Sunday, January 5, 2014

Instructor Perspective: The Trials and Tribulations of an Aerial Program's Development

So what exactly goes into a solid aerial program?  This is a question I've been asked by many studio owners and instructors currently in the process of developing their own aerial curriculum.  Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer to this question.  There are a multitude of factors that must be considered.  One of the first considerations one must look deep into is what type of clientele will their program consist of?  For many pole studios, the clientele consists of a mix of women who have little to no fitness background to women who have excelled into the epitome of super human and thrived off everything pole fitness has to offer.  I've had to put myself back in my pre-pole dancing days shoes and think about how my strength and ability to perform certain movement now as opposed to then differs.  This can be a challenging task when choosing movement for your curriculum as you want to sort out all the movement possibilities based on every conceivable modification.  This is why my program also is versatile and allows students to take each level repeatedly.  There will always be a new challenge and the issue of redundancy is not one that threatens the program's integrity.  The overall tone of the program is quality not quantity. 

Other factors that go into developing a solid program include education.  I make it a priority to stay up to date on information and be well informed within the industry.  I am actively involved in seeking out and receiving continuing education in the aerial arts.  This is something that is not readily available or easily obtained. Especially in the Midwestern United States.  There is a lack of availability of aerial training as most of the flourishing aerial programs and training facilities require traveling which also acquires an expense of it's own.  Ongoing education comes with a fee.  Equipment is expensive. Insurance comes at a cost. The world of aerial is a fun and exciting but pricey endeavor.  These are all factors that must be considered when embarking on developing a program.  These are also factors that students don't think about when seeking out your classes.  They don't generally take into consideration the time and expense on your end for developing the program and information you're presenting to them. Nor do they consider the huge liability the activity itself consists of.  Costs equal cost.  How much you spend impacts how much you charge.  There is a current debate in the industry as many old school aerialists are outraged at the discounted price offerings pop up studios are offering for aerial classes.  It comes across as disrespectful to the industry and those who have put in years of hard work learning and training, only to now have to compete with having to lower their prices to sustain clientele. The argument of charge what you're worth has been fueling within recent years.  Many argue that when you begin to lower your prices, you also lower your worth.  You set the tone to potential clients that you don't think your service is worth charging full price. Some blame discount deal sites.  Others blame the business owners that buy into it. Whatever your opinion on the matter is, the truth of charging reasonably for your hard work should reflect that you value your knowledge and expertise.  Don't lower your standards and sell yourself short. 

Safety is a huge priority and should be at the forefront of a program writer's mind in every moment of the writing process.  Writing a program is not something that is done in a short amount of time.  The first program I wrote took me nine months of write ups and revisions before I was completely happy with the final product.  I spent countless hours researching and writing the program.  Much of the movement required studio time which I dedicated my own personal finances into to create a space in my own home where I could test out movement theories.  I also developed an instructor training program to educate other staff members at the studio that would be teaching my program.  This involved creating instructional DVDs that covered the program moves in their entirety throughout the provided manual.  I also staged a photo shoot of every conceivable move and transition to illustrate within the manual.  I like to think I left no stone unturned in my quest to develop a solid program that was fun and unique all while providing a great workout.

The true testament to my hard work was seeing the actual program in action.  It was thrilling to begin teaching the program and watch the students progress each week.   The downfall of the program was politics within the studio the program was being taught in.  There was a huge lack of direction from authoritative figures within the business which inevitably was the straw that broke the camel's back.  Distrust and lack of respect can ruin something wonderful in a heartbeat. Coming out of the experience I have a new sense of direction for the program.  This process of rewriting has encountered a great deal of expense and hours of dedication to necessary revisions that will change the program drastically in a way that presents an entirely new program.  This has not been an easy process.  It's been physically and mentally draining.  I am faced with limited resources this time around and even though I fear it could impact my program, I am starting to see the positive aspects in regards to implementing safety with a strong focus on quality.  Past experiences taught me a lot about how to produce a functional program.  Past experiences taught me a lot about the mind set of what works with some and what doesn't with others.  Even though I was greatly disappointed to have put so much hard work towards my initial program just to have it's life cut short, I feel like it was a blessing in disguise because it let me see things as how they were meant to be seen. 

After spending the past two years revising my aerial program, the best piece of advice I can give someone embarking on program development is to always place safety as a top priority.  Really sit down and think about what safety means and how you want to enforce it as a common theme never forgotten.  There are so many out there that jump into things too soon and rush to start doing things.  There are also others out there that are concerned with what the competition is doing.  This is also something I've had to come to terms with myself and to realize that even though competition exists, there is still something to be learned from what I have to offer.  And to the critics out there that think they are above what I have to teach, that only makes things better for my program's future environment as one that won't include their negativity and competitive nature.  I'm ready to start this new chapter to my aerial program in this next year.  I hope you'll join me in my journey as I write about my experiences teaching my renewed program.  To all those reading this that are starting their own programs, good luck and make it something special.  The quality of being unique is priceless. 

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