Drops, those exciting and scary things that we do in aerial. They make us feel cool, bad-ass and downright terrified! Before tackling one of those, No Handed Pencil, Slack Drop or Triple Star tricks, it’s a good idea to assess safety, risk factors, your instructor and most important...yourself!
After teaching drops for several years I’ve seen it all. To sum it up there are 4 main types of ‘droppers.’
Dropper #1 - You LOVE drops, the bigger the better
Dropper #2 – You have your select favorites, but many of them have you feeling sweaty and nervous
Dropper #3 – You are terrified, the only way you drop (the few times you have); is to
close your eyes and hope for the best on the way down
Dropper #4 – You’ve experienced a mental or physical injury with drops. At some point, something went wrong, and you refuse to give ‘em another go. I don’t blame you!
A few questions to ask yourself prior to practicing drops:
· Is what you’re hanging from strong enough to support drops?
· Do you have thick crash mat underneath you?
· Do you have enough body awareness, strength and control to be practicing drops? Being able to do a clean inversion in the air is a good milestone to begin learning simple drops. Carefully assess this, most do drops sooner than they are ready
· Are you high enough on the apparatus to execute the drop safely?
· Does your instructor have enough knowledge and teaching experience to guide you through the drop correctly? Go with your gut feeling on this one
· Do you understand how the wrap is supporting you, how it unravels and what part of it is the ‘safety’? For example, in star drops the tail is your ‘safety’, you MUST hold on to the tail or it’s likely you will fall out of the wrap
Take a moment to ponder…..
Now time for the nitty gritty…
Factor #1 - Safety
Are drops ‘safe’…. ? Hmmm good question, but it all depends. In general, falling from the ceiling on purpose is not the ‘safest’ thing you can do, but there are certainly ways to make it ‘safer.’ Keep in mind when we drop, we are a dynamic force falling towards the floor. When we land the drop, our weight becomes 3-6x greater depending on how far and fast we dropped. Ask yourself this first major safety factor; 'Is what you’re hanging from strong enough to support your weight while dropping'?
If you’re hanging from a tree, that is a big NO !! (please don’t practice from trees!) If you’re at a studio, is their rigging installed properly? Is their rigging hardware in good condition and have they ever had an engineer assess how much weight their ceilings/beams can hold? Is there a crash mat under each rigged point? Is your instructor qualified to be teaching you this drop? It would be a good idea to find out the answers to the questions above. Ask the studio how often they check their rigging hardware and how much weight their beams are rated to hold. For aerial arts the goal is a 10:1 ratio, meaning loading only 10% of the total weight that the hardware, apparatus or beam/rigging point should see.
Factor #2 - Risk Assessment
The dictionary tells us that Risk Assessment is ‘a systematic process of evaluating the potential risks that may be involved in a projected activity or undertaking.’ What does this mean in relation to drops?
Your instructor can be fully qualified, the rigging can be in top-notch condition, there is a crash mat in place, but at the end of the day, it is up to you to follow instructions, stay present and commit to the task at hand. It can be VERY dangerous if you don’t follow instructions or give up midway through the drop. It can be extremely risky if you decide to grab somewhere you’re not supposed to, let go of one hand at a time, neglect to keep your legs in a wide straddle or forget to hold the tail when your teacher said it numerous times prior to you doing the drop. Committing to the drop and following instructions is key. Having a day where you’re feeling really tired, hungover or just not present? Asses the risk you’re putting on yourself, skipping drops that day may be the responsible choice. Opt to work on the wrap low and walk it down instead.
Factor #3 - Understanding the Drop
My favorite phrase when teaching drops…
You are in control of the drop; the drop should not be in control of you!
I know,... much easier said than done. When you see an aerialist perform a smooth and effortless drop, the above statement is what has been accomplished. For most, the drop will be in control of you until you gain enough body awareness and experience to understand otherwise.
A few concepts to consider…
· Do you understand the shape you’re making in the air prior to incorporating it into a drop? For star drops, committing to tight externally rotated straddle legs and a strong core (abs engaged and lower back lengthened) is vital
· Practice the wrap low and walk it down several times prior to dropping it
· Tight is light. Resist the direction the drop is taking you to slow it down. If you are engaged in your core, legs, feet and maintaining correct alignment, the drop will not only look ‘lighter’ but there will be much less impact at the bottom of the drop
· You should be able to decide if you want the drop to be 'slow or fast', based on your body position and movement quality
Factor #4 - Dealing with Fear
Fear is a completely normal reaction to drops. It’s our sympathetic nervous system response to danger and it’s trying to protect us. We typically feel an increase of sweat (clammy hands and feet!), our heart rate goes up, we breathe faster, and we become light headed. Add in a dose of adrenaline and your body is all whacked out! After the ‘threat’ is over, it can take between 20-60 minutes for our body to return to its normal non-whacked out state.
The odd thing about all of this is, we are terrified, but we really want to do the dang drop!! So how do we cope?
First, make sure you’ve assessed the safety factors and you truly aren’t putting yourself in extreme danger. If it’s a green light, then try the following:
· Observe, seeing others do the drop can help you conquer your own fear
· Breathe, it’s so easy to forget to breathe! Right before you drop take a big inhale and exhale at the start of the drop can help. It does for me!
· Trust, in your yourself and your coach. If your coach is qualified, you have the strength and body awareness, you understand the wrap and have wrapped correctly, walked it down several times and know what your ‘safety’ is,..it’s time to trust yourself and go for it.
· Commit, it’s like jumping into a cold pool, the longer you wait the worse it gets! Committing to the drop and the shape you are making while dropping is key. Hesitancy is when accidents can happen and only prolongs your fear.
So there you have it! Say it with me…
INHALE CONFIDENCE, EXHALE DOUBT
Drops can be scary, exciting and downright invigorating. You have the responsibility to assess the risk and safety factors and make sure you are physically and mentally ready to conquer them. I give you full permission to believe in yourself and commit to your training.
Soon, you will be dropping with confidence!