Tuesday, July 20, 2010
No one ever believes me when I say that I work on a trapeze. They think I'm joking, or being metaphorical (Her life is so crazy, it's like a circus! Ha! Ha!). But I'm not joking, and I mean it absolutely literally --- I work on a trapeze.
You know, like this:
I first got into doing circus aerials a little over a year ago. Since (after getting over the initial skepticism), everyone always asks me why, I'll tell you: A very close friend of mine rides a unicycle for fun. That part I can't explain. But what I can explain is that I thought I might give it a try myself. I asked her where I could learn, and she suggested that I search for circus schools in my area. Two seconds of Googling came up with what is now one of my favorite places on Earth: the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. They were indeed offering unicycling lessons, but more importantly, they were offering a two-hour introductory workshop on aerials: circus tricks on rope, fabric, and trapeze.
The first thing I learned at the workshop was how to climb a rope properly (hint: NOT the way you learned in gym class!). The second thing I learned was how to turn myself upside down and climb down headfirst, ninja-style. After that, ladies and gentlemen, I was hooked.
I spent the last year learning a variety of tricks, and in May, I gave my first performance on the static trapeze. I should note at this point that static trapeze is a very different creature from flying trapeze, which is what everyone assumes I'm doing. Flying trapeze involves
flying through the air with the greatest of ease swinging on trapezes, doing flips in the air, mid-air catches, etc. I've never done that, although I'm desperate to give it a try (carpool to Camp Kirby, anyone?)
But static trapeze, as the name suggests, involves staying still. In fact, the best performers do their tricks without moving the trapeze at all, using just their strength and flexibility to maneuver around the apparatus. I'm obviously not that good (at least not yet!), but the goal is still to keep the swinging to an minimum and work instead on moving my body into the poses without creating too much momentum.
I'm not sure if I succeeded, but I will let you judge for yourselves.
This took me about eight weeks to put together. I definitely had help from my instructors, but mostly my fellow performers and I were left to our own devices. I chose the tricks that I wanted to do, invented transitions between them, decided on the music, designed my costume, and practiced my character, all the while getting feedback from the staff and from the other performers in my group. It was intense, inspiring, and intimidating. I loved it.
But the path of true love ne'er did run smooth. On the one hand, doing aerials provides a great workout while learning cool-looking tricks and working on flexibility and grace. I've dropped a pants size, built some lovely muscle tone, and increased the number of pull-ups I can do at one time from zero to five (seven if I'm feeling lucky).
On the other hand, it's 90 minutes of nausea-inducing muscle fatigue with a side of ankle torture. Doing aerials requires bodily exertions and contortions that I didn't think were possible, and that certainly aren't necessarily in the course of everyday life --- like climbing three stories into the air, or flipping myself upside down between the silks and holding myself there, or spinning around upside down on one of the ropes of the trapeze, and then sliding down to the bar, and then bracing myself against it with the small of my back, and then flipping myself around so I can sit down like a normal human being. And then doing it again.
In addition to the muscle fatigue, aerials have the unfortunately side effect of giving one gigantic black-and-blues and rope burns in places where one manifestly does not want black-and-blues and rope burns (like my inner thighs...don't ask). My webcam doesn't quite capture the full technicolor glory of these bruises, but the pictures should give you some idea of the fact that this isn't all fun and games, much as we try to make it look like it is when performing.
And I'm not kidding about the ankle torture, by the way. It looks like this:
It's as if some sadistic performer woke up one morning and thought, "Hey, I know! Let me invent a trick that involves supporting the entirety of my body weight on the tops of my feet! You know, a place where I can't possibly develop any muscle or any fat as a cushion! Sounds perfect!" Note to sadistic performer: I hate you.
Overall, though, I really do love aerials --- the pain is a small price to pay for all the cool stuff that I've learned to do. Not to mention that developing alternate marketable skills is a good bet in this lousy economy. So keep an eye out for my performance next year, and who knows? Maybe I've inspired you to give it a try too. As the owner of the circus school likes to say, see you in the air!