Category Archives: work
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.)
- 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.
- Specifically, the more-slender phenotype. Floor exercise boys, mostly, which should really be no surprise as I was a floor-exercise fiend.
- 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.
A couple years back I noticed that my tuchas has developed an oddly triangular profile.
Recently, I noticed that it has once again returned to a triangular shape.
Today I realized that it’s a function of conditioning: as I progress from (relatively) out of shape to stage-fit, my butt progresses from “round” through “triangular” and finally to “square.”
Huh. You learn something new every day.
In other news, we left at the crack o’ dawn yesterday for Atlanta, checked into our hotel at 3 PM, established a CirqueLouis outpost, then proceeded to regroup with the crew before dinner and Cirque du Soleil’s Luzia.
And speaking of Luzia—you guys, it knocked my socks off.
Luzia is a beautiful show—funny and tender and full of love for a place and for the people k and cacti) who make that place shine, not to mention packed with the high-calibre circus performances that give Cirque du Soleil its stellar reputation.
B on the straps was, for me, the pinnacle—he’s beautiful and performs with ardor and pathos. I don’t really have language to describe his act. It was breathtaking.
We also got to roam around on the stage—which is fecking amazing, you guys; the technology!—and backstage, where the CduS cast trains and gets physical therapy and does everything else and where the giant amazing puppets live.
After we chatted with the cast about circus stuff (and other stuff) over drinks, which was awesome. I tried to do a lot of listening. You learn a lot that way.
There’s much to be said for a life in which a business trip means watching a phenomenal performance and talking shop with phenomenal performers, then conducting a 5-hour long mobile meeting—part post-mortem on their show, part post-mortem on ours, and part spitball session for the next show—on the drive home the next day.
Little by little I feel like I’m starting to understand circus as an art form of its own, discrete from ballet and modern dance and so forth. I really owe that Jordan, our AD, who has been in love with circus all his life, who has built his life around circus, and who is teaching me (the company’s resident ballet boy) to really love circus in its own right.
Depression-wise, I’m making it back now, I think. The edges are still raw, and I need to respect that and not push myself off a ledge by diving back into too much at once. This is going to mean very consciously taking rest days, especially as I reset and shift back to a different rest-day schedule.
We’re halfway through November, somehow: I have roughly six weeks til it’s time to start hitting auditions.
When I headed to Florida back in September, January seemed unimaginably far away. Now it’s right around the corner.
BG, Killer B, and BW are rebuilding me as a dancer. Jordan is refining me as a performer. I’m not yet back to the place in which I feel like, Yes, I should go audition for ballet things, but I’m at least in a place where auditioning for cirque things and ballet-adjacent things feels like it makes sense.
I want to say, “Let’s see where I am in six weeks,” but I kind of think that’s giving myself too much room to weasel out.
Anyway. That’s it for now. I’m exhausted and ready to turn my brain off for the night.
I tend to try maintain an aura of ebullient optimism.
I’m aware that I lead a relatively charmed life, in which I’m permitted by circumstance to pursue a fairly impractical set of goals, and to mention that I still struggle seems a bit like spitting right into the face of good fortune.
But I do still struggle, and I’m beginning to understand something, which is this: living a life in which I’m not forced to do work that grinds my soul to powder, in which the work I do is work that I enjoy, doesn’t alter the fact that my mental health is a little fragile and that history and genetics have conspired to place me on a narrow bridge that spans a yawning chasm.
Rather, the life I’m living acts as a kind of safety harness, so that when–not if–I go plummeting off my bridge, I can eventually climb back up, or at any rate be hauled back up by people who love me.
I am capable of periods of immense creative productivity, but they’re interspersed with periods in which merely surviving is still all I can do. Those periods of mere survival are made easier to bear by the knowledge that I won’t have to return, as soon as I’m barely able, to work that will inevitably accelerate the arrival of the next plunge off the bridge.
Because D carries the vast majority of the weight of the financial responsibility of keeping us afloat, I’m able to get up and walk along my bridge for long periods, when in the past I rarely made it beyond the clinging-and-crawling-along-the-edges phase before I slipped again.
I don’t make much money doing what I do, but I usually have enough energy left over to keep our house comfortable to live in and to cook good food.
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.
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 😉
^^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 😛
Today, I have accomplished the following:
- Get out of bed (eventually)
- Sew buttons for straps into new tights for CirqueLouis gigs
- …Yeah, that’s about it, really.
Every time I’m forced to take a break of more than a couple of weeks from class, the re-entry period is an exercise in grinding self-doubt.
First, taking a break almost inevitably involves gaining a couple of pounds–generally a sum that the average person would barely notice, but which is all too visible when you return to the studio and are constantly surrounded once again by people with less than 10% body fat.
I may be all about body positivity, but I’m not very good at applying it to myself. I’m also entirely aware that I have somehow stumbled into working in a field in which the folks who decide who gets hired and who doesn’t tend to lean strongly towards lean bodies. Toss in the fact that, given my build, a little more size in the thighs interferes with my fifth position, and you’ve got a recipe for Dancer Meltdown in 3 … 2 … 1…
Worse, it always takes a few weeks to re-awaken and rebuild the muscles responsible for correct execution of classical technique–and even as people who don’t dance continue to harp on about my “natural” grace, I wind up feeling like a half-grown stirk in a dressage ring until things start working together again.
This week has been all about finding my core, not dancing like a swaybacked wildebeest, and remembering how the hell to do turns.
- Though, bizarrely, whilst I was not dancing, my chaînés improved dramatically–regarding which, WTactualF?
Predictably, the resultant emotional fallout has been a constant stream of thoughts like WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO AUDITION FOR THINGS?! and I’LL NEVER BE READY!
So that’s where I am right now. Off to my last week of sandbagging in Saturday beginner class, which I hope will leave me feeling like I can actually dance, and then Jack O’Lantern Spectacular,in which I’ll attempt not to dance like a swaybacked wildebeest before a captive audience of so freaking many.
Yes, I’ve resorted to counting down the days until I’m cleared for all the things.
The problem is that I really want to do handstands for some reason. Like, right now.
Normally, when I want to do handstands, like, right now, I just do them. (Often, when this happens, it’s because I’m trying to think my way through a sticking point in my technique and my nonverbal mind thinks it’s on to something. Sometimes, though, it’s just for fun.)
I may have done a few wee petit allegro jumps in my kitchen (which is far too small even for medium allegro) last night. It might have felt good.
I decided I was ready to get back to barre when I found myself doing turns in my kitchen. I don’t think I can justify doing allegro of any kind (excepting the occasional step in my kitchen) until I’m 100% cleared.
So, needless to say, I’m antsy.
But it’s only mine more days.
What I’m really antsy about, though, is being able to take a proper, fully-submerged bath. I haven’t taken any baths at all because I’m afraid I’ll just submerge everything without even thinking about it—but on the other hand I do find baths really helpful on cold mornings (and, as you may recall, we have already established that my standard for labeling a morning “cold” is fairly pathetic).
Maybe I’ll try taking a bath and mindfully not submerging myself. And, of course, if I get really antsy, I can always use one of those medical-grade wound-protector things that they make for exactly that purpose.
In other news, I’m really tempted to wear this thing:
…to class tomorrow, just to make BW and TS giggle. I think if I do, I’ll be forced to shoot some video for posterity.
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: