Spotters and swing dance aerials

Aerials require training, and the process of aerials training can be extremely dangerous. In my opinion, you can mitigate some danger by training correctly, but danger never goes away. I believe the best thing you can do to mitigate danger is have people experienced in dealing with the dangers head on, thus, experienced spotters. In my opinion, the spotter is the most important person in the room when you're practicing a a new aerial, especially if it's difficult, and even more so if the people doing the aerial are beginners to that aerial.

Spotting always turns out to be an unspoken hero kind of things.  The people actually doing the aerial are going home with the crazy stories. The spotter goes home with most of the bruises, and of course the satisfaction that nobody got hurt.

That being said, I thought I'd make a few comments on the topic of swing dance aerial spotting.

I've been teaching aerials for quite some time now, more than a decade. Some would say I've been hardcore with aerials since day one, and I suppose they're right. I've always loved and still do love throwing chicks.

My first negative experience came at a Brian Setzer show in SF in the mid 90's. It was just awful and I'll never forget it. The guy threw a girl simple back to back roll but the connection was upside down. The upside connection only allows one exit, and as if on queue, she just pile drived into the floor, head first from about four feet with no hands to break her fall. As an ex military guy, I've seen quite a few serious injuries and even some fatalities. This was right up there with the worst crashes I've ever seen and I'm quite sure she broke something major in her neck.

What made the whole thing worse though was that I saw it happen from start to finish and I knew right when I saw those hands go the wrong way that it was going south quickly. I remember trying to make it across the room as fast as I could, but it was just way too late and she crashed. I was nowhere close enough to catch her.

She was rushed to the hospital 911 style and I was devastated for months. I never saw her before that day, and never saw her again. She young, somebody's daughter, probably just out watching a great show with some of her high school friends. Then all the sudden, because of one bad aerial, there was one family with a serious problem and a little girl most likely struggling to stay alive.

I remember it in slow motion even though it was more than a decade ago. I think about it every time I walk into an aerials class and prepare to teach. It's my reminder of how fast things can happen, how dire the consequences can be, and how fast spotting needs to be.

Now days, I invest heavily on spotters in aerials classes and I've seen it pay off time and and time again. The spotters I bring I trust fully to make the big catches. These people know the importance of safety, and they know beyond a shadow of a doubt they will have the most important and most thankless job in the room. Depending on content and class size, I may bring anywhere from three to a dozen spotters, all with the same skill set.

For each of these spotters, I usually train them by doing the aerial incorrectly and giving them the experience and opportunity to make the catch. Yes, this means I purposely slam myself into the ground, knock people around, execute totally off axis, and basically try to kill myself best I can so I know the spotter knows how to protect the situation. I am responsible to the best of my ability to assure safety in my aerials classes, and this is the only way that I've found that seems to work. It makes sense right? You really don't want your spotter learning on the job.

The one thing I will say about spotters is that it's probably a hundred times harder and faster than actually doing the aerial and it really doesn't matter what aerial you are talking about. The fluff your dance resume just doesn't matter, at least not to me. You have to be quick, decisive/committed, willing to take risk, more alert than somebody on amphetamines, and tough as nails. Why? Because a good spotter will always take the hit instead of letting the aerialists get hurt. And an aerial is only about a couple of seconds long. A good spotter has to think almost in increments of 1/5th of a second intervals and stepping that fast feels about like going from zero to 50 miles an hour while still keeping all your wits, intelligence, and experience at your immediate fingertips.  It's definitely not for everybody.

One really close call from several years comes to mind about it not being just for everybody. I was at a practice session where I was actually doing aerials with my own spotter. Across the room there was this guy spotter working with another couple. He was in incredible shape and all, and I know he was quick, but on this one occasion something happened right in front of him and he just let it happen. Regardless of the reason, he simply couldn't react fast enough. There was no major injury thank God.  I saw it from across the room, like before. Sure, I was working with some world class athletes who could all take a good hit, but my hear almost dropped clean out of my body just the same.

I remember talking to him afterward. I said something like 'dude, do you know how @%$#^$^& serious spotting is? Do you not realize that that girl could have died, and you were standing right next to her?' Just imagine what was going through his mind for the next month after that. Just imagine if you 'claimed' you were a good spotter and let the same thing happen? Again, it's definitely not for everybody.

As a spotter myself, I've broken my finger snatching girls out of the air, I've been kicked in every major part of my body, once almost being knocked clean out (but I did make the catch!), and I can't even tell you how hard I've been kicked in the nuts just trying to make sure somebody didn't hit the floor. I suppose none of that matters though. What really matters is that several people I've worked with either as a partner or a spotter feel comfortable working with me again. And reputation is everything when you're talking about aerials.

Like I opened this post, most just go home to tell the tale. They don't even notice what spotters do and how truly elite they are. They just end up safe and happy.  I guess that's the way it has to be.

Keep it safe people. And please remember that spotters are not magically created from thin air. They spend a lot of time perfecting their craft with a lot of very skilled coaches.