The Back Drop

When discussing the topic of “Trampolining for Flying Trapeze Artists”, the thing that must come to mind is the emphasis on the backdrop. Being an introductory skill does not exclude the backdrop from being the most important skill in regards to the trampoline for the Trapeze Artist. There seems to be a slightly odd and mysterious trend in regards to learning tricks on the trampoline. It is that people do not enjoy practicing or learning backdrops. Indeed, backdrops are one of the more scary skills for beginners to learn, and even those who have been practicing trapeze for quite some time have known difficulties with it. To make matters worse, the fact that backdrops look mundane and boring does tend to dissuade practitioners from focusing on them. But enough cannot be stressed on their importance, especially when cross-training trampoline with flying trapeze. It is strongly advised that trampolinists devote as much time as possible to the basic backdrop. The trampoline backdrop should be practiced repeatedly, almost as often as the swing in flying trapeze. This article discusses the physics and learning process of the back drop in detail.

In the realm of trampoline, the backdrop is a ¼ rotation backwards from standing. The trampolinist lands with their mid to upper back on the mat. The exact body location varies depending on the person’s height and weight distribution. Some people may feel more comfortable landing slightly higher or lower on their back. Normally, landing on the fifth, sixth, or seventh thoracic vertebrae offers the best results (T5, T6, and T7). After the back makes contact with the trampoline bed, there is a ¼ rotation forward to return to the standing position. To make a proper landing, the trampolinist cast their legs back slightly while their arms make a pushing motion forwards and then all the way up. For the sake of balance and to avoid falling too much forwards, it is very important to emphasize ending the trick by standing with the arms up high towards the ceiling.

To initiate a back drop, the trampolinist jumps and begins to lift his legs up as he leans back slightly. The arms should slowly start to rise during the descent. In the beginning of the learning process, the eyes should be watching the toes during the initial rotation period. And as the body starts to become parallel with the ground, the eyes will slowly shift a little higher. But the eyes and head should never be looking back. There should be no straining of the neck during the trick at all. If done properly, the impact should not traumatize the muscles around the neck. If a student’s neck is becoming strained, it is likely that they are landing incorrectly on their back or that their eyes are not spotting properly; it is not because their neck is not strong enough or tensed enough. Trampoline requires very little strength and muscular conditioning. In general, flying trapeze requires more strength and conditioning than trampoline.

There are two main schools of thought when performing a basic backdrop. The first method is performed with the knees bent, and the other method is performed with the legs straight. In either method, the heels should not come into contact with the trampoline bed at all. When the heels come into contact with the trampoline bed, an entirely different trick is obtained called the “kaboom”, which is not the goal here. For the purpose of trapeze, I advocate using the straight-legged method over the bent knees method. The reason being is that in most backend tricks on the flying trapeze, the body and legs are fairly straight, even after twisting to the net. When a catch is missed out-of-safety-lines, the flyer quickly twists to their back; the legs and knees remain straight during the entirety of the twist. And the flyer also lands into the net with legs straight. Also, with the knees bent, we have seen some trampolinists and flyers accidentally smash their knees into their faces on bad rebounds. A straight legged back-drop on trampoline will help to reinforce the feeling that should be already by familiar to the trapeze flyer instead of introducing something that will feel entirely different. The last reason behind a straight legged backdrop is that it is arguably more aesthetically pleasing, even to the casual observer.

When a student performs a backdrop on the trampoline for the first time, they will most likely under-rotate or over-rotate themselves. The coach, who will be spotting with a crash-mat, will be on the lookout for both cases. In terms of the student’s health, it is better that an initial backdrop be under-rotated than over-rotated. An under rotated backdrop lands near the coccyx bone; no injuries will occur with a crash mat in place. An over-rotated backdrop has the risk of the student landing on the back of their head or worse, on the top of their head. Having a very thick and foamy crash-mat in place will negate any serious injury, even if the trampolinist does land on top of their head. However, it is still recommended that the coach emphasize that the legs should not be lifted too high during the descent. Students also need to constantly remind themselves to spot with their eyes. It is better for students to keep the legs a little too low at first, and then gradually and incrementally raise them higher and higher in the next consecutive attempts.

Another note to students who are learning backdrops is that adult females typically have a lower center of gravity than adult males do. Thus, the reactionary force of the trampoline coupled with the body’s gravitational weight creates a slightly larger moment torque than for males who have the same height and weight. In layman’s terms, it means that with all things being equal, adult females will have a slightly faster return to vertical after a backdrop than their male counterparts. For most women, the increased rotationary speed is so small, that it can be considered negligible. However, students must bear this in mind if they are having some trouble “sticking the landing” after a backdrop. If the student seems to be continually stumbling forward after their feet make contact with the trampoline bed, then they must make a point of landing with the arms up high and with the chest open. The coach may also ask the student to land higher or lower on their back, depending on the situation.

As simple as backdrops may seem, they can reveal many things about a flyer. The nature of the trampoline is that it tends to accentuate any minor error that a person may have, even small errors that are invisible on the trapeze. Hence, holes in a flyer’s skill-set may immediately become apparent when asked to perform a simple backdrop on trampoline. This is indeed a blessing and a gift for the individual who is working towards attaining Perfection (which is all of us). And in flying trapeze, the minor errors are sometimes more important than the obvious ones. So practice those backdrops on the trampoline diligently, and you will become a more efficient, aware, and intuitive Acrobat. “Details make perfection, but perfection is no detail” – Michelangelo.