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.