Category Archives: aerials

Stand Back—I’m A Proffesional

woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a house car nice bike umm. Groceries and a coffee? #firstworlddancerproblems

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On the First Day of December

Last year, I published my list of ballet goals for the new year on December 18th.

Almost a year later, I can say I’ve made good progress on them (for one thing, I actually understand brisée now, instead of just doing the balletic equivalent of whacking at it with a big stick whenever it approaches). It’s been two steps forward, one step back, but overall the long arc of technique bends towards … um … better technique.

Anyway, I’m formulating next year’s goals now.

It’s funny—last year I focused on making my goals more concrete. This year, I intend to make fewer really concrete goals.

Part of this is that I’m not sure what’s next in terms of technique: obviously, I don’t know everything. I don’t think anyone alive knows every single step, if only because some of them exist in one stream but not in another, and most of us come primarily from one stream (Vaganova, RAD, Cecchetti, Balanchine, Bournonville) or another. That said, without the guidance of a syllabus program, it’s quite hard to say what should come next.

Last year, things seemed pretty obvious: the double tour is a standard feature of men’s technique, so it’s worth having if you’re going to audition; I had nailed triple turns and quadruples were obviously the next thing and also useful; etc.

This year, I don’t know that I need to focus on adding new steps as much as polishing existing ones. It would be nice to have a solid revoltade, but it’s not essential.

Anyway, I’ll have to remember to ask my teachers, especially BW and Killer B, for their thoughts on ballet goals. The elusive Reliable Double Tour has eluded me; if I don’t nail it down by December 31st, I suppose that’ll stay on the list.

More of my goals for next year have to do with pushing myself out into the world a little more—auditioning for more things—while shifting my focus a bit.

They say that it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, and I think that’s certainly true in the usual working world. I suppose there’s a corollary in the performing arts: it’s easier to feel confident about auditioning for things when you’ve already got a gig.

I don’t feel like I have to audition for every single thing out there. I have a gig that I like and that I’d like to continue with. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a paid ballet gig, of course, but I enjoy working with CirqueLouis. I feel like I can be a selective about my auditions, and like there’s less pressure: I am, rather surprisingly, on my way to my goal of making dancing pay, at very least, for itself.

I have my eye on some specific auditions, and I feel pretty relaxed about them.

Choreography-wise, my goals are a little more specific.

I think I’d like to actually see about setting the opening to Act II of Simon Crane—the traveling piece set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” which will stand on its own rather nicely. I’ve also rather completely re-envisioned the first piece of choreography I auditioned (that seems like about a thousand years ago now!). It began as a solo piece; I’m resetting it for two dancers (though more could work if I can lay hands on more dancers).

To be honest, I’m not sure it’s really even accurate to call it the same piece, at this point. It’s still set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” and it still centers on a theme of loneliness and grief, but beyond that it has almost nothing in common with the original version. It has inherited some ideas from “Work Song,” some from “Fade to White,” and some from the Pilobolus intensive. I’m hoping to snag L from Sunday Class, but I don’t know if I’ll manage to, as I haven’t seen him in ages. Either way, I’m really hoping to figure out a way to make that one happen.

Intensives-wise, only LexBallet and Pilobolus (all 3 weeks) are currently on my radar for 2018. I’m hoping LouBallet will run the master class series again. I might add another ballet-specific intensive and I might not.

It depends on what I’ve got on the calendar, how our finances look, and whether I can get a scholarship. Proposed changes to our joke of a healthcare “system” are set to significantly increase our insurance premiums, which will mean tightening the belt with regard to what I can afford to do out of pocket. I’d like to hit Ballet Detroit’s open intensive week, though, if I can.

So that’s it.

In summary, here’s the list:

  • Technique: consult the masters. Overall, though, I want to improve the quality, consistency, and artistry of my technique.
  • Auditions: LexBallet, Allegro Dance Project (maybe), Inlet Dance Theater, a couple of dancer/aerialist gigs with touring companies and/or cruise lines (haven’t decided which ones yet), Pilobolus if they hold auditions this year, other gigs as they appear on the horizion, probably.
  • Intensives: Definitely LexBallet and Pilobolus. Possibly Ballet Detroit.

Quick update: if you’re not completely sick of Nutcracker yet, there’s a really nice version from the Dutch National Ballet on YouTube here.

Back In The Trap

Went back to Trap 3 last night.

I almost didn’t go, then realized that the real reason for not going is that I didn’t want to know how much ground I’d lost.

As long as I keep thinking about it that way, I’ll only keep losing more ground.

It was just me (Trap 3 is a tiny group even when we’re all there), so BK and I focused on conditioning. Evidently, single-whatever hangs are a forté of mine: I did single-arm hangs, both sides, and they looked hella solid. I didn’t even know I could do them at all. I’m forced to admit that I actually look pretty ridiculously sexy hanging from a trapeze by one arm. WTF even is that?

Later, we worked a shin slide-down. It’s hard to explain what this is, but I’ll try: you get yourself into a hip hang/forward fold, then take hold of the bar from below, engage the hell out of all the things, and then—without bending your arms—slide your legs over the bar and then down the forward surface of the bar and eventually under it. I’m assuming that, given sufficient strength and skill, you can eventually shin-slide all the way back around into a planche.

Anyway, the first time, I let my arms bend. BK asked me to do it again without allowing the bend or dropping out of it and said, “I think you’re strong enough.”

I realized in that moment that she was right: indirectly, she was saying I hadn’t really given it 100% effort. She was correct. I hadn’t done so because I was afraid. I had to ask myself what I was afraid of: falling?

No. (For one thing, I forget to be afraid of that.)

Failure?

Yes[1].

  1. I had this same experience as a kid, when I had to get back to training on high bar after a break and convinced myself, ridiculously, that I couldn’t kip up. Ditto learning layouts, which got me called out in front of the entire gym: “Come on, you’ve got to those long legs, you can do this!”

It felt weird and a little scary to admit that out loud, but I did. BK has that effect on me. She’s a dynamo and a stunning performer, but also a good listener.

I’ve realized that the best listeners help you hear the things you don’t know you’re saying (regarding which: had a long chat with a friend yesterday that had that same effect—if you’re reading this, you probably know who you are, so thanks <3).

Anyway, I redid my shin slide-down and it was better. I’m stronger than I think I am (as every trapeze instructor ever has told me).

So I guess I’ll be working on this fear-of-failure thing. It is, I realize, the same thing that prevents me from nailing down a reliable double tour; same thing that makes me fail to commit to my turns sometimes, which makes the difference between a single and a quad.

Curiously, fear of failure begets failure. So I should really get back to joyfully fumbling forward, dancing for the sake of the dance, like I was doing before the stakes felt so high.

~

One other thing. I keep thinking I’m getting used to my body, and then discovering that, no, I’m dead wrong.

I’m drifting back towards being what I think of as “stage fit”—the way my body is when I’m in regular training—which means,basically, that I’m losing fat pretty quickly. I looked at myself while I was preparing for long-arm beats yesterday and my brain did the thing where it automatically flips through its internal camera roll and slotted the body I was looking at in the amongst male gymnasts[2,3]. That felt weird. Not bad, just surprising—and surprising in part because it wasn’t bad.

  1. Specifically, the more-slender phenotype. Floor exercise boys, mostly, which should really be no surprise as I was a floor-exercise fiend.
  2. The mental camera roll, I have discovered, also plays a role in the pleasure of navigation, especially over long distances.

Also surprising was that it didn’t feel feel jarring: like maybe I’ve done enough looking at my body now that I no longer expect to see 120 pounds (or less) of anorexic twink, and instead the mental image is finally updating. Spending basically all my time around other male dancers who are, themselves, adults probably helps. My frame of reference is different than it was.

I’ve struggled with this in part because it’s so unconscious. I walk around in the world with a brain that’s constantly tossing up visual information along with all the other sensory data. I’m good at navigating in part because, in addition to a fair dead-reckoning ability, I’m constantly awash in sensory memories. If my visual and vestibular memories—experienced simultaneously with the present moment—match the sensory input of the present moment, there’s a damned good chance we’re on the correct path.

The same thing happens with people: I’m forever awash from within in images and sounds and scents and textures, though people change their clothes pretty frequently, so the matches are only partial a lot of the time.

Yet, with regard to myself, I ignored the existence of my body for a long time. I didn’t like thinking about it and expected it to return to a familiar configuration. It seems silly now: bodies don’t work that way. They’re more dynamic than roads and paths (which also change, but more slowly). So by not looking at my body, I retained an out-of-date mental map of said body. When I finally started to look again, it was as jarring as going to your old house and discovering that it’s been completely rebuilt in a very different design.

If I think of it in those terms, I’m forced to acknowledge that the current design is much better for the way I’m living in this house/body. So I seem to have developed a broad-shouldered and powerful architecture: so what? That architecture facilitates some of the central things I like to do in this body, and doesn’t prevent other things I like to do in this body.

There’s a percentage of men for whom this architecture is less attractive than my 120-pound twink architecture was. There is another percentage for whom the opposite is true. Rationally, I understand that it’s stupid to feel out of joint because you’re less attractive as one thing now and more attractive as another. Eventually, you have to get over that and start knowing it viscerally. I suppose I’m beginning to feel that, too.

In the long run, of course, it doesn’t matter. But it helps to understand what’s going on inside my brain that has made this so difficult for so long.

~

It will be more difficult, ultimately, to undo the conditioning that grants so much importance to my desirability as a sexual object (which is complicated and definitely its own post, but one I may never write because, well, it’s complicated).

But this feels like a kind of progress. It makes me less angry with myself for being unable to easily decouple the old body map from the present day. I was going about it all wrong, but I think I’m beginning to understand why. It was uncomfortable in a very confusing way, so I just avoided it for a while.

I don’t know where this will all lead. I feel like being less prescriptive about my own body is a possibility. The remnants of my eating disorder want to fight that tooth and nail, but it’s starting to feel like anorexia is no longer running the show.

I am not too delusional to admit that this might not be the case if my body, in its present configuration, was not aligned with certain conventionally—attractive standards: indeed, if it wasn’t aligned with standards that a lot of gay men regard as aspirational. I may not be a scrawny little twink at this juncture, but anorexia and I are willing to live with a kind of grudging truce as long as I’m basically hot: the implication being, I suppose, that I’m still controlling things (which is almost patently untrue: this body seems to respond almost magically to certain inputs, which happen to be what I was doing anyway).

The difficulty with fighting anorexia, for me, lies in part in its insidious assertion that if I don’t adhere to its dictates, I’m weak. Never mind that people who are professionally strong (hello again, trapeze world) keep telling me I’m strong; never mind that my entire way of life is pretty rigorous (I don’t say “disciplined” because, ultimately, I believe discipline is just motivation in a fancy hat: I live the way I live because I’m motivated, pure and simple).

Anorexia whispers that if I don’t ignore hunger and drive my body to exhaustion, I’m weak; that if I accept a body built on different architectural lines than it was during my adolescence, I’m weak. If I remind it that accepting weaknesses is a kind of strength, it says I’m making excuses.

I don’t know if that voice will ever be gone. If I’m entirely honest, I must admit that’s in part because a part of me doesn’t want it to go. A part of me that is not my anorexia is, nonetheless, complicit in my anorexia. That might be universally true of people who live with anorexia. It might not. Who knows?

Another part of me says, “Your body is a very fine instrument. You need to take care of it. It needs fuel. How else can you ask anything of it?”

So here I am, in the middle of this conflict, eating soup and taking a rest day because I’ve realized that I’m ramping up the training schedule and it’s necessary, because I haven’t re-adapted yet. My scars are itchy in some places and nearly invisible in others. My shoulders say I’m a gymnast and my hips loudly proclaim that I’m a dancer. I, such as I am, am living in this body, with this mind. And slowly I keep peeling back the petals of the lotus; the layers of the onion; unraveling the sweater.

For what it’s worth, I’m reminded that at the center of the onion, there is nothing.

One From Kaleidescope

From the “Violet” scene, via Carter M. Webb (pictured holding my right foot :D).

This was a press center oversplit from below the bar–a skill that requires strength, flexibility, and coordination in spades.

You begin by ronding one straight leg into the hands of one partner, then developpé-ing the second leg out to the hands of the opposite partner. Usually, the audience finds that pretty impressive by itself.

You then slowly lower yourself to full extension of the arms (I’m at about 3/4s extension here, I think?), which presses you into a center oversplit, and execute a slow pull-up until the bar is at chest level.

Repeat for sheer bravado, wait for the audience to go bezerk, then transition to the next move (in this case, an angel or something like that–roll up through the core, hook a leg, let go with the opposite hand).

A few days ago, I didn’t know for certain that I could even do this–I have a ridiculous center oversplit, but wasn’t sure I’d regained the strength to pull the rest of it off. Needless to say, it felt really freaking good. Blew the doors off that number, too 😀

I’ve seen video of this, though I don’t have my own copy yet. Part of me still doesn’t quite believe I actually made that happen o.O

Oh, and it scared the living daylights out of my mother-in-law (but she loved it once she realized I wasn’t actually ripping my legs off).

Trust

The piece I’m performing on the sling begins with a pike pullover to a needle (effectively, a handstand on the fabric), which in turn all depends on being able to crochet my wrists–that is, to swim them under, then over, the fabric, taking my grip on the outside–so I can work against tension.

In order for this to work, the bottom of the sling needs to fall anywhere from mid-chest height (too low for other parts of the piece) to just above where my wrists are when my arms are extended straight up if I’m standing flat-footed (I can make up the difference with shoulder mobility).

Last night, somehow, my sling was set too high: I had to stand on my very highest demi-pointe and hyperextend my shoulders to reach it at all, and even then I had to mount by gripping the bottom of the sling with my un-crocheted hands.

This in turn meant that I couldn’t do the pike pullover, but instead had to tuck as hard as I could and pray that I had enough strength to make it, since I couldn’t borrow momentum by springing through my feet or brushing or a leg and kicking up. If I could have crocheted my wrists, it still would have worked–but since I could only reach the very, very bottom of the sling, my hands were too close together for proper biomechanical leverage. My shoulders were hyperextended and closed, making it impossible to engage them back and down until I was already approaching vertical.

It meant that that the needle–which depends on core strength and physics and should be a straight vertical with the hands shoulder-width apart and the legs sealed against one-another, not touching the fabric at all–became more of a fork, ankles on the fabric, since my hands were squashed together in the very bottom of the sling and I’d had to engage my core in a different pattern coming up from the tuck than I would from the pike.

It meant that the move that follows the needle–a graceful fold back into a pike that lands my hips in the bottom of the sling–was awkward. My hands were in the way, and I had to shimmy them out to the sides, which left my body off its axis, which made the next transition awkward as well.

The most difficult part, though, was the moment at the very start, when I realized that my sling was too high and then briefly wondered if it was even locked off correctly. I had to make a judgment call: take a dangerous mount on a potentially-unstable apparatus over a hard stage, or hold up a show that people paid to see over what was probably nothing?

I chose to mount.

That decision came down entirely to a question of trust.

Did I trust the riggers? Yes, even though my sling was too high–scheduling conflicts meant we’d done only one tech run, and the window in which the sling height is acceptable for this piece is very, very small. I trade off halfway through with a girl whose part of the act involves a drop that is too dangerous to do if the sling falls lower than a certain point. She’s my height but longer in the torso. The difference between too low for her drop, just right for both of us, and too high for my mount is the difference in locking off the sling ahead of, right on, or behind a tape mark. Better to lock it off too high for my mount: yes, it makes my part of the piece less elegant by a significant margin, but it doesn’t endanger anyone.

Did I trust the rig? Not entirely. No aerialist can do their job if they don’t trust the equipment–but no aerialist worth their salt believes there’s a 0% chance of mechanical failure. For better or worse, I hadn’t had enough time on this rig to trust it as much as I trust mine or the rigging points at our rehearsal space or at Suspend.

But I trusted it enough, combined with one more factor: myself.

I would be, upon mounting the sling, about seven feet up, suspended head first over a hard, wooden floor. Did I trust myself–my brain and body, the reflexes that I began honing as a baby gymnast at 3 years old–to literally save my own neck if everything went tits up?

Yes, it turns out: I ran a mental calculation and accepted the sliver of risk. If something was wrong with the rigging, I had good evidence–a lifetime of experience–in favor of being able to successfully tuck and roll. It’s as automatic as pointing my feet.

A tuck-and-roll wouldn’t prevent all possible injuries–in fact, I knew that I was accepting the risk of bone breaks–but at the height in question it would keep me from breaking my neck or my back.

I made my decision and put it aside and went forward. I struggled to make things as smooth as they should be, but no one got hurt. My dismount, at least, worked beautifully: I drop into a single-knee hang, reach for the ground, and execute a back walkover out of the sling. I was able to just manage it by letting the leg in the sling slide into a heel-hang at the last possible second.

In the end, no one got hurt. Things were scary for a second, then difficult. I got through by making an active, informed decision to trust and then continuing to breathe and move forward.

It’s funny how apt a metaphor this becomes for relationships and for life.

We choose actively to trust: how deeply and how far depends on our experiences.

We choose actively to trust: but we do so knowing that it means accepting a sliver of risk.

We choose actively to trust–or not to trust–ourselves.

In the end, I’m glad I chose as I did. Every time we choose to be brave, we make ourselves stronger.

It’s true that my work in the sling came off less gracefully than it might have done–but it came off, nonetheless. That, as they say, is showbiz. You screw up, or things screw up, and you play it off like everything’s going to plan.

When your sling is set too high, you use your best demi-point and you pray.

You keep your face on. Roll forward.

You push through the hips.

Countdown

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that nothing is ever final until the curtain rises on opening night–and even then, it’s still not final.

This is a comforting thought, since circumstances have conspired to make tomorrow’s tech run the first time that the tandem hammock trio gets to actually be a tandem hammock trio! We’ve worked separately and in various pairings up to this point, but not all together because–honestly, I’m not sure why.

This morning, I worked out the drop sequence I’m doing–a variation from the one the girls are doing, since they didn’t get a chance to teach it to me and we didn’t have video I could work from, but if I don’t completely hose it up, the audience is unlikely to notice 😛

Tonight’s a literal walk-through rehearsal: the apparatuses are in the theater, but we won’t be because life in the arts is, shall we say, a little chaotic sometimes. I’m honestly okay with that: we got up at 4 this morning for a 3.5-hour newscast gig, and even though I managed to reclaim most of my lost sleep this afternoon (and, in my dreams, revisit pets of yore and rehearse in a really bizarre space), I’m still a little tired and totallu okay with not dangling from dangerous objects tonight 😉

The news should always be this much fun!

^^That’s my kind of news crew 😀

Last night, instead of staying home and hiding from trick-or-treaters, I went to Handstands class and Acro 2. Both went remarkably well. I got to play on hand-balancing blocks, which I’ve been wanting to do forever, and a pair of those hand-balancing frames that look a little like pommel-horse grips sans pommel-horse. I’m finally regaining a really solid handstand, so that’s awesome. I definitely want to incorporate hand-balancing into my skill-set.

Anyway, tomorrow we’re finally in the theater for real (I got a preview as a function of doing the morning show!), and Friday we open. Saturday is just about sold out, which is awesome.

Oh, andI also know how to find my way out of the theater now, which is surprisingly complicated 😛

This Is My Body, Given

I know I’ve been kind of quiet this week.

On Tuesday, I wrote a long essay that I’m sitting on–it’s good, I think, but also complicated. Maybe I’ll publish it later, maybe I won’t.

Since then, I’ve been busy with class and rehearsals and performances (one more tomorrow).

I’ve got full medical release as of today, but of course being who I am I’ve been working back into my body. It’s good to finally be able, once again, to do things: it’s amazing how good a simple pullover into the sling feels.

We put up the rig today, and I banged away at choreography for an hour. I stopped when I started to get tired and felt like I was probably teaching myself the wrong transitions.

Tonight I don’t feel sore, just tired and strong. I lifted 150 pounds of me and suspended that weight in a needle inversion nine or ten times. I climbed and re-climbed who knows how many times–this choreography does a lot of that. It demands that you work through the whole body. It leaves you feeling alive.

I realize that this is how I hope to feel at the end of any day: spent, but nothing a good night’s sleep won’t restore. I associate this feeling with things being good.

This is my body, given wholly to the creation of art. This is my body, given wholly to the present for many hours in a row.

This is my body that, right now, feels like a wonder and a miracle and leaves me suffuse with gratitude. This is my body, which in this moment I love and trust, even though I will feel differently in other moments.

At the end of the day, I love performing. I love an audience–but the prime mover, for me, is not the audience, but the immediacy of movement. Ballet and aerials consume us whole.

We are given entire into the fire of being while we dance.

Just a caterpillar from my lawn.

Today’s Preview

We worked in the sphere a bit more today, first at about knee height, then at a more respectable height of 1.25 meters or so.

My bit of the brief duo is essentially nailed down; my partner is adjusting hers since we’re using a span-set rigging that allows her to work atop the sphere.

Got a little video and some decent still shots from there. This is one of my favorites:

This Skin-the-Cat Walkout Dismount works much better a little higher up!

In Which I Revisit An Important Concept

(…Or, “Hey, what do you know, maybe knowledge really is power!”)

I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.

I’ve been looking stuff up on the internet since I was a kid. I should know how this works by now! Got a weird question? Pretty sure you don’t know anyone who can answer it? Ask Dr. Google!

Anywho, I’ve been fretting over the deep details of What Is Going On With My Chest, and what should make me worry, and what shouldn’t, etc. For some reason, however, it didn’t occur to me until this morning to just, like, look it up.

Even though research is, like, kind of my jam[1]?

  1. Or, like, my tertiary jam, close on the heels of dance and circusing. But, like, if this was a horse race, research would definitely still be in the money.

So, needless to say, this morning I decided to apply my research-fu to my involved questions about the whole healing process … and, actually, I found really good answers from legit sources (being able to identify legit sources is an important skill, you guys).

Basically, the problem has been not the what, but the why (and how):

  • Why can’t I put my hands in the air like I don’t care?
  • Why can’t I lift things?
  • Why, from a physiological perspective, are those things bad ideas right now?
  • How could they impact the healing process (and, more importantly, are they going to make my nipples, like, fall off or something????!!!)?
  • How can I prevent myself from screwing everything up?

Anyway, I now understand what’s going on physiologically, which will make it a lot easier to remember not to do things.

I find it very helpful to have that extra data point—it not only strengthens the synaptic connections associated with the information in question, but adds a degree of motivational magic.

Basically, a really strong motivator can, to a degree, sometimes curb my impulsive nature[2]. The challenge is finding a motivator that’s stronger than the motivators that lead me to do dumb stuff.

  1. Works best in combination with Adderall, admittedly.

The motivation to make sure that all this surgical stuff heals as well and as quickly as possible is very powerful, but not terribly specific.

The specific knowledge of what’s going on under my skin and what I’m avoiding by following my surgeon’s instructions is really very helpful: it adds a layer of information that makes it more likely that the motivator, “Don’t eff up your surgery” will win in one of those momentary battles between impulses.

On the upside, I’m now past the point of greatest danger of really crazy outcomes (like my nipples actually going necrotic and sloughing off, for example o_O) … which is good, because the first thing I did upon halfway waking this morning was stretch, and although I stopped myself immediately, it made me feel a wee bit panicky. I also got fed up with my compression dressing in the middle of the night, woke up, and took the freaking thing off.

Turns out that I don’t really need to worry about either of those things too much—just keep an eye on things as always, but they probably haven’t done any real damage to the healing process. I’m doing a pretty good job behaving myself, and the nipple-aureola complexes should pretty much have made themselves at home at this point, having been significantly disturbed during surgery but taking only about a week to establish themselves again. They’ll be back to normal resiliency within a couple more weeks.

Anyway, I’m feeling much better now.

So, basically, I have yet again discovered the age-old principle of alleviating concerns by increasing understanding.

Um. Go me? Yay?

In other news, maybe I should also Google, “How the heck do I get all this freaking medical adhesive off my skin?” (Edit: Yup, I Googled it. Evidently, acetone—the main ingredient in nail polish remover—will do the trick. Going to give that a try in a bit.)

~

PS: I am working on Saturday—a wee bit of low-intensity ambient dancing. It will be an interesting challenge to see what I can accomplish without raising either my heartbeat or my arms 😀

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