I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because I’ve been super busy with tons of exciting new projects…
…Aw, who am I kidding? I’m just a lazy fuck. Not unlike your bratty cousin whose novel is “already practically written in my mind”, I got a shit ton of those “almost complete” articles on the back burner, just waiting to be mercilessly unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses of my tens of followers.
Here’s one of them.
Today, kids, we’re going to talk about staying safe while airborne. Specifically while practicing aerials and tricks in dancing of course.
First of all, I love tricks and aerials. I think they’re an inherent part of Lindy Hop and swing dancing in general, dating back to the very origins of the dance, and anyone who doesn’t think so can go f… Err, do whatever it is that people do instead of appreciating the historical value of aerials. It’s fine to not like them, or think they’re stupid, just don’t give me that “authenticity” bullshit.
So this is definitely not some sort of manifesto to scare people into letting go of their dreams of flight, which has been a worthwhile – albeit often misguided since the days of Icarus – human pursuit for millennia. Rather, think of it as an exploration into finding ways to not get your shit wrecked. On the other hand, this is of course by no means an exhaustive list or a miracle aerials potion, and if you’re any kind of serious about aerials, you should get *way* more information, talk to your instructors, and get extensive training before even thinking of letting them wings spread.
I repeat: this is a comedy article, not some sort of DIY aerial training. If anything, and if the average article on here is any indication, it will make you dumber. You have been warned.
#6 – Know Thyself
When starting aerials or tricks, you should assess your general state. First of all, how in shape are you? For both the thrower and the throwee, physical shape is important, and if you can’t, for example, muster five push ups without feeling strained, maybe take a few steps before trying something that will actually break you. The deceptive thing about tricks and aerials is that pros make them look effortless – it’s literally their job to do so. But there are hundreds of hours of work behind that – you can’t just pick up diesel gas and make a space rocket out of it.
And before someone feels the need to lecture me on fat shaming: this has little to do with your actual body weight. Some skinny people have absolutely shitty stamina or strength, can’t jump for their life or can’t lift a stapler – and vice versa. It’s about honestly assessing your ability to actually do the required actions without hurting yourself or your partner. And if you find yourself falling short of your ambitions, consider training laterally – going to the gym, jogging, bulking up a bit – while tackling more modest tricks in the meantime.
Self-evaluation is not only a task you should do when starting out, but every time you do aerials, and I mean that quite literally. Every practice should begin and end with a checklist assessing your physical and mental shape at that very moment. How’s that shoulder feeling from yesterday’s practice? Is your mental space cluttered by your shitty roommate letting a raccoon in the house last week?
How do you feel about your partner and your coaches today? How is your attention span, do you feel secure with today’s program?
If anything is off, acknowledge it, talk about it, and incorporate these realities in your rehearsal because, whether you recognize it or not, they WILL influence your performance. I’ve seen the Superhero syndrome, where someone thinks they’re above something bad happening, lead to needless injuries countless times.
#5 – The Three Ps: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Warm the fuck up, idiot!
I’m the first one to have been guilty by omission on this issue many, many times, and I paid for it. Many studies suggest that not every warm up is good though, so get your ass informed – over-stretching, for example, can actually increase the risk of injuries by putting unnecessary strain on your muscles. Stretching is best reserved for after rehearsal – another too often skipped step. For preparing your body for the maximum amount of abuse, it’s generally better to do a full body mini work out; you never know what body part your meatbag will choose to fall on should shit hit the fan.
Speaking of which, a motto you should live by when acrobating (I decided that this is a word now) is “everything that can go wrong, will”, so the first thing you should prepare yourself for is screwing up. Sounds stupid, but falling training is one of the most overlooked aspects of aerialzing (also a word), and goes a long way towards preventing injuries. Think of the many ways a particular trick could go wrong, and then mimic that situation in a controlled environment, using falling techniques and training your body to react fast and avoid injuries.
There is a serious plethora of extremely qualified instructors out there. I was lucky enough to train extensively with Yuval Hod and Natalie Gomes, veritable beast-people when it comes to aerials, but there are many, many others. Trust me, learning aerials by yourself is not only a shitty and often painful process, it is also downright dangerous. So preparation also involves homework and finding coaches that suit your style. As in dancing, some coaches will suit you more or less – keep looking!
Finally, make sure you have access to the proper equipment. For more complex or dangerous tricks, going to a bona fide gym equipped with harnesses and mats is ideal. Make sure to have enough space to do the trick and remove anything that could hurt you or your partner or get caught in your foreskin or something. Jewelry, belts, or piercings are usually important, if surprising, sources of injuries. Speaking of which…
#4 – The Risk is not Always Where it Seems
Aerials can sometimes be difficult to assess – the most dangerous aerials are often not those that *look* risky. There are many ways to evaluate where a trick falls in the danger zone.
As a general rule, anything where all the partners have their feet towards the floor at all times can be considered pretty safe on the spectrum. Add a kick to that, such as the kicking A-Frame or Jump for Joy, and that’s already harder – you run the risk of not getting your feet back under your butt in time.
Partner contact is another big factor to consider. Anything that involves letting go of your partner is significantly more dangerous than when you have constant contact. A clarification though: just because your partner is touching you the whole time doesn’t mean they can *support* you the whole time. You gain Danger Zone points, for example, if at any moment during the aerial your partner can’t actually physically help you by supporting your weight.
Rotation on any axis is the next important risk multiplier to look for. Even if your feet are always facing down but you rotate on a vertical axis, this can be more dangerous on the landing, your body not always knowing where it is. As far as flips are concerned, front flips are actually a measure riskier than back flips: any trick where your feet see the floor before your eyes is bad fucking news.
Tricks and aerials can be modified not only to mitigate the overall risk factor, but also as stepping stones to achieving the aerial – in other words, much like a Denny’s Grand Slam after a night at the pub, if you’re going for a difficult trick, consider breaking it down into easier chunks. Maybe don’t throw that pancake high up, or keep contact with your partner on the Over the Shoulder.
It should go without saying, but *never* confuse risk and difficulty. Even “easy” aerials have an inherent risk level that’s significantly higher than, say, an underarm pass; almost all experienced dancers have hurt themselves not while trying crazy shit, but doing simple aerials such as the Frog – they let their guard down for that important split second when the Universe decided to go “Haha OK now check this shit out!”
#3 – Be Kings and Queens of Empathy
I cannot stress enough the fact that I used to be a huge asshole.
Well. A bigger asshole, then. Thanks a lot, you judgmental, nameless stock model.
What I discovered over the years, however, is that practicing empathy is by far the most pleasant road to travel for all parties involved. For example, if your partner is scared of something, instead of screaming at them that they’re giant wusses, ask why. Maybe they fear that they’ll slip up, maybe they don’t feel that good that day – coming back to #6, if their head is not 100% in the game, they will fuck up and it’s better to breathe in and take a moment to address the issue.
There is a very toxic culture in some dance teams insinuating that if you’re the last to pass an aerial, you are somewhat of a subhuman, and that should God forbid the apocalypse strikes, you should be the first to have bits chopped off for immediate consumption. Of course, we all are addicted to success, and being the first couple to do a complex trick feels great, but in the end it doesn’t mean squat. What’s even more important is that everyone gets through the door after rehearsal with all their limbs securely fastened in the right place. That post-beer practice won’t drink itself.
If you run into a wall during your progress, and barring any other factor such as preparedness and condition, address the problem surgically. First of all, are you or your partner not doing the required action because you’re scared? Scared of what? Would anything help (spotters, mats, slowing it down)? Is there a short term or medium term solution? Are you simply not able to do it due to physical limitations? Can you get coached on how to do it better or more efficiently?
In the end, and I’m addressing mostly coaches but couples as well, nailing an aerial can greatly enhance your performance, but a shitty one can tank it faster than Speedy Gonzales on a cocaine binge. I can guarantee that 100% of your audience would much rather appreciate a great swingout than gasp in apprehension at a crappy Around the Back.
#2 – Always Be Spottin’
Spotting is a little bit of my battle horse because good spotters can make the difference between a very, very shitty life-altering injury and the required pat on the back telling the spotter they did a good job. Spotting should be considered, bar none, the most serious aspect of training in aerials. As the last line of defense against most types of injuries, they are too often seen as an afterthought, like a shriveled cherry on top of the proverbial shit sundae. Aside from a very few, very secure aerials, I never try a new thing, or an old thing with a new partner, without spotters.
Spotters should start hands on and should remain so until the spottees feel comfortable enough to go the next level.
What is the next level, you’ll ask?
Spotters should start hands on because they need to get acquainted with how the trick unfolds on a physical level. So a good rough sketch would be to have one or more spotter follow through physically with the flyer, and have another spotter or two to smooth out the landing or exit. At the first stage, all these spotters should get their hands on the flyer as soon as possible.
The second stage of spotting would be to execute the trick assist-free, but with spotters closely following every movement. And I say closely following every movement (one to three inches away from the flyer at all times, ready to react). Standing with your arms crossed ten feet away shouting “I got you” does not count as spotting, in much the same way that looking at a McDonald’s ad doesn’t equate to eating a burger.
The last stage of spotting is spotting strictly the landing or exit. When spotting at any stage in general but landings in particular, and I can’t stress that enough, stay clear of the feet and legs! Baby giraffes may be able to land on their fucking heads and walk afterwards, but humans are giant wusses when it comes to our brain pots. Concentrate on securing the head, and spotting the arms, shoulders, back and abdomen.
If you are not comfortable with a spotter, and for whatever reason you don’t trust them at least as fully as you trust your partner, call it off. It’s simply not worth it, not only because you might be right, but also because it takes you out of the head space necessary to accomplish the trick to the best of your capacities. Same goes if you’re coaching. Never tell yourself “Eh it’s going to be fine who could be that fucking dumb and uncoordinated as to fuck up this spot?”
That guy. That guy could be that fucking dumb and uncoordinated. Instead, offer some spotting cues.
Ideally, you should never try something new without spotters until both you and your coaches are comfortable with it – and if your coaches suspiciously often go “nah, no spotter, you’re fine”, get the fuck out of Dodge before your teeth end up on the business end of a shoe. Approach going spotter-free as you would protection-free sex: a very careful, measured, sober, enlightened decision agreed upon by everyone involved.
Followed by lots of sweating and swears.
#1 – Acknowledge Your Inner Dumbass
Bitch slap your Inner Dumbass when it comes to trying out aerials.
Look, I ain’t gonna lie. I’ve been doing aerials for more than 15 years and, over those years, I’ve seen what I consider in retrospect pretty fucked up endangering behavior, and have partaken in more than I care to admit – up to and including:
– People trying to impress newbies by throwing drunken pancakes in a hotel room at 3am;
– Trying new aerials on wet grass in the park;
– Launching people in a pool from what was clearly a hazardous, slippery floor;
– Learning acrobatics the day of a competition.
You don’t have to be Neil DeGrasse Tyson to understand why these are all pretty terrible ideas even from a very objective scientific standpoint. It’s not whimsical, it’s not hilarious, it doesn’t show your motivation, it’s not “having balls”… It’s just fucking dangerous and stupid.
The exuberance of our Inner Dumbass varies, especially if you happen to be an Actual Dumbass…
…but trust me, it’s in there. Lurking in the shadow. Just waiting for that perfect opportunity. Maybe you’re getting super enthusiastic about a trick. Maybe your partner is really pushing you to do something. Maybe it’s 2am and you have an uncontrollable urge to learn the K-Flip right now in the hotel lobby. Your Inner Dumbass, like a low-budget horror flick villain, will assault you at your most vulnerable, and before you know it you’ll end up with your asshole firmly lodged in your trachea.
And that’s no way to fucking live.
*Thanks to my partners in crime Natalia Rueda and Lunou Samson-Poirot, as well as Montreal’s own Annie Trudeau, Didier Jean-François and Jonathan Caron for their contributions to this column.