To start the summer off, we interviewed Dr. Christopher Uy, a PGY-5 Neurology resident. We have long been following Dr. Uy on his Instagram account, where he features amazing feats of acrobacy. We chatted about residency, being an acrobat, and being a co-founder of LAYERS production, which teaches eager students how to utilize their acrobat and acroyoga skills to put on a stage-ready show. Happy reading!
You run an Instagram account which features prominently your passion for acrobatics. Specifically, you are a “hand-to-hand” acrobat. For those who are unfamiliar, could you tell me a little more what a hand-to-hand acrobat is, exactly?
There are many forms of acrobatics, but hand-to-hand acrobatics is a no-frills circus discipline with no apparatus or tools. Partners (usually a pair but sometimes in larger groups) co-create balance or dynamic movements through use of body tension, timing, and communication. One or more partners serves as a “base” and balance the other partner (the “flyer”) through a variety of positions or provides the power to propel them into an airborne skill. The discipline is named after a skill in which the flyer does a handstand while balancing in the hands of the base but makes use of many other body parts as platforms for balance. It also draws from other movement disciplines, such as dance or physical theatre, to link these skills together.
I had wanted to do acrobatics since the first time I saw a news piece about Cirque du Soleil at the age of 5. Growing up in Prince George, this training was not available to me and my life took another trajectory as I dropped into my studies and headed down a path that led me to becoming a neurologist. Throughout undergrad and medical school, I found that I was letting the professional side of my life overtake the other aspects and I was putting more and more of my personal goals on the back-burner. When I finished medical school and started residency, I took an adult class at Circus West in Vancouver and it has blossomed from there. I have learned that it is never too late to try something that you’ve always dreamed of doing, even if it seems crazy. You are only as strong or as talented or as creative as you train yourself to be.
What is your favourite part of it? What has been the most unexpected part?
My favourite part was also the most unexpected part. I fully expected that training acrobatics was going to be a challenge, mentally and physically. What I didn’t expect was how it would influence my communication skills and how these skills have translated to being a physician. The practice hinges on learning both verbal and non-verbal communication. Tensions can sometimes run high and miscommunications can have serious consequences.
Learning to identify non-verbal cues and learning to turn a non-verbal response into a verbal dialogue has been a tool that I have developed in training that I now apply regularly in medicine. “I can see that you are worried. What are you concerned about?” These skills have bolstered my confidence to lean into uncomfortable situations and address emotional responses and concerns rather than shying away from them.
I am completing my neurology residency this month and, following this, I will be doing an 18 month fellowship in Neuroinflammatory Diseases focusing on Autoimmune Encephalitis – a rare, but life-threatening condition causing inflammation of the central nervous system and affecting people of all age groups. Six months will be spent with the UBC MS Group. Following this, I will do 1 year as a UBC Friedman Scholar with the Oxford Autoimmune Neurology Group at John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK. After this, I hope to bring this expertise back to British Columbia as there are no experts in this area in Western Canada.
Acrobatics is a part of my life that I intend to continue nourishing. I hope to continue to train and perform. It is such a special pleasure to witness and support the body as it heals from disease and I am equally fascinated by the ability of the body to rise to challenges and reach its potential through intentional training. In my mind, my passion for both of these aspects of my life stem from the same core.
You are one of the co-founders of LAYERS production, which hosts a project every year called Flow2Show, an 11 week progressive series teaching those with acrobatic and acroyoga training how to put together a stage-ready show using the skills they already know. How did this production and process come about? How is the experience of putting it all together and teaching a class for 11 weeks?
This company and program are now three years old with three productions under our belt! It started as a conversation on a crash mat during a training session between myself, Jessica Eastman, and Millissa Greenwood. None of us are professional performers but have all performed to some degree throughout our lives and wanted to share that experience with others using partner acrobatics and acro-yoga as our medium. Together, we have designed this 11 week program and have brought on a few more team members to help deliver it. Millissa had run a similar program in the past and has done the lion’s share of teaching and directing the program. Jessica and I provide support and creative vision; two friends, Paul Gelinas and Priscilla Naber, have since joined the supporting team. The experience is a rollercoaster through the creative process and everyone grows so much through the 11 weeks – directing team included. At the end of the 11 weeks, we put on a show that everyone is proud of and is so fun to witness.
This process has pushed us to build beyond our personal creative bubbles and develop organizational, communication, and leadership skills necessary to put on a full scale production.