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Prerequisites: They’re for Everyone’s Good!

As a learner, one of the best acro intensives I’ve attended enforced clearly stated prerequisites and required a video submission demonstrating applicants had a good handle on certain material.

It was intimidating to pull this video together, and sure, I had anxiety I wouldn’t make the cut. But during the program itself, knowing the instructors had used these pre-req videos to vet all participants allowed me to commit to difficult and sometimes dangerous material in a way I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing if I hadn’t done so.

In contrast, I remember dropping into a class in a city I was traveling through for a night, where we were asked to do spotted backflips as a warm-up exercise. I’m nearly 50, assuredly not a gymnast, and, importantly, I didn’t know these people and their fluency with spotting. I wound up declining the exercise, with the last factor being the greatest. I’ve also seen similar situations at national acro festivals, where you’re eager to try challenging material from one of the big national teachers, but sometimes wind up in a group of folks you don’t know from Adam.

While no single thing can wholly remove risk, prerequisites can help in these situations. When instructors clearly state the necessary component skills, and students practice honest self-assessment and follow them, the whole situation gets a lot safer.

A big obstacle to common use of prerequisites is instructors declaring too many classes as “all-levels” in an attempt to get more bodies through the door. This robs both the newer and more advanced students of the instructor’s full attention as they skip between basic and sophisticated material, giving neither group the focus they should. It can also lead to newer people, pulled along by social gravity or nascent self-assessment skills, inserting themselves into material they’re really not ready for, putting themselves and others at risk.

This has led to pre-reqs being used so rarely in many class descriptions that some students become immediately intimidated at the sight of any pre-reqs whatsoever. Recently when I listed ‘Star’ as a pre-req for one of my classes, I had a friend who I fly in Star nearly every weekend tell me “Oh, I’m not sure I meet the pre-reqs for your class”.

As a teacher, I’m not expecting you to be a flawless master of a pre-req skill. But remember, this skill listed as a pre-req because it’s starting point for what we’re actually going to do in class. Not having some consistency with that skill is unsafe and slows the class down.

If you can get into a pre-req skill consistently and with some quietness and ease, then I think you’re ready to use that skill in a class. Are you breathing? Could you pause during transitions and still retain control?  If it feels like a ‘Hail Mary’ each time you do it, you need a little more practice first, and might choose a different class option for now.

Pre-reqs aren’t there to immediately defeat you; they challenge you to ask these questions of yourself, and really listen to the answers. Seek out material at the upper end of what you’ve mastered, and push that edge just a little.

As our local acro scene develops and we see more learners of varied levels, I hope to see more use of prerequisites by teachers in class descriptions, and a culture of honest self-assessment among students in response.

Stay safe and have fun. See you at the jam!

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Scott White is an AcroYoga Montreal-certified teacher and a founding director of Austin Acro Advocates. He teaches as part of Freeflow Acro and documents his adventures on his masked heavy metal parody YouTube channel, Evil Acro.