A Guide to Jams: WHY play with beginners?
We often hear from beginners that jams are intimidating and alienating. This is a two part article about what YOU, as an experienced practitioner and veteran in your local jam, can and should do to welcome beginners. Part 1 focuses on WHY you should play with beginners and part 2 will focus on the HOW.
In this article
We address the common questions and comments we hear from veterans around jamming with beginners. We also lay out our argument for why it is actually good for us (the veterans), good for the beginners, and good for the community if we devote some time to jamming with beginners.
Common comments and questions from veterans
Have you ever said or thought these same things?...
”Why should I play with the beginners - can't they play with each other?"
"I came to train, so what am I getting out of playing with beginners?"
"I am willing to play with beginners but they never ask me."
"I already teach a class; I don't want to spend my jam time teaching for free."
"When I was new, I had to play with the other beginners - that's just how it goes."
These are honest and fair excuses! It can seem that, as more experienced practitioners, our jam time is too valuable to spend it teaching yet another bird pose. We totally get it! We want challenge, creativity, we want to go for the “big ticket items” while we have good spotters and the positive peer pressure of our community collected around us. But we strongly believe...
It is actually good training for US, the veterans, to jam with beginners.
When else do we practice the basics? We know it is good for our own practice to go back to bird presses and plank walks, long holds in simple hollow body inversions, and other “beginner” drills. And we may incorporate some of them into our acroyoga warm up. But we rarely spend much time revisiting and refining the basics unless we are working with beginners.
It is a chance for me to base Martin. We can use this opportunity to get in some flyer basing and base flying time. Marie-Therese, of @upside_down_acro , reminded us recently that if Sarah can base Martin in a pose or transition, it is probably ok for beginners. So we can multi-task by working on our second favorite roles while also demoing for beginners.
We get a chance to fly on a shakey base and base a nervous flyer, which, as we all know requires a lot more technical skill than working with a badass partner. This is where we see what we are made of! If I can jump to a star on my very experienced base, with his deep squat, sensitive feet, and brilliant scoop, I am actually not very impressed with myself. But if I can jump a star on a base who doesn’t know where stack is, has trouble squatting, and presses me way too fast... now I know I can jump mount a star!
It never gets old to watch the exhilarated, terrified, proud face of beginners in their first few poses. What a great reminder that acroyoga is, despite sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, really very fun after all.
It is good for BEGINNERS to jam with experienced people.
It is important for beginners to play with other beginners. We actually love the “discovery” method of teaching - just throw ‘em a pose and see what they figure out along the way! But, we all know what it was like the first time you flew with someone who knew what to do - it was like, “Ooooooohhhhhh! That’s what it is supposed to feel like!” When beginners only jam together, it is the blind leading the blind. But give them 2 or 3 reps with a veteran, and we give them the big neon target they need to make their own jam time useful.
They feel immediately more welcome when asked to join a group. Jams can be so intimidating! Asking the newbies not just to join us in our space, but into our group, goes a loooooong way toward the friendly and inclusive environment we seek.
We don't necessarily need to ask the beginner to base or fly to provide a valuable experience. Even just asking for a spot, or a second spotter, can go far toward helping a new person climb off the wall and onto a mat. We know that seeing a pose close up can provide a ton of information. And being part of a processing discussion, even more so. We can have a spotter and also give a beginner a first glimpse into a skill that is still physically out of their reach.
Out-of-reach goals are good motivation. At our first jam in Washington DC, a lovely, friendly base asked me to fly. I had no idea what I was doing and yet somehow he managed me through an entire Around the World WM - I was upside down and turning in space and completely clueless about how we were doing any of it. It was like a game of Twister: "now fold, put your right hand on that ankle, hold tight, now let go, take my hands, press up...taadaa!" I was sooooo exhilarated, I ran to Martin, frantically whispering, "Did you SEE what I just did?! That was awesome!" It is probably the moment I can point to as the exact moment I became addicted to acroyoga! What a gift that man gave me. I will consider myself blessed if I can ever give that moment to someone else.
I will consider myself blessed if I can ever give that moment to someone else.
It is good for the health and sustainability of the COMMUNITY.
Acroyoga communities are vulnerable to a lot of turn-over. People who are drawn to acroyoga also tend to be drawn to things like traveling, studying abroad, and many other hobbies, not to mention the normal life changes like graduating, getting jobs, getting kids, and other energy-suckers that distract us from training time. The reality is that people leave and if we don’t have a steady stream of people coming in, even the strongest groups are at risk of shrinking quickly.
Beginners bring new ideas. Maybe they are new to acroyoga but they could bring a wealth of other info, for example festival organizing, marketing and promotion, connections in the arts community, or knowledge of physiotherapy. Or just fresh creativity or vitality. New blood is crucial to the evolution of any group.
We show respect and break down hierarchy by welcoming newbies into our jam groups. If we are struggling through a skill, and we ask a beginner to look at it and help us process it, we show that all opinions are valuable and acknowledge that much of what we do is about common sense as much as it is about technique or experience.
What kind of community do we want to be? Ultimately, this is the crux of the situation: If words like, "inclusive, democratic, connected, and cooperative," are part of the value system that our acroyoga group proclaims, then jamming WITH beginners, not just alongside them, is a way of putting our values into action. And knowing that our community is made up of individuals, What kind of people do we want to be? At TrainMovePlay want to be the kind of people who welcome, inspire, and we want to be partners in the co-creation of an ever-expanding, ever-evolving vision of acroyoga.
We want to be partners in the co-creation of an ever-expanding, ever-evolving vision of acroyoga.
Have we convinced you?
We hope you'll try out our suggestions the next time you have beginners at a jam, send us pictures or tag us (@trainmoveplay on SoMe), and let us know your own thoughts about mingling with the newbies.
For more thoughts on teaching, check out our article, The TrainMovePlay Teaching Philosophy, and let us know what you believe about teaching, jamming, and building connection and community through movement.