Acro is progressive. A cartwheel progresses to a side aerial, which progresses to a front aerial. A bridge kick-over progresses to a back walkover, which progresses to a back handspring.
We all want our students to be successful and reach their goals. We would love to have them performing impressive tricks and wowing the crowd onstage. In order to make the “big tricks” happen, however, Acro Dance teachers, students, and parents must master the arts of patience and persistence.
If you gloss over foundational tricks in a student’s acro education, there will be inevitable holes that will become apparent later in their training. For example, I met one talented acrobat who had many exceptional tricks in her repertoire. However, she never learned how to do a backward roll in Junior, so, even though she had all the strength and power necessary, she was never able to achieve a round-off back tuck during her peak training years. She was missing a part of her foundation, which resulted in not achieving a high-level trick down the road.
A risk of injury is created when rushing through important foundational skills and moving straight to the tricks you want to showcase onstage. In acro, muscle memory is everything. We need to instill in our students correct muscle memory by performing a lot of drills, and by only executing tricks that are safe and manageable for their age and level. This way, they will progress properly, and when they enter the world of tumbling, we can be confident that they will maintain proper technique while airborne. Not instilling this muscle memory during the Junior levels is a recipe for injury when students begin to tumble.
Not only do we want to avoid an acute (sudden) injury during tumbling, we also want to avoid chronic injuries, caused by doing a trick with improper technique over and over again. For example, if a student glossed over bridge-recovers and was rushed into working on walkovers, she may complain of lower back pain in the future. This is because she never learned, through long-term repetition, how to roll properly through the spine.
At the ADTA, we always encourage teachers to group students into classes according to ability (as opposed to age). Performing a skills assessment before grouping classes is very helpful to see what level students are at, and where they should be placed. Then, when they receive their class schedule, they understand and respect their Acro class placement.
We want all of our students to be able to get the big tricks, but, most importantly, we want them all to work towards these tricks safely and progressively so that they can have healthy and functional bodies for their Acro training years AND into adulthood.