Dance Teacher Resources

‘I want to learn tricks’: How and why to teach acro at your studio

Acrobatic Arts. Photo courtesy of Mandy Yip.
Acrobatic Arts. Photo courtesy of Mandy Yip.

Most of us remember when acrobatics started to creep more and more into dance routines. Maybe it was the advent of So You Think You Can Dance and the boom of the dance competition scene that created this gymnastics/dance mash that many were once appalled by, or afraid of. Acrobatics and gymnastics can be awe-inspiring, athletic and artful. Who doesn’t love a bit of cirque? But many have asked if dance and acrobatics should have a place together. That was until Mandy Yip of Canada launched Acrobatic Arts in 2012, changing dance education by empowering us all with achievable, safe and artistic “acrodance.” 

Acrobatic Arts. Photo courtesy of Mandy Yip.
Teachers undergoing an Acrobatic Arts certification course.

Being a contemporary and jazz dance teacher, I have increasingly been asked by students to add more and more “tricks” to my choreography. The students see it on television or Instagram, and think they automatically have the strength, technique or flexibility to safely achieve the skills (whether they actually do is another question). But how, with a safe dance conscience, do I train my dancers to achieve such feats and integrate them seamlessly into choreography without producing a clunky piece where the story, feeling and movement is abruptly interrupted by a tumbling pass? And how can I teach these tricks without, God forbid, serious injury?

I found my answer this July in Adelaide at the Acrobatic Arts’ teacher certification program.

Acrobatic Arts is a progessional-based syllabus program designed for teaching acrodance, a fusion of the artistry and technique of formal dance training with the athleticism of acrobatics.

Acrobatic Arts. Photo courtesy of Mandy Yip.
Teachers undergoing an Acrobatic Arts certification course.

The two-day training course I attended not only taught me new exercises and drills to increase endurance, strength and flexibility, but it made spotting and teaching acrobatic and tumbling skills achievable. With a mixture of practical classes with students of all levels and sizes, as well as a chance to try exercises and skills ourselves (which I was a little too enthusiastic about), alongside seminars on anatomy, progressions, dance safety and acrodance choreography, I left the two-day course feeling confident and enthusiastic about the possibilities. The practical, hands-on experience with adorable students from local studio, Pivotal Dance, and the well-designed lesson plans and syllabus requirements, over the six levels of Module One, gave me everything I’ve needed to introduce acrodance to my students. To say I was excited would be an understatement. 

When chatting with other dance teachers who have incorporated Acrobatic Arts into their studio offerings, we’ve all gushed over the many benefits we didn’t actually think about when embarking on this acrodance journey. We’ve found that by training dancers through the carefully planned progressions of Acrobatic Arts, we have discovered that we can quite quickly see deficits in strength or flexibility, or placement issues that might not have otherwise been picked up until advanced levels of ballet or jazz training. By working through the exercises and required skills in each level, we can quickly see where dancers’ strengths and challenges lie, and we have exercises right at our fingertips to safely help develop them. We’ve discovered that the strength, endurance, flexibility and body awareness that the program focuses on can help pinpoint issues early on in a dancer’s training and make them stronger and more efficient and proficient, as they advance to higher levels of their dance training.

Acrobatic Arts. Photo courtesy of Mandy Yip.
Teachers undergoing an Acrobatic Arts certification course.

Teachers also remarked about the dance compatibility of the program. Whereas flat footed, forward facing gymnastics or traditional acrobatic training can be difficult to blend seamlessly with choreography, we have found that Acrobatic Arts skills are taught with dance aesthetic and choreography in mind. 

Whether you want an acro-focused studio, or you’d just like to help your students be more versatile and strong, incorporating Acrobatic Arts is actually easier than I imagined, with great results. If you are already a certified dance teacher with an interest in teaching acrodance, then you just need to set aside two days and muster up some focus to take the course and gain your certification. At first, I felt a little overwhelmed with the information and was daunted by the prospect of teaching dancers to tumble without breaking their neck, but by the end of the training, I felt empowered. The easy-to-use app, informative manual and explanatory list of equipment needs (which is just basically mats and yoga blocks) had me leaving knowing that I could start acrodance classes straight away, with success. 

If you’re thinking about Acrobatic Arts certification, I’d say “do it!” I not only had a blast at the training days and made new likeminded dance teacher friends with whom I still chat today, but I now have a safe, effective and fun program to engage, inspire and challenge my students.

For more information about Acrobatic Arts and training dates and cities, including upcoming January school holiday dates across Australia, visit www.acrobaticarts.com.

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa. 

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