Monday, October 17, 2011

Learning What I Un-Learned When I Learned to Fly

My husband, usually in response to totaling the expenditures related to my habit, has asked on many occasions, "But WHY? Why do you love aerial so much??" I've usually responded with much scoffing and eye-rolling, and pontificating on the importance of having a Passion, etc. etc. etc. So, you know, I wasn't really saying anything.

So last Thursday, my instructor, Cody, says, "This week, we're going to focus on...joy. Remember when we started doing this, how we did it because it was fun? Let's remember to have fun today. I mean, why DO we do this?"

"Because it makes me feel sexy!" someone shouted from fifteen feet in the air.

"Because it makes me feel powerful." I said without thinking.

"Yeah, those are good reasons!" Cody nodded, but her reply was lost on me because the tectonic plates of my personality were shifting, throwing up mountain ranges of understanding, as earthquakes of suppressed frustration rippled around, searching for a weak spot to send up a plume of lava...

The weak spot it found was my blog; aren't you lucky??

Those shifting plates brought long-buried layers of experience to the surface: twelve years of gym class. And that volcano-epiphany was that what I learned in twelve years of physical education is that my body wasn't much good for anything.

I remember gym class back in pre-school and kindergarten. It was super-fun. I loved playing with the parachute, walking on the balance beam, crab-walk races with my classmates, trying to do somersaults in a straight line, running fast and still trying to listen in Red Light, Green Light...I never asked myself if I was good at any of these things. I don't remember if I ever won those races, or if I was called out too frequently in Red light, Green Light. I never tumbled off the balance beam, pretty sure I'd recall that.
And, somewhere around first grade, there was this curriculum that the teacher had to follow: there was homework and quizzes! What in the hell do you quiz kids on in gym?? Well you can bet it wasn't the finer points of somersaulting.

Each unit of each year would find us learning about, and playing a different sport: volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. Obviously these sports develop strength, speed, hand-eye coordination, team work, all that stuff, but they're all...pretty similar. Each a unique game, yes, but similar in the sense that they all require your body to operate in similar ways. The theme is really simplistic, but the rules are really specific, and can be a bit tricky. And I had to learn this stuff for homework and quizzes. Fitting these Sports in didn't leave a lot of room for Red Light, Green Light, or Monster Ball, let alone hauling out a balance beam and spotting each kid, or unrolling mats.

What I'm getting at is, as a 3-6 year-old, I was taught that using my body was fun, and within certain guidelines (don't fall off the beam; don't roll off the mat; no hitting) there wasn't really a wrong way to do it. Any way my body moved was great.

As a 6-16 year-old, I was taught that there were very specific outlets that were permissible for me to use my body, and if my body could do these specific things, then I was Athletic, and worthy of praise from teachers and classmates, and if I couldn't, then, you know, I wasn't athletic, and hey, that's ok, too, you just won't be getting an A or picked first any time soon.

I didn't get good grades in gym. Ever. I flunked it in Junior High.

I hated playing sports; I wasn't good at them, and I hated how much pressure was put on me to be good at them so my team wouldn't lose and I'd get a good participation grade that day, but somehow it never clicked that I used to love gym. It never clicked that I used to love using my body, that I used to trust it to do what I asked of it, and I used to be proud of what it could do. I just swallowed the script being handed to me, that I wasn't athletic, which made sense since I was such a bookworm, and it was a total inconvenience if anyone was forced to be on my team in gym class.

Seriously? What the feck? This makes me so angry. I can honestly hardly believe it.

Even when I ran cross country in Junior High I accepted that I would never be GOOD at it and just enjoyed myself. When I played tennis in high school and was the only student on the team not allotted enough matches in games to earn a varsity letter at the end of the season, I wasn't angry. I mean, I wasn't GOOD at tennis. I wasn't athletic. I was lucky they even let me play, right? Even when I went back to cross country at the end of cross country, and held a solid spot as the fifth member of the varsity team, I chalked that up to cross country not being a popular sport. I wasn't GOOD at cross country. (Never mind that, to this day, with no conditioning, I can run three miles in about twenty-five minutes, which isn't winning a race anytime soon, but aint too shabby, either.)

During most of these years, I was also on a dance team through a studio in my town, and though I loved loved loved to dance, I also accepted that, you know, I wasn't GOOD at dance. I mean, I couldn't even touch my toes. So, obviously, I shouldn't be investing too much into this emotionally, shouldn't be practicing daily or anything. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

My freshman year of college I started doing yoga, and wow, it was really hard for me, but that was fine, because it made perfect sense that I wouldn't be GOOD at yoga! I loved yoga from the beginning because from the beginning the teacher said, 'It doesn't matter.' How well I did the pose, or how much of the class I could get through without taking a break didn't matter at all. No grades, no getting picked last.

And then, with all that conditioning under my belt, a friend of mine said, "I know this girl who teaches donation-based circus class on Sundays. Want to come?" I had no idea what a circus class would entail, but it sounded fun, so I went, and before the day was out I was inverting and doing tricks on the trapeze, and it was just so much fun! By the end of class I was too tired to even enjoy free time, but I still knew I had to go back, and I did. After a few weeks, as I was leaving, I mentioned something about not knowing where I could go with this, and before I could say, "you know, I'm not athletic. I'm not good at this." My teacher said,

"You could go far, Emily. You have so much natural ability."

The First Fecking Time In My Life Someone Said That To Me. I was twenty-three. (Although, to be fair, my cross country coach was a sweet, supportive man who always encouraged me to stick with the sport; I chalked that up to cross country's not being very popular at our school, too.)

And I kept coming back. I would have anyway, but those words meant so much to me, the idea that there was hope that I could be...GOOD...at this. And within a few weeks, my body responded. I was stronger, I was more flexible, and I was building skills. I mentioned to people that I did aerial and their response, once I explained what it was, was, "Wow! You're so brave! I could never do that..."

Me? Brave?? Capable??? Powerful??? It was the best feeling in the world.



Being up there is the best feeling in the world.

I would never have gone back to that second, third, and fourth class, would never have pursued it this far, based solely on a teacher's encouragement, or on getting my ego stroked. I fell in love with aerial dance from Day 1: it combines the beauty of grounded dance forms with profound strength and strategy. It uses your whole body, and your whole brain. But as much fun as it is, could I have invested as much emotionally and financially into it if it was only fun, just one more thing I would never be good at? No.

Aerial makes me feel powerful. It is the first thing I've ever done in my life that has made me feel that way. That is why I love it.

And yes, it does make you feel pretty sexy, too. :-D

Live Omily,
~em

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