woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a
house car nice bike umm. Groceries and a coffee? #firstworlddancerproblems
Category Archives: aerials
We opened “Happy Birthday” tonight, and it was good 😀
First time I’ve done a front-handspring in front of a paying audience since I’m not even sure when (high school, probably?) … so that was pretty awesome. It’s a Vweird thing, because it’s basically a single front handspring with a leap out of the rebound, but the run-up is so long that it builds up a lot of power 😀
Anyway, I tried not to go Full VonRothbart this time, and I got to wear a pair of sparkly things on my face:
…I’m pretty sure that our AD copes with nerves by more or less literally throwing fairy dust at them. Like, initially, a few of us were going to wear jewels on our faces, and then a few more, but tonight while we were dressing he was like, “JEWELS ON EVERYONE! WE MUST ALL HAVE JEWELS!”
No complaint here. I’m really quite delighted that I got to wear sparkly things on my face, and even more delighted that they somehow survived the one-two punch of humidity and sweat, not to mention the trapeze and everything else. Eyelash glue: it’s like hot glue for your face 😀
Speaking of trapeze, my trapeze piece went rather well … though there was one somewhat alarming moment in which my tights gripped the trapeze but slipped around my leg whilst I was doing a drop transition to a single knee hang … EEK. But I played it off like that was supposed to happen, as you do.
I’m using my own trap for this show, which is cool. It’s a really, really nice trapeze from Patti at Aerial Animals. She’s a bit of a legend in my local circle of aerialists, especially amongst those of us who like our traps heavy. It’s basically an exact copy of the one my friend and trap teacher M uses.
In other news, I received an invitation to stage a piece as part of a benefit show for local refugee services, which was awesome. We’ll be doing a further iteration of the excerpt from “Tenebrae,” this time with both The Lovers and The Stranger.
I needed a name for my group, so I called it Antiphon Project. So I seem to have kind of accidentally launched a wee dance company? Or at least the germ of one.
- The name of the group (which might, someday, be just Antiphon, or possibly something like Antiphon Dance Theater or Antiphon Contemporary Ballet) is the result of a brain glitch from a long-ago Pilobolus masterclass. They usually end up the classes with compositional improv sessions, and one of the groups made a gorgeous piece that had this beautiful antiphonal movement style … but I couldn’t think of the word “antiphon.” At least, not until I was, predictably, lying in bed that night 😀 And thus did I decide that if I ever launched a dance company, I’d name it Antiphon for several reasons, but partly so I’d NEVER FORGET THAT WORD EVER AGAIN.
BUT FIRST! I have to survive a whirlwind trip to Connecticut and back for Teacher Training with Pilobolus :O I’ll be leaving directly from Fabled Fragments rehearsal on Sunday, driving straight through with a stop somewhere for a nap for a few hours, chugging straight into class, crashing out as soon as class is over probably, doing the second day of class, possibly crashing at Mom’s overnight, then turning around and driving back home.
I got back to aerials today. Worked on rope for the first time since Intro class (so very, very long ago, that seems!) and realized, holy heck, I like rope. We did some trapeze, too, and I learned a new sequence that works for my bendy, snaky body.
After, we chatted about the personality of the apparatuses. Ultimately, we decided that rope is like that big, kinda rough punk kid who maybe doesn’t shower enough but will stop and help you change a tire in the rain, while silks are totally Mean Girls (pretty, but bitchy as hell and complicated, and they’ll drop you like a hot potato if you set a foot wrong). Trapeze, which we didn’t discuss, strikes me as a little aloof and superior. Probably a bit kinky, too. Dance trap is definitely kinky.
After, L and I set a new phrase for my incredibly complicated acro-ballet-ball piece.
Tonight in class, my body remembered how to ballet (though my right quad decided to involve itself in an relevé lent devant one, which was weird and annoying and promptly made it cramp right up the rectus femoris o_O). We were a little boisterous, but still BW gave us some challenging combinations and some good corrections. I did the petit allegro as if I was, like, actually decent at petit allegro. Go figure.
I have, at most, a few more classes with him. I’ll miss him rather more than I care to admit.
At the same time, I’m trying to look forward and plan the next phase of my training. I’ve had a stellar mentor in him, and while hope we’ll keep in touch a bit, it makes sense to build that kind of connection with someone local. I think Killer B might be a good fit. Did I say that already? Predictive Text seems to think so.
Oh. Lastly, I submitted my proposal for a piece for the next choreographers’ salon thingy. Now I need to round up my dancers and get to scheduling. I’ve decided to set the piece for seven dancers, and I think I have enough
victims volunteers, but whether I can lay hands on all of them at once remains to be seen.
L’Ancien is away this week, so HD made a guest appearance in Advanced Class.
I let her know early on that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d make it through class, but I would probably at least get through barre.
In fact, I hung in there until it was time for jumps, when I chose to call it a day. I’m much, much better, but I’d say that I’m really at about 60% of my typical capacity, and with the BDSI audition and the start of rehearsals for the Culture of Poverty piece looming next weekend, it made sense to start getting tuned in again but also not to risk injury.
Speaking of the Culture of Poverty, I made B cast, which is great. I don’t think I would’ve made the cut for this piece last year: stylistically, AS is a very different kind of dancer than I am, and while I’m confident that I’ll absorb the movement style and vocabulary over the course of the rehearsal process, I know that in auditions I still have a tough time setting aside the mantle of ballet.
Anyway, back to class notes. At barre I found myself reflecting on a thing.
Background info: I’m a little taller than Killer B (when I stand up straight 🤔) and a few inches shorter than TM, who stands behind (and then in front of, and then behind…) me at barre.
My legs, meanwhile, are about as long as TM’s, so he’s quite a bit longer in the torso than I am. Killer B’s proportions are much like mine. Both that said, both Killer B and I have higher extensions than TM (who is quite a beautiful dancer and doesn’t actually need to be able to scratch his ear with his toes; he’s naturally princely and looks a lot like Steven MacRae).
I think it harkens back to something L’Ancien said a few weeks ago: you work with the body you have, and every body has different strengths. Like L’Ancien, TM has deep hip sockets, which means that high extensions and the quick, fluttering beats that make petit allegro sparkle don’t come as readily to him.
- In fact, they have almost exactly the same build.
Meanwhile, I—with my irrefutably square shoulders and profoundly elastic back—will have to think harder about how to create a lovely, unbroken line through my upper body and arms. Oh, and will spend the rest of my natural life quietly muttering, “Pull up your suspenders,” since that analogy makes me stop swaybacking like a retired dairy cow.
Which is a round-about way of saying this: in ballet, almost everything can be a blessing or a curse.
My feet are what EMM (who has finally joined advanced class!) calls “roundy feet,” which means that both my feet and my ankles are extremely mobile. They can do profoundly beautiful things to the lines of my legs, and ultimately they’re really good for banging out solid balances … once I’ve managed to stack all those piddly little bones correctly, and if the muscles agree to do their job.
But I will be challenged for my entire life to keep them strong enough to counter their natural elasticity, and the beauty of my arches is a completely moot point if I’m not quicker in petit allegro than my friends with less “roundy” feet.
A half-baked point is a half-baked point, and getting feet and legs like mine fully straight and pointed is actually rather a lot of work.
TM’s feet are nice, if not quite as fancy as mine, and he consistently makes them look good. At the end of the day, that’s really what matters.
It’s not about having the perfect body for ballet: there’s probably not a single asset that comes without a price (my thighs, y’all—they might make my grand allegro pop, but they also make my 5th position suck sometimes).
It’s about making the most of what you have.
True, there are some traits that seem to be perpetual winners in the ballet world (TM’s incredibly graceful shoulders; my “roundy feet”). But for every working dancer with an aristocratic neck and feet like bananas, there’s a stocky little dude with biscuits who has learned to make the most of what he’s got.
In fact, probably ten, because ballet ultimately belongs to those who work the hardest, and often those who work the hardest are the ones who feel that they have something to overcome.
One last thing. Today, it occurred to me to think about why we move slowly, painfully through fondus even though we still have to get there and show the world that moment of breathing stillness (the “picture,” as it were).
What we’re doing is building strength and endurance.
Yes, you can piggyback on momentum and flash-developpé your leg to the level of your eyebrow—but that doesn’t matter in that moment when you emerge from a soutenu through a graceful, elastic fondu developpé into a balance effacé devant and must then hooollllddddd for a rubato breath before you dive into tombé-pas de bourré-etc.
If you try to throw your leg there—that is, to simply harness momentum—you will find it difficult to muster control, and either you’ll fall out of the balance or you’ll fall into the tombé and make yourself late.
I can’t say I didn’t already know this, exactly? I mean, I know we’re not supposed to just throw our legs—even a jeté requires connection and control.
But somehow today it occurred to me that I need to remember the feeling of the balance between control and momentum; that I am eternally training my body to do things it would probably rather not do with muscles that would probably rather do something else (regardless of the fact that my body is both very biddable and highly suitable for ballet, ballet insists on using muscles and joints and bones in rather creative ways).
L’Ancien often makes us do grand battement with slow counts on the down: half a count to hit the apex and show the free leg, then a full count down—controlled all the way, through tendu. It’s the classic, “And ONE! And two. And THREE!…” in which the entire action of the upstroke happens in the blink of an eye. You could, in fact, count it faster and make it, “And ONE! two, three, four and TWO! two, three, four and THREE!…” but almost nobody counts like that in ballet because it would make our heads explode and screw up the phrasing•.
- This is a challenge when I dance to a piece I’ve played, sometimes—often, for ballet purposes, we count at half the time signature, transforming 6/8 into 3/4 or 4/4 into 2/2, then divide everything by instinct into phases of 8 or 6 counts.
Anyway, back to ballet-standard counts. So in this slow-descent exercise, the first “And” is just a breath. The free leg shows at its apex a split second later. The rest of the count is spent carrying the free leg back down, rotating the supporting leg against it the entire way.
The descent is infinitely important: it strengthens all the things; it teaches us to counter one leg with the other. It allows us to really figure out how to lift out of our hips so we can close in a clean fifth.
It also looks really cool. There’s something superhuman about an entire ballet class snapping their feet up to face level, then thoughtfully returning them to the ground.
In aerials, when we’re not yet strong enough to overcome gravity doing a skill going up, we practice the reverse skill—that is, the same skill coming down.
Can’t do a smooth pullover mount on trapeze? No problem. Drape yourself over the bar, fight your way into a handstand, and roll down as far as you can before you just drop. Each day, you’ll get a little further. Soon, you’ll find that when you try your pullover mount, you’ve nailed it.
Barre is basically the same kind of thing. Every time you close with control or choose a slower, smoother (and possibly lower) developpé, you’re making yourself stronger.
Full disclosure: sometimes it’ll hurt more when you’re doing it, and sometimes it’ll hurt a lot the next day.
But that’s ballet for you.
It takes a lot of grueling work to become a magical bluebird that flits weightlessly through the air, y’all.
I … think? … I’m done with auditions for the rest of the month, at this point.
Yesterday’s was actually rather a soaring success, except for my usual habit of forgetting some bit of the modern combination and faking my way through that part so I could get to the next bit, then remembering it right after … but there are two thoughts that cheer me up.
First, nobody had the combo down cold. We all missed bits and pieces.
Second, that’s one of the skills they’re looking for at dance auditions. What happens when you fall off the script (because it happens even to top-tier dancers)? Do you freeze like a deer in the headlights, or do you roll on just as if you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to? (Bonus points if you can fake your way through well enough to make it look like everyone else was wrong. I don’t think I accomplished that, yesterday, but I didn’t freeze, either.)
The dance improv bit was, of course, a blast, because I love improv.
The trapeze bit went pretty well despite the fact that apparently whatever demiurge manages music for trapeze auditions believes it’s great fun to mess with mine. I recovered from that and had to improvise a fair bit, but it turned out rather well. And, of course, I didn’t fall off the trapeze this time.
- Last year’s audition for “Orpheus” is still the one and only time I’ve fallen off a trapeze. It’s also my number-one go-to story to tell when, inevitably, groups of people start reminiscing about stupid moments in their lives. There’s something special about making what seemed, in the moment, a very logical decision to drop myself off a trapeze from ten feet in the air rather than risk breaking my arms. Dancers get it; circus people get it; athletes get it. That said, there are entire hosts of people who think I’m crazy, and they’re probably right—but I’d still do it again in a heartbeat.
Once again, at this audition, they’re not necessarily looking for a polished cirque-style act: they’re looking for expression, musicality, and the ability to command the audience’s attention (and also sound technical elements, obviously). The piece that I showed is one I’m slowly working on set to the Indigo Girls’ “Kid Fears,” and it’s intentionally struggly, so it probably didn’t really hurt anything that I was, in fact, wrestling with my own choreography (much of which I didn’t apparently remember).
The acting part was flat-out awesome, and reminded me how much I actually really like acting, my anxiety about struggling to memorize scripts notwithstanding. Maybe what I really like is cold reading. Who knows? Anyway. I really liked the part they handed me, and ran with it.
Today’s audition was also lovely. Almost nobody showed up, so it was really just three of us mostly doing some improv stuff. I already know that our AD likes the way I improvise, so that was just pure fun. I showed the bits of my piece that I could, given my lack of a partner, and described the idea as a whole. Both our AD and the guy from U of L whose group we’re collaborating with liked it, so it looks like it’s a green light there.
My next audition is a couple of weeks away, and I’m happy to have a bit of a breather. The stretch from the past couple of gigs through now has been pretty intense.
Not that I’m complaining. The other night I was kvetching about some company-related annoyance and suddenly though something like, “Oh, hey. I’m complaining about work because that’s what we do. If it wasn’t a pain in the *** sometimes, it wouldn’t be work.”
And that actually felt, in its own way, rather lovely: like, this is my work, and it’s work that I love. And I think I’m becoming rather good at it. Maybe not world-beatingly good or anything but, you know, serviceable. Which has, to be honest, always been the goal. As a ballet boy I’m smallish and muscly and I bounce like a rubber ball, which puts me squarely in the demi-character camp, and I’m fine with that. Not everyone always has to be the prince (and, honestly, there are a lot of ballets in which the prince never gets to do anything cool outside of the pas de deux). As a circus artist, I’m reliable, adaptable, and versatile: not a specialist, but a generalist, and the kind of generalist who can pinch-hit almost anywhere.
I feel like that’s a good thing to be. I’m not here for glory: I’m here because I love to move; because I can’t not move.
And if sometimes that means I’m stressed out and hounded from pillar to post … well, that’s part of it. That and Auditioning for Poverty are pretty much hallmarks life as a dancer, or indeed as any kind of performing artist, or indeed possibly as any kind of artist.
You do the Work because the Work is what moves you … sometimes more literally than other times.
We had a lovely jaunt to my parents’ house over the holidays, returned in time to take a breath and then enjoy a circus party with some old friends of D’s, got almost no sleep, and arrived at our healthcare network’s day surgery center at 5 AM on the 28th to get D’s rotator cuff fixed.
Since then, I’ve gone to two parties (one unofficial, one official), done a ton of cooking and cleaning, and tried to recoup my lost sleep whilst waking up at 4:30 to issue medications to poor D, who currently can’t really do feck all with his right (and dominant) hand.
None of this has kept me from nearly losing my marbles due to a combination of my brief ballet break, sleep deprivation, and stress—so it’s with great anticipation that I look forward to returning to class tomorrow.
At the primary studio, there have been some changes in the interval.
First, they’ve instituted an unlimited monthly tuition rate that literally cuts my old tuition rate back by half. Given that I normally hit twenty classes per month, it saves me $70 even over the professional rate. I jumped right on that bandwagon, of course.
Second, Killer Class is now an advanced class in name as well as in fact. I’m not sure that will actually have any bearing on what we do in Killer Class, since most of the time it’s an advanced class in terms of both pacing and technique anyway, but I do think it gives potential students a better sense of what to expect.
Third, we’ll begin work on our piece for Spring Collection next week. I’m quite looking forward to what Señor BeastMode has in store for us, even though a couple of my best girls might not be joining us this time.
In other news, my Trapeze class has moved to Wednesday … which is excellent, since it means I can get my butt back to Tuesday’s modern class (which is in the evening now). I guess that’s technically a Circus School change, and not a Ballet School change, but still.
I have one show this month (a volunteer gig) and two next month this far. D’s surgery means I’ll be limiting myself to local-ish auditions for the moment, since he needs me around to do stuff like driving and, you know, zipping up his trousers. And stuff.
That’s assuming we don’t murder each-other as result of overexposure in the next two weeks. I love D, but he’s as underfoot as a cat when I’m trying to clean 😉
Regardless, there’s a modern jazz company running an audition next week, and I might go even though I’m not even sure what modern jazz actually is. Guess I’ll find out? But first I’ll have to get someone to shoot a new headshot, maybe.
In other news, the hourly rate of pay for my last paid gig blew my mind. It worked out to more than three times as much per hour as I used to make in my (woefully underpaid, to be fair) banking-industry tech job. Also increased my dance-related income for the year by a margin of 1/3 of the overall total (which was still less than USD 2000, but every little bit counts).
There’s definitely a degree of “I can’t believe they pay me for this” going on over here, but it was also a timely reminder that they (whoever “they”may be) pay me—and pay me startlingly well—because I’ve worked pretty hard to develop a set of skills for which demand (when it exists) outstrips supply.
I try to remind myself that the fact that I enjoy working on this particular skill-set doesn’t mean it’s not work. Nor does the relative ease with which I adapt to the work mean it’s easy—just that I’m well-suited to it.
Either way, it was a nice vote of confidence at a time when I needed one. Not that I’d stop dancing if I never made another dime doing it—but if have to seriously contemplate my current career decisions.
woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a
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.
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.
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.