Support From the Ground Up

Written by Fran Sperling on January 14, 2014

A student recently interviewed me for her blog, and since it not in my general nature to “toot my own horn”, I found it interesting to have the opportunity to share some of my insights about teaching and what the context of my classes are about.

What struck me was her introduction. Do most aerial instructors realize teaching is a SERVICE business?  Our job is to recognize student’s potential and fulfill their capabilities.

She wrote:

“ I met Fran as my aerial silks instructor in Om Factory Union Square when I started training summer 2013. Since taking her classes, I ONLY want to take silks with her as my instructor. We quickly learned how to do a simple drop and much more complicated moves like the Man on the Moon and the Crossed-Silks Straddle Invert on our FIRST class. All the other instructors weren’t quite as engaging or challenging as I only learned how to climb, do a foot lock and straddle (all things I already knew how to do as I already took a few classes). Fran can quickly assess your strength level and will throw one-up moves on you which kept my interest.”

It got me thinking about why some aerialists become instructors. It certainly is not for the big bucks, so it must be because we have something to impart to others who are looking to be inspired. Years of experience, knowledge and a vast library of movement that we want to SHARE! To challenge, engage, connect, and be in service to our students.

Aerial students learn quickly that each apparatus offers us places or moments of support in which we learn to rely on, as we move through the air. A seat on a bar, a hooked leg around a lyra, a wrap in fabric or rope. A place to momentarily rest, reconnect, breathe more deeply, check in with ourselves, while we still remain in the air.

Support really starts from the ground up. It ought to start with the instructor.  Students are relying on us: to keep them safe, focused and on top of their game throughout the choreography and movement we show them and ask them to simulate.  We need to connect with them, even if for an initial one hour, as individuals, coming into the class with different skill sets and backgounds, as movers or non- movers, learning more quickly or less, as beginners or advanced.

Knowing how to assess a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and abilities from day one is essential. Offering exercises and movement that balance their needs, as individuals, to empower them to feel accomplished, even in the most basic of moves.

Are we there to impress them or inspire them? Are we afraid to allow them to become better aerialists than we are? Are we generous with what we share with them or are we hoarding our knowledge?

Cookie- cutter movement, a one for all attitude in teaching will not keep a student safe, and will more likely frustrate them.  Focusing on the student’s need, not your own agenda for the class each day, is what teaching is about. Allowing them to explore and feel accomplished.

Keeping a student “ down” who is capable of much more is milking money from their pockets.  Expecting too much from others, who may learn at a slower pace, without understanding and patience, will discourage them to continue, or they might just feel incapable and move on to another instructor.

Do we want them to point their toes?  Perform each “ trick” with ease, grace, control and beauty? Of course we do!! But not everyone in aerial class is a dancer or even comfortable in their own bodies—yet!

These are goals to aspire to!

So why not let them explore new movement, have awkward moments, and make their way through space feeling how their bodies move, becoming more self aware, confident and eventually gorgeous!

A seasoned teacher will have a vocabulary, syllabus and methodology to their teaching, levels of beginning, intermediate and advanced movement, but despite all preparation, each student still learns at their own pace. We need to respect, acknowledge and work with that, and be generous.

We, as their mentors, spotting them from the ground, are there to SUPPORT them in their aerial journey, and help them to discover and uncover more about themselves. While having a lot of fun along the way. :)