/maillons01/ ..and who does not use their students as a handy harem of sexually available playthings!
    ..all issues in students promoting their interests as students ~ which Aerial Base Station, the student centred group tries to advance… https://www.facebook.com/groups/aerialbasestation/

  2. Kathleen Doherty Reply

    Spins, splits and transitions and all of the dancing !!

    It’s so funny, that is the phrase I use with my students all the time, “I do not know enough about this and it is I am learning this myself. However I cannot not teach you something I do not fully understand. I am sorry !”

    Usually when they want to learn aerial hoop drops…

  3. Sita Acevedo Reply

    Thank you for this article, and all of your writings. I have been teaching for several years, and you are helping me to dig deeper and reevaluate what I need to work on. Thank you!

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *