Alisha Smith has been an integral component of the growth of Animal Flow, helping develop AF Australia, teaching hundreds of students as an AF Master Instructor, and serving as editor of The Flowist for the past year. As she steps down this month from her Animal Flow roles to take on new opportunities in her personal and professional life, we thought this article she wrote after our recent Mentorship Week in Greece would be an excellent final note from her. The sentiments she expresses here encapsulate all that has made her such an outstanding member of our team: she recognizes the potential and strength in every indivdual, takes joy in seeing others succeed, and doesn’t hesitate to build up her colleagues. We love this story and the inspirational Flow video at the end. – The Animal Flow HQ Team
On the first day of the 2022 Animal Flow mentorship on Amorgos Island in Greece, I met Meryl. “I’m Level 1 certified and I have a boyfriend!” she announced gleefully as she stood up to address the 70+ people in the room. Her comedic delivery, equal measures of pride and self-deprecation, caught me totally off-guard. I liked her instantly.
We later spent some time together working on Levitating Side Kickthroughs, the arch-nemesis of many L1 Flowists. Meryl was as determined as she was funny, repping out best efforts with gusto. Between sets, she fired up the other Flowists around us, celebrating their successful attempts as if they were her own.
It was Meryl who inspired my plan to pull together a group of our women elders, with the intention of showcasing the work they have each put in on their AF journey. It takes bravery to commit to hard things; tenacity like that deserves to be acknowledged.
Over the next 4 days, we met in short bursts to devise and practice a Flow. The group ranged in experience from newly minted L1 instructors to those who had been woven into the fabric of Animal Flow for almost a decade.
I genuinely loved getting to spend that time together. I was the youngest and, despite being the sole Master Instructor in the group, I learned the most. So, here’s my open letter to the mature women of Animal Flow. Whether you were there with us at the mentorship or not, what I learned is for you and about you.
When we gathered together to practice, the energy was notably different than when skewed more in favour of younger Flowists. Humility. Kindness. Care. Respect. Community-minded. Often gentle but (and make no mistake about it) never fragile.
I realised that so often in Animal Flow, it is you, the older, wiser women who infuse the community with true kindness and support. You are often the biggest cheerleaders, the most lovingly encouraging supporters. You’re constantly in everyone else’s corner.
A great example comes from one of our practice sessions that fell on group member Caroline’s birthday. Rumour had it that she didn’t want any kind of fuss but you all took a chance on singing ‘Happy Birthday’ when she entered the room. It paid off. Caroline’s initial shyness gave way to a huge smile that bloomed across her face as she hurried to capture the final moments with her phone.
That kind of support and encouragement was freely given many times throughout our daily practices. When someone couldn’t get a transition, forgot what came next or just made a mistake there would be a chorus of “You’ve got this!”, “Don’t worry, we’ll practice with you!”, “Let’s do it again, just a little slower.”
You waited, you were patient, and you laughed. A lot. You are all so funny. And surprisingly filthy. (Caroline, I’m mostly looking at you.)
I’d made the error of misjudging how many would fit the mature age bracket. One of you pointed out who I’d missed. I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough space to shoot the final Flow. I had visions of someone accidentally Crocodile Rolling right over the edge of the unfenced roof and onto the unforgiving concrete ground far below. Feeling terrible, I shook my head, the group was already big enough and it was too late to add them.
But you defied me by extending the invitation to one of the missing Flowists. I’m so glad you did.
Filming was delayed for 3 days and, on the final available day, it was raining. Our longstanding plan to film on the rooftop with the unimaginable beauty of the Aegean Sea behind us was scrapped. We had to film indoors, in the big shala, with space for plenty of Flowists; no one would Crocodile Roll to their death.
If I had made a better choice on the day the group convened, I would have simply changed the location. It may have been less visually impressive but I should have realised that you didn’t really care; you would all rather create the space we needed. The crystalline Aegean sea backdrop wasn’t all that important after all. The ‘teacher’ learnt an important lesson that day: If you’re a Flowist, you don’t sacrifice a person for an outcome.
A few times over the course of the week, I heard some of you remarking on your ability level. You may think that you lack the strength, power, speed or finesse of younger Flowists. a) That’s not always true, and b) you more than make up for it with your gentle grace, patient movements, dedication, and the way you show up.
There will always be a place for you in Animal Flow. Always. You will never, ever be ‘too old’ for us because we need you. We need your open-hearted, humble wisdom to bring moderation to the competitiveness and constant desire to push harder and further.
You remind us time and again that Animal Flow is one of those rare places in the world that is actually free from discrimination. We don’t care if you’re the best mover in the world or you’re just beginning to explore physical activity. Your value is equal to the person with the highest of High Pop Outs or the longest-balanced of Tuck Balances.
I’d be lying if I said that we’re NOT impressed by the mind-blowing displays of physical ability that are shared. Of course, we are, but that’s mostly because we understand the journey that is required in order to reach a point where a human body can do such things.
Yet more than anything, we’re impressed by your tenacity, authenticity, participation and kindness. No matter how badass a mover you are, you’re not truly a high performer unless you help make the other people around you better. I watched you each strive to do that time and again.
So, Andrea DiGesare, Caroline Taylor, Jill Ladd, Joanna Butler, Kathryn West, Melanie Gotic, Tite Togni, and Veronica Palomba this is your Flow. I hope you watch it and feel proud of the new transitions and movements you committed to (and crushed!), the way you took such care of each other, and for being true role models for anyone who wants to gracefully, powerfully, and healthfully move into maturity. I’m in awe of all of you and I continue to learn something from each of you whenever I’m in your presence.
You can join the Animal Flow community no matter what your age is or where you are located. Get started with the Flowcademy, a step-by-step series of classes that teach you Animal Flow at your own pace. Flowcademy is included with your subscription to Animal Flow On Demand. To start your free 14-day trial, visit Animal Flow On Demand.