Equity: Finding the "Yoga" in Acroyoga series
Updated: May 9, 2019
An acroyoga practice is as much about developing yogic skills as it is acrobatic ones. And many skills, physical and non-physical, are shared by both acro and yoga. In this series we look at some of those less tangible, but very necessary skills.
Equity is about everyone getting what they need to succeed. In acroyoga, that means no two people, partnerships, poses, or practices can be expected to be the same. How do we, as teachers, recognize the unique needs of each practitioner and use the appropriate tools to support them?
Why think about equity?
Equity is based in fairness; justice with impartiality. Equity goes beyond equality by recognizing that individuals have unique needs. When we approach a partnership or a group of people with the expectation that they can all solve a given problem, or overcome an obstacle, by using the same set of tools in the same way, we are thinking in terms of equality. When we expect that individuals may use different tools and use them in different ways to solve the problem or overcome the obstacle, we are thinking in terms of equity. Equity takes into account the fact that people come with baggage: with talents and challenges, different perceptions and experiences, strengths and weakness... basically, that people are HUMAN. So when we enter into partnerships in acroyoga with a sense of equity, we allow individuals to be experienced as humans, with all of their gifts and limitations, which brings us all closer to the sense of belonging, acceptance, connection, and authenticity that is at the heart of acroyoga.
The Equity Game
There is a popular graphic that illustrates Equality, Equity, and Liberation with a baseball game. There are three people: tall, medium, and short, trying to watch the game from the outfield, but they face an obstacle: a tall wooden fence. If they all use the same tool, a box to stand on, only one of the three, the tallest, actually overcomes the obstacle; a demonstration of equality failing to provide fairness. When they use different tools, or use the tools in different ways, everyone can enjoy the game; a demonstration of equity, or giving everyone what they need to succeed. Of course, if we take away the fence completely, we afford our baseball fans liberation from the obstacle.
The Acroyoga Game
If we compare the baseball field to the field of acroyoga movement, then we can see that...
The fans are practitioners - they wanting to experience new poses and transitions.
The fence is a multitude of obstacles that may be blocking our eager practitioners from experiencing acroyoga. (More on these below...)
The boxes are become tools that we give our students to help them overcome the unique obstacles that they are facing.
To guide an acroyoga class, we need to identify which obstacles our students are facing and then decide which tools we can use to help them overcome those obstacles. Remember., if we assume that all of our students are facing the same obstacles, for example, lack of experience and knowledge, and we offer them all the same tools, i.e. a demonstration and explanation of the choreography, we are providing equal instruction and creating an expectation of sameness. In order to provide equitable instruction and create an environment of fairness, we must recognize that each person and each partnership may be facing different obstacles, or to different degrees. So, we must identify those unique obstacles and address them by offering different tools. This is the mark of a skilled teacher and it takes time, trial, and research to hone this skill. We start by considering some of the obstacles most commonly faced in acroyoga class and thinking about how we will address them or even prevent them from popping up.
A few of the common obstacles faced in acroyoga classes by new practitioners are
lack of experience: in acroyoga or movement in general
lack of knowledge of choreography
unfamiliarity with jargon and lingo, including anatomical language
lack of physical strength and mobility
lack of trust in self and others
unskilled communication strategies (Some of these obstacles are so prevalent and disruptive, we have dedicated whole chapters to them in other blog posts.)
unrealistic goals and expectations for performance, or expectations that are incompatible with their partners' expectations
learning styles: not all practitioners will benefit from the same type of instruction
biases in expectations around gender roles, experience level, training methods, body types and shapes... the list goes on. Our expectations of ourselves and each other can sometimes become insurmountable obstacles to our progress, enjoyment, and sustainability in the acroyoga game.
Thinking outside the box...and about new boxes
So how can we, as teachers and guides, support our students, partners, and each other while bringing a greater sense of equity to the field of acroyoga? What kinds of tools do we bring to the game to address the most common obstacles?
Facilitating communication is a big one! Encouraging trust is another. Especially with couples who are trying acroyoga together for the first time, communication can quickly break down into blame and trust can be a hard sell. We have so much to say about communication and trust we gave them their own blog posts.
We target skills that have many variations and modifications. We encourage participants to set their own goals for each class and urge them to consider all variations as valuable and viable options. We have some debate amongst ourselves about which is the better strategy - offering the simplest, most beginner friendly variations first and then progressing to more advanced options versus offering the most advanced options first and only offering other options if those are not accessible... but that is for another pedagogical post! We agree that a good teacher with a good class plan includes loads of variety. We give our students and partners lots of modifications and trust them to make the right choices for themselves on that day. This is key to ensuring that, no matter what kind of physical strength, mobility, or movement background they are working with, all participants have a tool to fits their needs.
We use language that allows for difference and sets an expectation of acceptance, openness, play, and discovery. This is especially important when we trouble-shoot with small groups or couples. We exchange the word, "could" for "should," for example. Instead of saying, "You SHOULD place your foot higher up," we try to say, "You COULD place your foot higher up," insinuating that it is a possibility, not an order. And we acknowledge that what works for us MIGHT or MIGHT NOT work for other couples. We acknowledge that works for one partnership might not work with a new partner and that one base may need to try different tactics with different flyers. We acknowledge that what works for one couple one day may not work the next day. We encourage practitioners to try our way and if that isn't working, find another path! Instead of talking about the "right way" to address a movement problem, we talk about "the efficient way." There is no right nor wrong, only things that work well and things that don't. There is no failure, only a pose we hadn't expected. (Incidentally, Ass-to-face pose is the most commonly discovered pose in our classes!) We also replace the word, "success" with the word, "progress." We try to remember and remind others that the goal of any class or training session is progress and that if we don't feel 100% successful today that's okay - we have the rest of this life, and all of our future lives, to work at acroyoga. There is no winner. There is no finish line. There is no prize. There is only the process of discovery and play.
When we plan a class, we consider learning styles, because, again, what works for one is not what works for everyone. Visual learners need to see good solid demos from many angles, so we encourage students to walk around during demos and even get down on the floor and look up at the pose. They may want to spot the pose before trying to fly or base it, so they can see it up close. Auditory and verbal learners need clear directions without extraneous words or loads of jargon, so we try to keep directions direct and to the point. They may absorb more information without music in the background, so we keep music off or low when instructing and turn it up during less wordy portions of class, like warm up and jam time. Kinesthetic learners need time to try the pose several times without being rushed. Interpersonal learners need to try with several different partners. Intrapersonal learners may need quiet time to reflect on the pose before trying it, or between trials. Tactile learners need hands-on cues and feedback from their partners and teachers - taps on the shoulder and hand squeezes may be more meaningful than directional words. We also acknowledge that most of us use several learning styles and have other strategies for learning. If we have the advantage of knowing our students well, we can target their learning preferences ahead of time. More frequently, we don't know all of our students and we have to create class plans that accommodate multiple learning styles.
At TrainMovePlay, we always think about equity when planning classes and workshops, and even when entering into informal jams, because we think everyone who wants access to acroyoga should have the support and tools they need. It doesn't have to be a laborious process! It can be a fun challenge to try new things, make adjustments, and explore new routes.
Share your thoughts...
Have you learned something about equity through your acroyoga practice?
Do you see equitable practices in your acroyoga community?
Has acroyoga helped you in relationships off the mat or outside the jam?
We'd love to hear your thoughts and keep the conversation going, so share your feedback below in the comments - we are listening.