Acrobatic classes conducted in a dance school or studio should run like all other dance classes with the same expectations and regulations.
Attention to technique and class structure with expected outcomes is paramount to quality training. Discipline, class etiquette and attire should be in alignment with studio culture and ethics. Clearly defined class rules ensure students are safe and significantly reduce the risk of injury.
A typical acrobatic class would consist of warm-up and floor exercises which include balancing, followed by slow work travelling the length of the studio finishing with quick work skills. Strength and conditioning drills are incorporated throughout the class to aid in the development of the dancer. Students are spotted and assisted by the teacher and assistant teachers to achieve the skills and improve in confidence before attempting tricks unaided.
Ideally, doing a ballet class or jazz class prior to an acrobatic dance class is beneficial to prepare the body and the mind for the classwork. Dancers need to be encouraged to use all their dance techniques and skills learnt in other genres in acrobatics. This will also determine the amount of warm-up required at the beginning of acrobatic class.
Acrobatic warm-up is specialized and directed at the muscle groups and movements used to execute acrobatic skills. Exercises such as pushups, triceps pushups, gentle stretching into bend back positions etc. are all used to prepare the dancer for the work to follow.
Slow work is where the foundations are laid for quick work skills, therefore strong technique and concentrated effort is vital. The patterning learnt in these skills is carried through into the dynamic quick work skills. The emphasis is on lovely extensions, control and developing strength, particularly through the core. Cartwheels, back walkovers and front walkovers are essential skills for acrobatics and time must be taken to perfect their execution. A slight fault in a slow work skill can become a major issue when that skill is attempted at speed or aerially. Patience from student and teacher to go slow will result in more speed later on.
Although some rest time is required for the students, exercise stations can be set up to best utilize limited class time and keep dancers moving as the class flows through each skill. Dynamic drills can be introduced prior to moving onto the quick work skills such as round offs, handsprings, aerials and backflips. The emphasis is on power, dynamics and speed. These skills need strict supervision to ensure students are fully prepared and not taking unnecessary risks.
There are other components that can be introduced into class, given time, but they are more specialized. Contortion work is the extension of flexibility training and often requires a particular body type. Some bodies are not designed for extreme range while others find it enjoyable and easy. Balancing is another area that can be extended to include chairs and other apparatus’. Pyramids and working with props can also be included, along with incorporating skills into choreography. What is included in class is very dependent on the teacher, the demands of the studio and whether a syllabus is being followed.
While dancers can expect to feel a level of discomfort with some skills, the benefits of attending acrobatic classes is immeasurable.
Dancers should expect to feel safe and well-directed in class with clear guidelines. They should be spotted confidently and supported throughout all skills. They should also feel supported to progress in their own time and not be pressured to attempt skills too early in their development, both physically and mentally. Acrobatic skills take time, however, once the foundations are laid progress can then be remarkably swift.
Above all, dancers should expect to enjoy the challenges and thrive in acrobatic dance class.
Stacy Mitchell (for Dancetrain Magazine)