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Safety & Etiquette

Teamwork and Responsibility in Acro

What differentiates Acro and makes it so awesome are the partnerships we build. While other disciplines are driven by competition, Acro is driven by connection. There are three main roles in Acro: base, flyer, and spotter. They constitute a team and work together as a unit. Any success is a success of the team. Any failure is a failure of the team. When learning and playing, Acro comes with risks to everyone. These risks are significantly reduced with proper training, accurate self-assessment, and clear communication between all involved. When an incident does happen, it is important to understand where the failure came from. It’s easy to point blame at others in the team. In reality, everyone is at fault and should take responsibility for the incident. Incidents happen when all three fail as a unit.

Outlined in this document are the responsibilities and expectations of the three main roles of Acro.

Base

  1. You are the foundation of the team. The flyer’s safety is 100% your responsibility. Using a spotter does not mean the flyer’s safety is not your responsibility. You are the flyer’s primary spotter.

  2. Know when you need a spotter. Having a spotter does not make you uncool. There’s no shame in needing a spotter, on the contrary, it shows responsibility and humility. When it comes to safety, there’s no place for egos.

  3. Communicate with your flyer and discuss transitions. An informed flyer is less likely to fall.

  4. Pick your spotter(s) and know their skills. Don’t pick a random person. Discuss their experience. Ideally, spotter should be familiar with the move as much as you are.

  5. Enable your spotter to be efficient. Let them know the move you are attempting to do and any potential failure mechanisms.

  6. Evaluate your spotter as they spot. If you feel they are in the wrong spot, or not as close as you’d like. Communicate that with them. If you feel the spotting is marginal and still go ahead with a move you are not familiar with, you will be taking a huge risk and any failures are your responsibility.

  7. Accurate self-assessment for yourself and the flyer. If you feel you’re not sure what to do or feel the flyer is not ready for a move yet, don’t go along with it and hope for the best. There might be failure mechanisms you didn’t account for.

  8. If the flyer asks for a spotter, use one no matter how confident you are in the move. At least for the first time or until the flyer feels confident they don’t need a spotter anymore.

  9. If you pick an unqualified spotter just to have the illusion of spotting in order to assure a hesitant flyer or have a scapegoat in case something goes wrong, you probably shouldn’t be doing Acro.

Flyer

  1. You are the person who is most at risk. You should be responsible for your own safety. Your safety is 100% your responsibility. Never trust a base or a spotter blindly. Communicate with them; ask about potential failures and how that’s dealt with.

  2. Before doing a risky move, question the base, or spotter if using a spotter, to see how they will catch you if the move goes somewhere unintended.

  3. Communicate with your spotter, plan failures. For example, if it goes that way, let me land on my own feet, if it goes that way, catch me. A misinformed spotter is a risk to the flyer and themselves.

  4. Don’t go through a move you are uncertain of if you feel the spotter is not fully competent to spot the move.

  5. Be aware where you are in space, no “hail Mary” close your eyes attitude and hope the base or spotter catches you.

  6. Learn how to fall. You haven’t learned a move until you’ve learned how to safely fall out of the move. Tucking your head could mean the difference between a head impact and a gentle roll. Falling safely is possibly the greatest skill of successful flyers.

  7. If you feel your base is being pushy, putting you in unfamiliar transitions without communicating, or is not responsive to your concerns, communicate with them and find a new base if needed. Acro is a partnership; a flyer being tossed around like a rag doll unaware of what’s going on is not a partnership.

Spotter

  1. You’ve been entrusted with the safety of the flyer and base. Ideally, you should be more knowledgeable regarding the moves or transitions you are spotting than they are. The flyer’s safety is 100% your responsibility.

  2. Take pride in your spotting. Don’t act like you’re being punished. You make play fun and safe. Spotting is a skill like any other role in Acro and requires training. Get training if you don’t know how to spot a move yet.

  3. If you feel the base or flyer are doing things you are not familiar with or feel you can’t spot safely, speak up, and express your concerns.

  4. If you feel the base or the flyer is not communicating with you where transitions are going, speak up. You can’t spot if you don’t know what’s going on.

  5. Some moves are better spotted using multiple spotters. Call for multiple spotters if you feel one spotter is not enough.

  6. You are there to spot, not to do the move for the base and flyer unless asked to be an active spotter. There’s a difference between being a spotter and an assistant. Be clear with the base and flyer as to what they are expecting from you.

  7. A general rule of thumb when spotting is to follow the hips of the flyer from the side or behind the flyer, or to follow the head. For some higher risk transitions or pops where the flyer loses contact with the base, Icarian spotting techniques with two spotters holding the flyer’s arms is more effective.

Teamwork and camaraderie

  • When doing higher risks transitions, for example in pops where the base loses contact with the flyer, it’s recommended to work with a larger group of 4 or 5 people. Some benefits of doing so:

  • You can get more spotters. 2 spotters using Icarian spotting techniques are very effective and can tremendously reduce the risk of high risk transitions.

  • You get feedback from a person not involved in spotting.

  • You get to switch out when you tire, then jump back in.

  • You get to play with different flyers.

  • A great culture of camaraderie and support when you succeed.

– Fadi Hamdan (@acromegaman) with input from members of the AcroYoga Austin community

Acro Etiquette

In order to have the most fun and enjoyable acro experience possible, here are a few items for your consideration. I’m all for people doing what they want. Radical self-expression is good unless it interferes with another person’s safety, rights, or wellbeing. My intention and vision is for everyone to be safe so we can keep learning, growing and having as much fun as possible!

We will do our best as a community to spread the word about these etiquette guidelines. That said, if a person repeatedly violates these points of etiquette, hosts and or instructors reserve the right to ask him or her to leave the class or jam. These are in no particular order – they are all important.

1. Safety First Acro is a 3-person sport: base, flyer & spotter. Falls happen when acro’i ng, and they are a fun part of it IF they happen in a safe context. A safe context means the base and flyer know how to handle a fall and a spotter is there if needed. However, when leaning something new, it’s ALWAYS a good idea to have a spotter (or two or three!) to keep things as safe as possible. If nobody is handy, then stop, wait, and ask for some help. It’s also a very good idea for bases to get training on how to bring a flyer more safely to the ground, and for the flyer to learn safe falling and landing techniques. You are in charge of your safety and the safety whomever you are playing with. If you choose to play with someone who is reckless or you have not had experience with then realize this is a safety decision you just made for yourself. Also, not all spotters are created equal, so choose your spotters wisely. The goal of spotting is not merely that no one gets hurt, but that the flyer & be feel so safe they can thoroughly enjoy and commit to the moves they are trying.

2. Slip & Slide When practicing acroyoga, balance and counterbalance is very important, so it is critical that you are able to hold the grip with your partner’s hands, arms, feet, shoulders, etc. and have astable floor upon which to do this Here are a few tips around that:

  • Human sweat is one variable that can make this difficult. Bring a towel to wipe off. Men – when basing on a group floor (I ike the Wonder Mats) wear a shirt or set a towel down.

  • Do not wear lotions, sun screens, or anything else that is slippery.

  • Do not bring or apply massage oils.

3. Be Here Now Give the gift of your full presence when you play. Arrive to jams and classes 100% sober and free from the influence of any chemical, drug, herb, etc. Communication and situational awareness are a crucial part of a good acro experience. Anything that changes or modifies your ability to be fully present puts yourself and other people at risk.

4. Be Clean Now Like in social dancing, there is a lot of close physical contact with people when practicing acro.

  • If possible, take a shower before you show up to classes or jams If not, at least freshen your breath, and wash your armpits and feet. Your other acro-yogis will greatly appreciate it.

  • Avoid strong perfumes and colognes.

  • If you have long hair, bring something to tie it back.

  • Trim your fingernaiIs and toenails.

5. Speak Your Truth It is always OK to say “Yes” or “No” to an invitation to base, fly, or spot. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. If you don’t feel comfortable working or playing with someone, or if you just don’t feel like playing in that moment, just politely say “No, thank you.” If you are already flying and do not feel comfortable doing the pose you’re in, or anything that is suggested or requested, remember that “Down!” is the magic word. Also, if you ask someone to play, and they tell you “No,” remember don’t read into it, and go ask someone else. Just be thankful that you’re part of a community that is comfortable enough to practice clear communication with one another.

6. Share The Space Share the floor with other acro-yogis Be mindful about where you set up. Notice where other people are set up and what spaces are available. Set up in a way that leaves optimal space for other people. Be sure to leave enough space around you to allow for safe flying and falling. If you or your flyer move or fall and hit another base or flyer, it can be dangerous. Situational awareness is key.

7. Clothing & Accessories A huge part of acro is about balancing. Over the years I’ve observed that certain kinds of clothing tend to create problems and even cause flyers to get dropped. Here are a few tips:

  • Tight Flight: Wear clothing that is tight, but comfortable and easy to move in. Loose or baggy pants and shirts can interfere with your base’s feet and hands finding a shelf to hold you.

  • Stretch Break! Very stretchy clothing can cause flyers to slip off their base. Slightly stretchy is OK.

  • The Science of Friction: Very slippery clothing makes it very difficult for bases to balance their flyers. Wear fabrics that won’t slide off your base’s feet.

  • Flyer Tuck: If it hangs down below your waist, tuck your shirt into your pants, loose shirts can interfere with your bases feet and hands.

  • Pocket Guide: Empty pockets are good. No pockets are better. Bases toes can get caught in pockets.

  • Bling: Remove all of your rings, necklaces, long hair extensions, and other jewelry. Not only can they get tangled up with your base, but can end up creating pain, bruises, or even broken bones and bling.

8. Build Community As with any group, there are bound to be issues. If something comes up, please communicate it with the person. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, talk only with the instructor or person hosting the jam. Gossip just makes things worse and sucks. However, talking about problems and working as a community to resolve them makes things better for everyone. If you have a complaint, figure out how to turn it into a request and speak up! This is how we all learn, grow, and get better. As a side note, the acro community in Austin is experiencing rapid growth. We have more classes and jams than ever before, and we share and practice Acro because we have a passion for it. None of us are in competition, so let’s cultivate respect and build a local acro community that we can be proud of and grateful to be a part of. Realize that diversity in style, preference and opinion help enrich community. Know also, that there are many amazing acro instructors, workshops, and communities in other cities, states and countries. In this regard, we are part of a larger global community, so it’s nice to keep that in perspective.

9. Know Your Limits Pay attention to your body. If you are feeling tired, it’s a good idea to take a break or stop. If you hear yourself thinking or saying “Let me do just this one more thing!” it’s usually best to stop before you do it. This keeps everyone safe.

10. Communication is Key Communicating what you are going to do before you do it is very important – this goes for beginners as well as experienced practitioners. It’s important for bases to let their flyer know what they are doing. As a corollary to that, flyers need to talk to their bases if they have something they want to do. I’ve seen flyers just spontaneously try to go into a pose without telling their base, and then they wonder why they got dropped. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, to be inspired, and to try a move or pose. Channel that excitement into your words and communicate. Good communication is the oil that keeps the engine of relationships running smoothly- just like any other kind of relationship in your life. In this way, you can think of acro as a great way to practice making your whole life better.

11. Give Your Base A Hand Bases always appreciate a hand down and up from their flyer. It’s a nice gesture, builds trust and rapport, and once you get it down smoothly, it looks cool!

12. Leg Love If you love flying, give your base at least a little leg love once you’re done. No matter how strong or experienced the base is, a little bit of leg love goes a long way to help keep you and others flying. And don’t think they don’t remember who does and doesn’t give leg love! If you don’t know any moves, just ask. They are easy to learn and you can build up a great repertoire of Thai massage moves pretty quickly. Also, the Acro classes around town are a great way to learn Thai massage, which leads us right to…

13. Thai Massage Thai massage is a great way to wrap up the acro session. Other than warm up partner stretching and a little leg love for your base after flying, it’s generally not recommended to do a lot of Thai massage in between acrobatic poses. In acrobatics you need to have tight bodies. Thai massage loosens things up. So save the Thai massage for the end of the jam/class.

14. The Sacredness of Touch Touch is healing & fun, but realize that this is cultivated only when there is mutual care and honor between those playing together. Also, acro’ing can bring out a lot of difficult and sometimes confusing things within a person, so give patience and space to anyone if they seem to be having an “off day.” Although we are all equals, in humility remember to consider your acro partner as more important than yourself. For touch to remain sacred, we all must be servants to one another.

15. Respect The Space & Leave No Trace After a great time of fun, playing and doing things you didn’t think were possible, it’s like icing on the cake to leave the class/jam area clean, wonderful looking, and, when appropriate, to leave a donation. It’s wonderful to be given permission to use the spaces we get to for classes/jams, so we try our best to make our appreciation tangible.

– Adapted from article by John Richter