Welcome back! If you haven't already I suggest you read What It Means To Be A Base - Part 1 before you start reading Part 2.
I think that 'Being a good person' for your partner, while a fairly broad responsibility, comes down to two things:
It was important for Aretha, and it’s important for us. This should, ideally, come fairly naturally. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many occasions where it hasn’t. Being respectful and supportive involves:
Partner Acrobatics can be frustrating as hell. You’ll get mad at yourself, your partner, the world, and your technique all in a span of 5 seconds. It’s important to not take those frustrations out on your flyer, even if what you’re frustrated with is her. You can express your frustration, but take the time to do it calmly and clearly.
This means keeping your tone of voice in check. It’s so easy for ‘Can you open your hips in your handstand?’ to go from respectful to disrespectful just because of your inflection.
Choice of words
We covered this recently in our communication blog, but it bears repeating: your choice of words is important. Be careful with the language you use. Aim to focus on solutions, and ‘we’ based language.
An example of what not to do: back in circus school when I was naive and hot-headed, I was frustrated with Isis and chose to express my frustrations with the phrase
‘You’re being a fucking cunt’
This is a prime example of two things: being a dick and an extremely poor choice of words that I’m now incredibly regretful of. Choose better words than 19-year-old-me. He was a dick.
Taking the time to listen and understand
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of training, and to want to just keep on going, but if your flyer is trying to tell you something make sure you take the time to really listen, and to really understand what they’re asking or saying.
I’m the worst at this. Isis will say a sentence and I’ll be like ‘Yup. Got it. Let’s go.’ And then she’ll stop me and say another sentence and I’ll think ‘Yup. Got it. You already said that.’ And then she’ll say another sentence and I’ll think ‘Wait. What? I don’t get it.’ And then at that point I’ll start listening and trying to understand properly, and only then will I get what she was trying to say. Save time, and just listen from the very beginning.
Once you’ve understood, enact. I’ve seen it a lot, and done it myself, where bases will brush off flyer suggestions for whatever reason. I’ve even seen it where another base will make the exact same suggestion, and suddenly it’s worth trying. Even if you think it’s not gonna work, as long as trying it isn’t going to cause anything dangerous to happen, what’s the harm? Ignoring flyer ideas just because they’re a flyer? Dick move.
Taking the time to communicate and be understood
On the flipside of that, is taking the time to ensure your communication is clear, and clearly understood. Brian Konash of the NYC crew clearly, and with surgical precision, states before every attempt of a trick, what trick they’re doing, how they’re getting into it, what order they’re doing it in, how they’re coming down and then he checks ‘ready’ with the spotter or person pulling lines if there is one. Every time.
You perhaps don’t have to be as clinical as Brian is with his communication, but you have to respect the intention to be so committed to ensuring a shared understanding of what’s about to happen for everyone involved.
This behavior applies to sticking to your word as well. If everyone involved thinks X is happening, and then halfway through you decide to do X+Y without telling anyone, then that’s a dick move, friend. Surprising flyers in the middle of a trick is a quick way to cause an accident, and a quicker way to erode whatever trust you’ve built. Also, it’s a total dick move.
Acknowledging and being mindful that you’re a partnership
I think when we start throwing blame at each other as individuals it’s very easy to lose the respect in those moments. It’s very easy for training to become one person telling the other one what to do and how to do it. Always remember you’re a team, and the responsibility for success and failure lies with the team, not necessarily an individual.
As well as that, remain mindful that your errors or mistakes can create problems for the flyer. It’s easy to see those errors and say ‘you need to fix that’ without thinking or realizing that you’re the one actually causing the error you’re seeing. Classic example is a wonky or misaligned handstand in hand to hand, 90% of the time the wonkiness comes from the base but the flyer will get blamed.
Ask the flyer to make a correction without first thinking or checking if you could make an improvement or correction? You guessed it, dick move.
Because bases are able to ‘see’ what’s happening while flyer’s can for the most part only ‘feel’ what’s happening; I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the ‘information’ you, as a base, receive about a trick is more valuable than a flyers. I should know, I’ve done it enough.
It’s not uncommon to have a situation where the flyer says ‘I feel like I’m piked’, and as a base you can clearly see that they’re not. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss what they’re feeling, even though it’s clearly, visibly not happening.
While what they may be feeling isn’t happening exactly as they feel it, they’re still feeling something out of the ordinary that’s hampering their ability to perform the trick correctly. It’s worth exploring what that is rather than dismissing it outright because what they feel doesn’t line up to your observable reality.
Respecting your partner’s ability
This is one I see crop up a lot, and this has the potential to go both ways, so flyers…listen up.
Say you and your partner are working on a trick, and you’re having trouble with it. It’s not working. But you based Kelly-short-legs for this trick last week and the two of you nailed it 1000 times and got a sweet post for the gram. But now, Emily-longer-legs-than-Kelly and you are working on it, and it’s not working. It’s Emily’s fault right? Because you can clearly do it because you did it with Kelly last week.
It doesn’t matter what you did with someone else last week, it matters what you and your partner can do today.
There are infinite reasons why Kelly could do it but Emily can’t. Maybe it’s her namesake short legs. Maybe it’s that she did gymnastics for 12 years, and Emily didn’t. It could be one of so many reasons.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you were the deciding factor in the success of last week’s attempts. There is no quicker way to be disrespectful to your partner’s ability, or your partner herself by claiming yourself ‘not the problem’ because you did it before. Classic dick move. Maybe even the classic dick move.
Our Director and Acrobatic Coach for Cirque du Soleil sat all the porters down towards the end of the show’s creation and spoke to us about our role as porters for the pendular poles act. This act has elements where the risk is extremely high, and the consequences severe. One of the things he said to us was:
That really stuck with me, and it’s something I’ve always known but instantly became more tangible that night.
Your role is not to make or force the flyer to do a trick. It’s to support the flyer enough so they feel comfortable and confident to do the trick. There is an incredibly fine line between where ‘supporting’ ends and ‘pushing’ starts. It’s up to you to judge that line for your partnership, and for the person you’re working with.
Sometimes, no amount of support is going to make the flyer comfortable or feel ready, and ultimately, the flyer is the one in control. Always.
The flyer always has the ability to say ‘No’, and that ‘no’ is sacrosanct. If you think there’s an element you can change that might help them say yes, like
“What if we got another spot?” or“What if we added more crash mats?” or“What if we did it in a longe / safety lines?”
then by all means, offer it to them. But if they say no, you’ve got to respect that, move on, and come back to it in the future.
Learn from my mistakes
As I was writing this, I realized most of the advice I give out comes from a mistake I made and learnt from. In the past 13 years, and 10 with Isis, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve done things badly, I’ve been a bad base, and a bad partner. This article, and others like it, are essentially what I’ve learnt from screwing up. If you follow even some of this advice, you’ll save yourself from making the same mistakes I did.
I included ‘Is there anything I’m going to trip on?’ specifically because in 2010 I left a kettlebell I’d been using to warm up on the floor near where we were training, and we bailed a trick, came down, Isis hit her foot on the kettlebell and broke her foot and was out for six weeks.
I included the section about watching your tone specifically because I get so passionate about hand to hand, it can quickly move from passionate to heated. That change in tone has hampered our training on numerous occasions and caused problems, and I’d like to spare you those problems.
There are many other instances where I have, admittedly, done the exact opposite of my advice and ‘been a dick’ but I've learnt from, and try not to repeat those mistakes.
So thank you for reading, for skipping the mistake-making middle-man, and just going straight to the learning and improving yourself part.