By Rachel Hunt
Originally published on Aerial Canvas
We all do it. Obsess over crazy difficult new tricks. I call it 'shopping'. It's a buzz we need just like retail therapy. Whenever we get stuck with our usual stuff, instead of working on strength, flexibility, endurance, form, spin technique or the myriad of other things you could focus on, we shop for new stuff. It's the circus equivalent of shopping for new clothes when what we should really be doing is going on a diet. It's human to want something new, but the obsession with new tricks can undermine our discipline to work on making what we already know look better. Instead of looking for a new little black dress, we could make ourselves a great outfit from what we already have in our wardrobe. I know, not romantic at all, but it's a perspective shift you'll encounter at some stage in your aerial journey and it's one of the only ways I've found to tackle the inevitable discontentment with ourselves, especially in this world of constant exposure to the new and shiny.
Mastery is something most of us never really reach, because society places such a high value on quantity rather than quality. Excellence is so out of fashion. It isn't trending. We appreciate it when we see it, but assume it's for the elite few, the extra-gifted or insanely disciplined. Excellence is not about what you do its about how you do it. It's my everything. It's what I value, therefore it affects how I teach. Please note excellence is not the same as difficulty. I am not talking about every student becoming an Olympic level athlete. I'm talking about dedication to perfecting your craft within your personal potential.
Things that get in the way of valuing excellence..
Time. We fight time instead of using it. Time gives us strength, it allows us to stretch. It is the key ingredient to making "head knowledge" drop into muscle memory. It makes concepts we struggle to hold in our conscious mind and allows them to become auto-pilot. It's what makes theoretical information transfer into physical demonstration. It transforms mechanical steps into evocative performance. But so often we think we have to have something to show for the time we put in, instantly! In order for time to serve you, you must first submit to time. Let time do its thing. This shift in my own perspective has allowed me to learn from injuries and set goals without fear of them being unrealistic. It has changed my impatient, elitist nature to one that embraces the road toward knowledge.
Comparison. If you know me well you would have heard one of my favorite quotes by now, "Comparison is the thief of Joy". Coming from a background of elite gymnastics, I have seen the effects of young girls being pitted against each other, vying for Olympic selection and what that can do to an immature psyche. When I left the world of competitive gymnastics I thought that mindset with all its outcome-based criteria would fade. Instead I came across it again and again and the more I encountered it the more I felt discouraged and despaired of finding true joy in my accomplishments. I couldn't see that by constantly comparing myself to others and their achievements, I was robbing myself of the joy that was available to me in each moment. I see this play out in my students journeys sometimes - the initial spark of Joy they felt when they first learnt something new fades into discontentment as they discover how much there is to learn. We become junkies looking for a new buzz. The only comparison I encourage in my students is between themselves when they started compared to where they are today.
So how do we learn to value something that goes against our nature? Stop feeding the comparison machine. Stop fighting time. Make small goals, work steadily towards them and celebrate each small win. Get creative!! Try practicing your usual repertoire to different musical styles, you'd be amazed at what comes out of you when you slow things down or speed them up. A lot of invention is sparked by necessity. Restrict yourself. Force yourself to go left when your body normally goes right. Try making a trick into a descent, try making two tricks that don't fit together, into one trick. Try closing your eyes when you climb, you'll find out quickly how much beauty there can be in purposeful, deliberate movement.
I say this not because I want to discourage you from stretching for the next best thing; aiming for harder moves is a great way to stay motivated in your aerial journey. It's just not the whole journey. If you get to where you want to be too quickly, you risk not discovering the tools you need to find contentment in your pursuits. The cure for consuming endless tricks isn't to stop aiming for them, it's to contribute to the body of knowledge yourself! There may not be anything new under the sun, but let me tell you there is nothing quite like the joy of discovering something that's new for you, by yourself. Not by copying but by exploring. Our anatomy hasn't changed in years, but each of us expresses our physicality in a unique way. I believe the discovery of your aerial abilities goes hand in hand with discovery of your self. So start enjoying the journey! Look around and enjoy the view. After all, we all get high from aerials ;)