Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Aerial Omily: Useful When You Fly, Useful When You Don't–Lessons from the Skies

Long, long ago, when I was just getting the hang of the basic climb on silks, and experimenting with different shapes on the static trapeze, I had mind-blowing amounts of muscle soreness. I'd wake up the day after a two-hour aerial session (which isn't as intense as you'd think, since I spent a lot of that time waiting for my turn) unable to move...or at least, unable to move without contorting my face into  some impressive grimaces.

Those days are pretty thoroughly behind me now. If I wake up in pain, it's usually because I pulled something.

But now that I'm in the thick of the Muse Summer Performance Intensive, I'm experiencing a resurgence of these days. I tried complaining about it to the husband, but he was quick to remind me that not only is this exactly what I signed up for, vocally hoped for, but it's what I PAID for! If I want to level up, I have to accept feeling like a beginner again, and all that it entails.

It's a small, subtle reminder that you're never done with the hard part. If you're getting better, the things you learned already will be easier, sure, but there will be plenty of hard things to take their place.

An awesome group of women is doing the intensive with me, and as we get to know each other, the classic aerialist small talk question keeps coming out: "So, how long have you been doing this?" This is not a question I feel like I can answer with a straight number. It's complicated. The first time I ever grasped a trapeze bar, or wrapped my lower leg for a basic climb was four years ago. But I didn't start taking dedicated silks lessons every week for several months, and I didn't start working out on my own for over a year, and I didn't get into a solid training schedule for two years, which is also when I performed for the first time. I didn't take my first private lesson for three and a half years! Plenty of people start with private lessons right off the bat, and accordingly, their technique grows much fast than mind did. On the other hand, there are some things I can't rush.

When I inverted with straight legs, hooked my knee, realized I was setting up the trick on the opposite side I wanted to, the unhooked, inverted, and reverted with straight legs to hook the other knee, that was a result of a four year foundation of strength and endurance.

That's not to say that would take everyone four years or three or two, but it's not the part of the practice that comes overnight.

On the other hand, building new vocabulary onto the foundation of strength, stamina, and security I'ver earned after a few years in the air? That can take as little as minutes. If all I spend on it is minutes, it's never going to look refined enough for performance, nor will I be able to access the versatility necessary to choreograph it. That will take days, weeks, in some cases (I'm looking at you, wheel down!), months.

What I'm getting at is, it's not very useful to know how long another aerialist has been training. There are so many variables in play that in terms of setting a time line for you, that just doesn't tell you much. I have a friend who could fan kick her way into a perfect hip key every time within a few weeks of getting on the silks. Four years later, I still can't do that consistently.

On the other hand, I have a long list of drops I'm comfortable with: big, small, locked and unlocked, that I can pull out of my back pocket to inject a little wow into any piece, and I learned the vast majority of them in my second year of training. I loved the thrill of drops, so I just kept asking for more...and I cost myself a lot of time I could have spent refining my technique, and I've been playing major catch-up on that for moths now.

I had been getting pretty down on myself for my short-sightedness, until my coach pointed out that learning tons of vocabulary, building a strong understanding of the wraps that allow you to move safely on the silks, set me up to have a nearly unlimited range of options for refinement and choreography later on. So maybe the path I followed wasn't such a mistake after all.

Maybe, like in all things, there are many ways to travel from novice to professional aerialist, each with its own pros and cons.

Maybe you're not an aspiring aerialist, or even someone who enjoys playing in the air, odds are there's something you can apply these lessons to in your life:

You're always going to be a beginner at something. Get comfortable with it.

Your story is complicated. Don't short change yourself by making it fit a simpler narrative.

Don't compare yourself to others.

Don't beat yourself up for missteps you've taken in the past.

Like yoga, aerial can teach you things that can revitalize your whole life...unlike yoga, the best moments are probably still the ones spent at the practice...

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