Acroyoga, Acrobalance, and the many forms of Acro

Acroyoga is on the rise.

When we first started teaching acroyoga classes in Charleston in 2006 there were only a few other locations in the country teaching this exciting new movement style.  As yoga instructors, we were both drawn to acro yoga because it combined yoga with something a little more playful, acrobatics.

Once we got into acroyoga we quickly learned that there was already a whole, rich world of acrobatic traditions that have much older roots than acroyoga. In the world of partner acrobatics, acroyoga is getting a lot of attention recently, but you may also come across acro balance, acro dance, sports acro, acro gymnastics as well as plain and simple acro. There are also other disciplines that share a lot of the same movements and postures including adagio, icarian games and cheerleading among others.

What do they all mean? What’s the difference?
Acroyoga classes in Charleston SC

The short and sweet

Acro is typically a nickname used for any of the many different forms of acrobatics. Out of context, it could refer to any of the art forms mentioned above. If you are in a group of dancers and they say acro, it will probably mean acro dance. If you are hanging out with your gymnast friends, acro will probably mean acro gymnastics. So, if someone says they do acro, you’ll have to ask them to be more specific if you want to get a better understanding of what they do.

One size fits all.

Acrobalance is a catch all phrase for any movement that includes two or more people counterbalancing, sharing weight, lifting, pitching or catching one another. Typically the person on the bottom or doing the lifting is called the base and the person on the top or being lifted is called the flyer. The basic principles and movements of the various forms of acrobalance are all very similar. The differences within acrobalance can come from the movement background of the acrobats, the intent of the practice and the expected final result of the performers.

Finding peace with a little help from your friends.

Acroyoga is a combination of yoga and acrobalance. Acroyoga classes will reflect the physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines of a traditional yoga practice while incorporating acrobatic principles of counter balancing and supporting one another off the ground. In a regular yoga class the physical postures themselves are secondary to the mental and spiritual focus. There are many classes and groups that describe themselves as acroyoga, but if they are not incorporating the philosophy of yoga and influenced by the practice of yoga, then they are actually doing acrobalance. Acroyoga is new on the acrobatics scene dating back just to the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It’s the journey that matters.

Acro dance is a style of dance that combines the technique of dance with the movement and postures of acrobatics. Any of the many styles of dance can be applied to acrobalance creating an artistic result of the same moves looking very different. Acrobalance performed in the context of tango or the context of modern dance is going to have its own look and feel. Much of the focus of acro dance will be in the fluid transitions between dance moves and acrobatic moves. Acro dance dates back to vaudeville days of the early 1900s.

It doesn’t get any more intense than this.

When we first started with acroyoga, we were quite impressed with balancing one another on our feet. Then we stumbled across a video of acro gymnastics and were quickly humbled by the amazing feats we saw. Acro gymnastics which is also called Sports Acro refers to a competitive gymnastic discipline governed by the International Federation of Gymnastics. It is an olympic sport that is very popular in Europe, but is overshadowed (along with rhythmic gymnastics) by artistic gymnastics in the US. The difficulty level of most sports acro routines can completely eclipse what is done in a typical acrobalance class. As a point of reference, a one-armed handstand on the ground is considered a low value move in acro gymnastics. A typical Olympic routine will have a flyer doing a one armed handstand perched on the foot of a teammate who is doing a split while in an arm balance atop of a base who is in a backbend. Acro gymnastics is rarely if ever a recreational activity and it dates back to the 1930s.

The variety doesn’t end there.

Adagio was originally developed from the disciplines and movement style of ballet. The lifts and carries commonly found in ballet performances were further developed and combined with movements and counterbalances from the acrobatics world. Because of its roots in ballet, adagio usually refers to positions in which the base is standing or kneeling, but not laying on their back. While I expect all adagio performers strive to look graceful, the term adagio does not imply a ballet background or aesthetic.

Icarian games refers to a type of acrobalance where the base is almost exclusively on their back and often supported in a specialized bench which keeps their hips higher than their shoulders. Icarian games are fairly distinctive in that the flyer is usually being spun or flipped rapidly only with the strength and dexterity of the base’s legs.

All-star Cheerleading is a more complex and acrobatic form of the cheerleading that you see at sports events. While many of the same movement principles and postures of acrobalance are used, their focus tends to be on big group collaboration. This could vary from synchronized movement, group pyramid making or group pitches and catches of one or more flyers. Cheerleading is now a sport unto itself and has many associations and federations that regulate competitions around the world.

Do you like it shaken or stirred?

You could think of acrobalance as having both form and function. The function of acrobalance is fairly constant, with similar principles used to maintain safety, balance and control. There can be a myriad of different forms applied to acrobalance. Acrobalance with a focus on the lifestyle and teachings of yoga traditions will be acroyoga. If the focus is on fluidity of movement from moving independently on the ground to flying in the air, then we’re looking at acro dance. If the focus is on precision of movement and extremes of athleticism then it’s acro gymnastics.  Of course, the many forms can be blended, mixed and stirred together in numerous ways.

Acrobalance classes at Aerial Fit

Our ground acrobatics classes at Aerial Fit don’t just focus on a yogic philosophy or require a knowledge of dance movements. We are focused on safety, having fun and expanding each individual’s expectations of what is possible.  As of the date of this writing, we’ve been fortunate to host workshops with experts in acroyoga, acro gymnastics, adagio, and acrobalance. (Acroyoga instructors AcroFusion in March of 2014, an Australian circus troupe of adagio performers Gravity and Other Myths in May of 2014, and Olympic and Acro Gymnastic Hall of Famer Christine Van Loo in February of 2015.) In our weekly class, we spend equal amounts of time working on our handstands as on our partner poses as we feel they compliment each other well. We practice on a spacious firm, foam padded floor that is nearly 1,500 square feet. We practice year round with the convenience of climate control and no fear of bad weather. You can learn more about our acrobalance classes and sign up online at