Many times, the choice of base or flyer is made for a person by their genetics. A 4’11”, 105lbs woman isn’t going to do much besides fly while a wall of muscle like me is generally as out of place flying. I was working with a tallish, larger framed woman the other day who was in that nebulous “tween” size where she could easily go either way. Given the abundance of flyers that day, she had to do a good amount of basing. She did it out of necessity but commented how she couldn’t understand how anyone would want to base by choice.
To those who don’t know what I’m referring to, in partner acrobatics, there is generally a base and a flyer. The base tends to be the one supporting the one anchored to the ground or and apparatus in aerial. The flyer tends to be only supported by the base. In the embedded video, I’m lying on the ground as the base and Andrew is the flyer.
I’m the total opposite. To me, the base is in charge and leads the flow. That is far more interesting and it makes my Type A / alpha heart beat. There also are fewer bases than there are flyers so the exclusivity is appealing. Basing is also much more of a workout and a lot more physically challenging so it is a fitness win as well. These are all reasons why basing appeals to me, but there is another reason that appeals to me even more.
A good base can take a totally inexperienced person and do quite a lot of acrobatics with them. It’s exciting to take someone who sees some acro and says, “I couldn’t do that,” and lift them up and take them through a set of moves they assumed would be impossible. People come down from flying and look like they are on a chemical high. It is super empowering to know that you can share that experience with someone.
The flip side of that is not true. Even an awesome and experienced flyer is going to have a hard time doing much with an untrained base.
As a business owner, studio manager, and instructor, I cherish my great bases because they are harder to come by and require a larger investment to train. Once trained and capable, talented bases are a massive asset to an acrobatics program. Not that talented flyers aren’t great, but flyers are much easier to come by or to create, especially at a studio with a lot of aerialists.
The appeal of being the flyer is obvious since they are the one who is “flying.” It’s a kind of freedom and trust that is amazing. People who aren’t trusting are horrible flyers. When I find someone who just puts themselves into position and trusts that I will catch and balance them, it’s awesome how easy things are. It’s so foreign to me. Trusting someone else to catch you…Trusting. Someone. Else. To. Catch. You…It’s just such a bizarre concept. I’m all the more amazed when I see people have total faith in me as we move through a flow given how hard it would be for me to do the same. It makes the basing experience more sacred when I feel like I need to work hard and focus to earn that trust.
I’ve been working on hand to hand with a person doing a hand stand on my hands. One day I was working with two flyers. One has a solid hand stand. The other doesn’t have a solid hand stand but is good a holding steady while flying. The flyer who holds steady was actually much easier to balance than the smaller flyer with the better handstand. This is because the flyer who held steady wasn’t balancing on their own and fighting my attempts to balance them.
Flying isn’t all just about blind faith. It’s generally easier physically and the flyer tends to be the person who gets to create the interesting shapes and gets more of the attention. Not having to work as hard and getting to be the showy peacock appeal to a lot of people. Flying also rewards light weight and flexibility so people who are smaller and bendy will obviously have a big advantage over the bigger and stiffer (not that you can get away with being completely inflexible as a base).
There is a yin and yang aspect to acro as well. As a big tennis fan, it’s interesting to me that tennis was originally created to be a sport that both genders could participate in together. There aren’t too many activities that couples with a 6’1”, 190lbs guy and his 5’2”, 110lbs wife could do together at a fairly equal participation level. Acro turns this size differential on its head and makes it a positive thing. It’s one of my favorite parts of the practice. After the humiliation of recess as children, the 100lbs weaklings of the world must feel jazzed to have people fight to have them on their team in an acro class.
At the end of the day, judging one role as better than the other is counterproductive since one cannot exist without the other. In fact, I feel that it is helpful for both parties to try the other role if only for a few basic moves to get a feel for what it is like for the other person and have empathy for their experience. It’s very good for everyone to be taken out of their comfort zone from time to time.