First, the bad:
I felt like crap all the way through barre. Tired, which I expected (three hours of circus classes on Tuesday night will do that to you), but also like I was fighting against my own body, which I didn’t expect.
Halfway through I realized that I was fighting against my own body: that I’d managed to turn my quads on and couldn’t turn them off, and they were constantly opposing my still-reconditioning posterior chain.
Needless to say, I might skip Tuesday night classes for a couple of weeks until I get my turnouts back in line.
This is an awkward decision to have to make. Trapeze 3 is only offered on Tuesday night right now, and I really should be drilling away at it—not only because I’ve been in Trap 3 FOREVER (mainly due to schedule conflicts), but also because I recognize that Trapeze is the circus discipline in which I’m closest to achieving a high-level professional standard, and from an economic standpoint, even as a freelancer, aerials gigs to pay better than dance gigs.
That said, I exist first and foremost as a dancer, and it’s my dance background that sets me apart when it comes to auditioning as an aerialist. As such, when I feel like I must choose, ballet always gets the nod. It’s the single most specialized thing I do with my body, and even though my body is well-suited to the discipline, the reality is that to it takes constant work to be a good ballet dancer.
The realities of daily life as a bipedal primate in an advanced society militate against the physical adaptations required to do ballet well. So we take class all the damned time, knowing that every time we miss class, we’re unraveling a little bit of the intricate tapestry we’ve been creating all along.
As they say, “When I miss one class, I know it. When I miss two classes, my director knows it. When I miss three classes, the audience knows it.”
…Presumably because I’m face-down on the stage, wondering how I got there.
Now, the Good:
Adagio felt really decent for the first time since I came back from my post-surgical healing break. As a supporting leg, my right is still significantly weaker than my left, but it’s catching up.
I think part of the reason for this, oddly enough, has to do with the layout of our bedroom. If you’re facing the foot of the bed, I sleep on the left. Our bed is lofted over two layers of drawers, so the options for getting into bed involve climbing, jumping, or doing the equivalent of mounting a rather small horse from the ground.
Being who I am, I opt for jumping or the ground-mount. I usually accomplish this goal by springing off a turned-out left leg whilst jeté-ronding the right[1,2].
- This is true whether I’m jumping or doing the ground-mount. The ground-mount version involves bringing my left knee up as if I was going to developpé straight to 145+ degrees à la seconde, setting the inside of edge of the ball of my left foot on the edge of the bedframe (it was build to be a waterbed, so it’s actually nigh level with the mattress), then engaging through the posterior chain whilst swinging the right leg up and over. So, basically the same thing, only different. Also, I’ve never tried to describe a ground mount in terms of ballet before, but it’s surprisingly effective.
- I should note that this also has to do with space constraints: yesterday, I tried it the other way, bounced my left knee off the wall to the left of the bed and whacked it very, very hard on the bedframe. 0/10: not recommended.
In short, for essentially two months, I’ve been using the posterior chain of the left leg to do plyometric workouts and more or less doing nothing with the right side.
As they say on the internet:
Anyway, today I really tried to concentrate on, like, actually engaging my right leg when it was playing the supporting role, and not just flailing around like a dead fish that doesn’t know how to ballet.
Which, to be fair, very few dead fish do.
This involved conceding the possibility that I might need to work with lower extensions: trying to tour lent with the working leg above 90 degrees and the supporting leg on strike doesn’t work very well (to whit: for me, 90 seems to be the sweet spot).
Anyway, I made it through all the things. By the end of barre I wasn’t at all sure that I was going to survive through all of class, and I let Ms. B know just in case I had to peace out before jumps or something.
However, I did survive jumps, and although my brain didn’t want to retain all the petit allegro (and kept insisting on putting entrechats where they didn’t belong, which I guess is probably First World Ballet Problems all the way), I carried off the first run of the grand allegro rather nicely under the circumstances. My grand assemblé was a little meh, but it was better than not doing grand allegro at all.
The combination in question was a zig-zag, starting croisé:
tombé-pas de bourré-glissade-saut de chat
…then back the other way
On second run, I was thoroughly cooked and had trouble getting my trailing leg to play along with the grand assemblé process. It was, on both sides, willing to get off the ground, but that was about it. It was having no part of sweeping up to meet the leading leg at the apex of the jump.
I mention the facing at the start, by the way, because sissone often changes it, and it was no exception here. In this combination, the facing changes through the sissone from croisé to effacé, then back to croisé through the assemblé. The tombe-pdb-glissade-saut de chat begins en face, but finishes croisé on the second side.
Incorporating the facings both makes this combination look really nice and prevents everyone from sproinging into each-other. …Which, to be fair, is not something that happens with any regularity in Killer Class, but you never know.
I’ve probably come to this conclusion before, so my apologies if this is tiresome.
I make the same mistake over and over again (what was that definition of madness, again?)—deciding either:
- …that I will somehow throw the neurochemical round-house punch to end all neurochemical round-house punches and knock my depression right TF out.
- …that I’m feeling much better and that, as a result, my depression is just about over and I’ll be fine any old minute now.
Then I find myself flummoxed when I don’t magically turn into … well, not a normal person (as D always says, “Average was never the goal!”), but a not-depressed person … overnight, or when I overextend myself and just can’t even for the next five days.
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a motto that some might call “strategetic” and others might call “cowardly.” In short:
When all else fails, run away
And live to fight another day.
(Coincidentally, this exact phrasing is the motto of Daniel D’Aeve, a semi-cowardly knight [he doesn’t like loud noises, for one thing] and accidental pirate [he doesn’t like boats, either] and the semi-hero of a musical I’ll probably never finish, but who knows. Miracles do happen.)
I’m not going to wrestle my depression into submission. That’s not how this works.
If I keep engaging it head-on, this gorilla will always, always wrestle me into the ground. Depression is like … I don’t know, wrestling some kind of mutant alligator that has gained the ability to steal your strength and make it its own as long as you keep fighting. (I feel like there’s almost certainly a Japanese monster movie about this already, but if there isn’t, there should be.)
As such, I’ve decided to adopt a more conservative tack. I know that I’m too impulsive to entirely avoid wrestling the alligator—sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing so until the alligator is already doing death-rolls at the bottom of the pond—but I’m going to try not to, like, walk up and pick fights with the alligator … even if that means letting it live in my house for a while.
In other words, for a little while, I’m going to try not to do as much.
I’m not going to stop doing everything, of course, but I’m not going to push quite as hard for a bit.
Instead, I’m going to revert to the best strategy I’ve ever found for keeping myself afloat in the midst of one of my moderate-but-grinding depressions: Do Two Things.
Oddly, I thought I’d written a post about this strategy before, but I can’t* find it, so I’m writing it now.
*Which is to say, I ran a search, devoted exactly 30 seconds to looking
for it, and then I gave up because I realized that if I kept it up I’d
start reading old posts and never finish this one.
So, in case you’re wondering, here’s how it works.
First, you get depressed. This makes living seem like a tedious uphill grind, and causes you to write poems empathizing with Sisyphus, and generally makes every single little thing that you have to do in order to continue to remain semi-afloat seem like a hideous impossibility.
Second, you own up to the fact that you don’t want to do anything. You don’t feel up to doing anything. You drag yourself to class because some part of you dimly recognizes that things will only be worse in the long run if, on top of recovering from a depression, you also have to get yourself back in performing shape or auditioning shape or what have you in the span of 3.4 days somewhere down the line. But other than that you feel like you just can’t even.
Eventually, you begin to feel slightly better, and then you look around your house and you realize, Holy Hell, it looks like a tornado crashed through a paper mill, a diner, and a thrift store before chugging right through your door. And also the cat has somehow contrived to get maple syrup on his head (which he doesn’t mind in the least, but you do). And you are out of Kleenex.
Some part of you thinks, “I should do something about all this,” while the rest of you just gazes around at the chaos with the proverbial thousand-yard stare and no idea where to begin.
That’s where Do Two Things comes in. You tell yourself, “Okay. There is no way I can do all of this right now, so I’m just going to do two things today.”
Then you turn to the thing nearest thing—or the nearest thing that feels like you have some hope of accomplishing it—and you do that thing.
The whole strategy hinges on this one truth: that sometimes “Do The Dishes” counts as one thing, and sometimes, “I’m going to wash this one dish” does. Sometimes, getting out of bed counts as one thing, and sometimes completely unmaking the bed, rotating the mattress, and remaking the bed counts as one thing.
It doesn’t matter. You judge yourself by the standard of where you are now. You give yourself permission to wash this one dish and that one fork.
The funny thing is that usually once you get started—once you wash the One Dish—you’ll usually find yourself thinking, “Ah, well. I might as well wash this entire stack; it’s not going to take any longer, really, and I already have my gloves on.”
So often Doing Two Things turns into Cleaning the Kitchen—but you have to remember not to look at that fact too directly, or your motivation might catch your scent on the wind and bolt. Wild motivations are flighty like that.
In my worst depressions, sometimes my Two Things are as simple as getting out of bed to get a drink, then eating a bagel while I’m already up.
When I’m well into recovery, they may be as complex as making the dining room ready for company and re-organizing the closets.
Either way, I give myself permission to feel like if I’ve done my Two Things, then I have done enough for the day.
It is, of course, totally okay to do more than the Two Things. It is pretty much impossible to do less: even in the pit of the kind of depression that keeps you confined to your bed or the sofa, it’s fairly likely that you’ll have to use the bathroom at least twice on any given day. If you’ve been in that place, you’ll understand why that counts. You just start with whatever Two Things are in reach.
Do Two Things acts both as an accessible goal and as a limiter.
If I’m having the kind of day that starts with “I am going to wash this One Dish,” then I know that, no matter how significant an uptick I might feel, I probably shouldn’t tackle rearranging the closets (which always sounds like a good idea, but turns into a nightmare because D has lived in this house for 20 years and almost never gets rid of anything).
Even if Washing the One Dish turns into Washing the Dishes, the knowledge that the first of my two things began as “Wash the One Dish” keeps me mindful of the fact that I’m not yet fully recovered, and that I shouldn’t start burning tomorrow’s matches today.
So there we have it. For the time being, I’m going to Do Two Things. This will help me get through the current slog without overwhelming myself (at least, without overwhelming myself as often).
Anyway, I don’t know if this strategy will work as well for anyone else as it does for me, but feel free to try it if you want to. It’s also good for getting started when you just plain feel overwhelmed, whether you’re depressed or not (this is a key feature of Adulting with ADHD).
I was maybe seven when I first learned how to sissone.
I assume that I learned what to do with my arms, because frankly my childhood ballet teacher was not about to let you get away with not learning the arms at all. I might not have regarded them as particularly important, but that didn’t mean I could entirely weasel out of using them, either.
Regardless, I’ve effectively been doing sissones off and on for, like, basically my entire life.
…And yet, I persist in forgetting what the heck to do with my arms—by which I mean, really, basically everything above hip level when doing those sproingy little petit allegro sissones.
Anyway, today’s petit allegro was all about the sissones. Like:
sissone à droit
sissone à gauche
sissone simple[see note]
tombé-coupé assemblé (medium)
On the first run, I struggled with the timing. I realized that was due to the fact that my weight was always in the wrong place—and, in turn, that my weight was always in the wrong place because I was doing the wrong freaking thing with my arms.
So I sucked it up and queried the BG, who said, “Just look at your foot–like, you’re showing off your foot, especially if you’ve got those crazy ABT feet like you do. It’s like, ‘Look, a foot!'”
You’ll notice that the arms are in a configuration that is effectively the opposite of the one you use with jeté: if you brush your right foot out, your right arm will be in first (or, potentially, even en bas) while your left arm will be in something like second allongé.
This means that your body inclines slightly towards your working (in this case, right) leg, which basically gets you out of your own way, which in turn allows you to execute the choreography faster.
You guys, so much of petit allegro is basically just getting the heck out of your own way.
The other thing that this particular port de bras accomplishes is to sustain the element of surprise that makes sissone such a delightful step[1, 2].
- Temps de cuisse employs this same element of surprise and, unsurprisingly, essentially the same port de bras.
- Thisi s actually the source of the second problem I have with sissones. If there’s literally even one other person in class who has a better sissone than I do, I can’t stop being surprised and delighted. It’s very distracting.
One hopes that one will also create better-looking lines than my poor stick figure there. Ironically, stick figures aren’t always great at lines, even though they’re literally made of lines.
Also, I’mma have to admit that I interfered with my stick figure’s lines by being too lazy to draw him with any incline through the body (his shoulder’s also failing to épaule correctly). So, yeah. My bad, Danseur de Bâton.
Anyway, the long and short of it is that, for your garden-variety petit allegro sissone, the standard port de bras counterbalances your lower body.
And if you’re having trouble remembering how to achieve that effect, all you have to do is think, “Look! A Foot!”
A Note on Sissone Simple
Sissone simple has been a source of confusion to more than one dancer. It helps if you think of it not in the most frequently-used sense of the word “simple” (as in, easy: “It’s simples, silly!”), but in a more technical sense: like a simplex versus a complex.
All sissones are jumps from two feet to one foot. This variant is simple in the sense that it’s essentially a single piece: you spring off of two feet and bring whichever leg is the working leg to coupé, and you leave it there as you land on the other foot. You see it quite a lot in the Bournonville style.
Compare this with your garden-variety sissone (ouvert or firmé), in which you either plié and simultaneously brush one leg out whilst springing off the other or a spring off two feet through a soubresaut, then open one leg straight out (this one shows up in most versions of Albrecht’s variation).
Good class tonight (technically last night, at this point). Back to accidental private class mode, but instead of the pyrotechnics, we focused on the details. This meant a very, very long barre in which I did something like 24 super-slow grand pliés in first whilst BW rebuilt, cleaned, and polished my port de bras and épaulement and the coordination of the same with the legs (which know their job fairly well). I keep forgetting that the Swiss have precision engineering in their blood.
This resulted in me actually looking like the danseur I aspire to be (at least while doing grand pliés in first). BW’s patience and precision are the perfect foil for my impatience and impetuousity. He is not at all afraid to make me do the same thing a million times until I really, really get it.
At one point, he said, “You’ve already got more of this than a lot of people. You’ll notice it when you watch people dance.” That’s quite high praise coming from him, and so indicative of something fundamental about him: he never gloats about his own precision and technical prowess; he seems to be frustrated that not everyone has it. But I love him for that, and for taking the time to impart precision and sound technique upon me.
After, we carried that lesson into a deceptively-tricky rond de jambe (relevé lent devant [“Higher!”] with arm in 2nd, allongé as you tendu, arabesque with arm in 2nd, tendu allongé, 4 ronds without port de bras, allongé, cambré into the barre and down the front, tendu allongé, reverse, cambré in and down the back, tendu plié allongé passé balance, sus-sous, allongé, detourné, second side—not complicated, but he wanted it absolutely precise), a lethally-slow fondue with synchronized port, and even the grand battement.
Amidst all these allongé, I discovered that the bones in my left shoulder are clicking. Later I mentioned it to D. Turns out I’ve separated my left shoulder somehow—mildly, but it also explains the ache in the morning.
I may, for all that, have actually done this to myself in my sleep. It could have happened at literally any point. As such, I’ll be working on shoulder stability (read: pumping up the delts, evidently) going forward. My wonky connective tissue probably played a part in this development, and the answer is always “strength training.”
The right shoulder only grinds when I do certain kinds of push-ups, these days, so I’m sure the left will sort itself out. Curiously, I haven’t noticed the left shoulder grinding during push-ups, so it might not even take much to correct it.
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.
Just discovered that about a quarter of the basement has flooded and molded.
Have been teetering on the edge of a fierce depression, but barely managing to hang on because I spend a lot of time doing the things I love most.
Sometimes all it takes is a little push.
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).
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.