Meet Jake - a long time friend of So We Flow... and unrelenting mover. Jake teaches acrobatics and movement at the National Centre for Circus Arts and The Round House Trust. Jake's style is downright impressive and explosive, yet awash with grace and poeticism. Acrobatics is his foundation, supported by dance, skating, climbing, yoga and, of course, being a dad.
Jacob Smart; Acro & Movement Teacher
What does your perfect morning look like?
I wake up and our toddler has slept in his own bed all night, and our baby has slept through the night. We all head downstairs for a delicious breakfast, then I get to have a shower without a small audience. We get everyone dressed and spend some time in the garden playing and tending to our plants. I have a workshop where I carve for some time. Nothing fancy - just quality family time.
Tell us about when and how you got into movement?
My mum took me to my first dance class when I was around 7 years old. I started off with ballet, jazz and tap at my local dance school where I was the only boy. This became a common theme in my childhood through to my teenage years. Looking back it never really bothered me - it actually taught me to respect and have a greater understanding of women as I grew up. Later on, I danced at a place called Essex Dance. It was here where I got my first taste of contemporary dance which would later become my profession. As I became older I explored all sorts of movement disciplines from Capoeira to Butoh.
What style of movement do you practice most nowadays and what keeps you coming back for more?
Acro dance. It just ticks so many boxes for me. For so long I would tell myself I had to keep each component of my training separate from each other - to the point where I'd have clothes for tricking, clothes for dance, clothes for Capoeira... The outfit changes were getting ridiculous. Acro dance was the discipline that helped me realise it's all the same - it can all be intertwined and from that point everything started to fall into place for my practice.
If you could only train or practice for 2 hours per week, how would you spend it?
I wish I had two hours! At the moment I train in my lunch breaks. If you want something enough you make it work, you make the time if you really need it.
I love training outdoors whether it's my local park or the courtyard at work. There's something about moving outside that makes you forget any negative shit. To make the most out of the short amount of time I have, I list ideas, tricks and sequences that I'd like to focus on the night before. Then I can go into the space and get straight to work, minimising the faff of indecision at the start of a session.
What is your primary goal in your practice at present?
To continue to push and expand Acro Dance. To create new methods for teaching and form a framework or syllabus so students can track and observe their progression. I'm always striving to improve my own practice. The more I'm able to experience and learn through both success and failure in my own training, the more I can share with others.
What's your all-time favourite movement, pose or technique!
Ooo that's a tough one. I've got to say I love exploring variations of existing tricks such as touch down raiz, back spring and macaco em pe.
The concept that a move can be broken down into three parts like a story makes sense to me. You've got the beginning, middle and end to every movement. How you then choose to rebuild that movement is totally up to you. You can add, take away, cut and paste until you find something new and you're happy with.
What makes a great teacher (of any discipline)?
The ability to listen, inspire and to put the needs of your student above the needs of your ego - or sometimes even your lesson plan. What you have planned for that class might now be what your students need that day, so being able to be flexible and adapt. And time - time for me is a real key point! I don't believe you can become a movement coach over a weekend, despite what Instagram might have you believe. You need time to build a practice and form your own identity rather than replicating your teachers ideas. You need time to make mistakes and process the lessons they teach you. You need time to play and explore with your own practice. You need time to digest all the above and apply these lessons. I see way too many people simply regurgitating other peoples ideas without having put any time into cultivating their own.
Tennis ball on a string is great and all but what's next?
In the last five years, what habit, belief or behaviour has most improved your life?
Try less! It's a funny one as it can be misinterpreted - I don't mean that one shouldn't try - rather find the 'sweet spot' of effort required. I see circus students trying so hard to land a trick that it becomes detrimental to the process. If they were to simply take it easy, breathe and approach what they're trying to achieve from a place of calm then they will get there. This isn't limited to movement, but can be applied to any area of your life.
Number two is something I've been trying to live by since I can remember and that's have no plan B. Make your plan A so strong that B isn't required. Have faith in yourself and your abilities even when life feels rocky. Know you're on the right course doing what you love. It's not always easy and puts me through my paces at times, especially during my time working as a freelance performer, living paycheck to paycheck with months in-between. I would start to lose faith then the next opportunity would pop up.
Tell us about a time failure has led you to later success.
I don't see it quite like that. I've had failure put me on my ass, leading to a lot of hard work and self-deprecation. I've had to have a word with myself and put in the time for self-reflection to try and better my situation. I really can't stand it when people use the term 'love and light' is testing situations. If one is trying to better themselves, learn from their mistakes or taking a journey of self-reflection it's usually shitty work! It will bring up all sorts of things that you don't want to hear but can't ignore. It's a constant process, success comes later - I'll let you know when that happens...
What are one to three books or films that have greatly influenced your life?
I'm dyslexic so reading has never been one of my strong points. But the two books I have read cover to cover and always come back to are Iron John and King Warrior Magician Lover, both written by Robert Moore. They've helped me massively on my journey to becoming a 'man' - they were given to me by a dear friend just when I needed them. Thank you brother if you're reading this.
I f**king love Valley Uprising. If you haven't watched it, take a break and go watch it! It made me want to run away to the mountains. Dog Town & the Z Boys comes a close second. There's something massively inspirational and kinda romantic about both films. The commitment to a way of life, all or nothing, go big or go home attitude. It gets me fired up! As I write this I've realised they are both basically the same film - just substitute climbing for skateboarding and vice versa.
If you could be any animal in the World, what would you choose and why?
A prehistoric human from the Neolithic or Palaeolithic era. I love the art from these times and often find myself replicating it in my carvings. I feel everyone had a role to play regardless of your gender and there was always a way to be useful for your family or tribe. I could be wrong but something about that feels like a healthier balance in the natural order than the way we live today. An equilibrium between man, animal and plant.
It's hard not to believe modern man has f**ked things up for the future generations.
What's your guiltiest pleasure?
Shit food combined with even shitter TV.
When you feel stressed or unfocused, what do you do to resolve it?
Talk to my wife and cuddle my babies. They remind me they're the things that are important. I don't know where I'd be without my family.
What advice would you give to someone who is about to embark on a movement and wellness journey? What advice should they choose to ignore?
There's a lot of good stuff out there to get people moving and started on their journey. Don't get caught up in one person's idea or belief system. Try as much as you can, form your own ideas and cultivate into a personal practice. There are no gurus or masters in circus (so we don't have to worry about them), but always be cautious with those that consider themselves one. In my experience it tends to be an ego trip rather than truth.
Mostly try and hold onto the feeling of what it's like to be a beginner, the excitement of discovering new things and the need to find out more. A humble attitude and an openness to learn are most important to me. This is something I try to keep within my teaching and personal practice.
What are the worst recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
'I can get you doing this in X days'. No one can get you doing anything. That's got to come from you. Only you can achieve your goals. Don't be fooled by empty promises people make in order to get you through the door.
Keep social media lighthearted - it can be a toxic place and can result in putting unrealistic expectations on yourself.
Don't let yourself or anyone else put a movement or trick on a pedestal. How many times have I heard 'I could never do that'? You may be a beginner but that doesn't mean you can't push yourself and have aspirations and goals to work towards. I make all my new students list movements they want to achieve, no matter what they are, and by the end of term we review the list and see what we can and can't tick off. We can then reflect what has been learnt in the process - we don't always need to accomplish the goal to learn something new.
If you could share one message to every single person on the planet, what would you say and why?
Take it easy mate. We could all do with applying this to aspects of our lives at some point or another. We live in a society of over-achieving and over-working where our mental health and love for a fellow human takes a back seat.