YouTube has not only shifted people’s approach to entertainment by making the spectators protagonists, but it has also pushed the evolution of movement. It is a natural shift for physical movement to evolve into uncharted territory, but YouTube has enabled its audience to progress faster than usual.
Back when I was a young gymnast in training, I would record televised gymnastics competitions on our VCR and replay it repetitively so I could mimic the skill I was attempting to learn. Our VCR did have the slow motion button, but when I tried to use it, the lines were so blurred it was difficult to see important angles, proper alignment, and body position. Basically, I was winging it. Regardless of the poor quality of the recording, it did enable me to learn some skills on my own. In addition to classes and coaching, many other physical movers learned this way.
For physical movers such as acrobatics, parkour, dance, circus arts, skateboarders, and any other form of physical expression, repetition is key because practicing it over and over allows one to absorb the mechanics into the body. Once it is biologically recorded in our body, the physical structure remembers it, something we call muscle memory. It’s something dancers are accustomed to when learning choreography, watching and doing it over repetitively allows the body to digest and know the movement.
It wasn’t until I joined Cirque du Soleil four years ago that I noticed this incredible jump in movement. It always seemed that as performers of all types, we somewhat progressed together. Of course the uber-talented and genetically gifted lead the pack, but it seemed as if we all got better as a group. While I was at the training center in Montreal, I noticed a young performer from China watching juggling patterns on YouTube from his phone. I watched in amazement as he did skills I had never seen before. Then a veteran juggler in his forties came over and said, “I’m sick of all these youngsters stealing intricate juggling patterns from YouTube. It took me a lifetime in my basement to learn those skills.” The younger performer wasn’t stealing, because watching and doing is how we all learn. But then it occurred to me that YouTube was changing the evolution of movement.
I recently spoke with a performer on Broadway (in his thirties) who said, “I just can’t compete with these younger guys nowadays. They can do everything.” Is YouTube to blame for this? It is true that we have more classes and teachers that are able to teach various types of skills, but I believe there is some truth to this.
Over the last decade, movement had already begun its own trajectory. Acrobatics became absorbed into other artistic disciplines. Parkour or free running is a perfect example of this change. Other forms of movement have borrowed from each other’s discipline creating new forms. YouTube has allowed its viewers a massive source of information shared from other countries and cultures. Before YouTube, a viewer had no idea what kind of movement another country was doing unless he or she had gone and studied there or had specific teaching. Even if an individual saw a specific skill he wanted to learn in a show he saw, there was no way to capture it in the manner YouTube has. YouTube has brought all forms of recorded movement into the viewers’ own world.
Now that people are learning new things faster, and recording what they are doing, it challenges others to do something more advanced, in other words, “one-upping” and that ultimately continues the trend. Younger acrobats and circus artists have knocked years of training and development down in a single afternoon online, discovering new forms, patterns, and creating new culture styles to be shared.