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
Simone Biles, EDS, and Caring For Your Instrument
Once upon a time, when I was eight years old, I received my very first violin—and with it, an introduction to the care of sensitive musical instruments: tune gently, handle with care, be careful of drastic changes in temperature and humidity.
Most of us, even if we don’t explicitly know these things, can intuit them from experiences with things like doors that stick when the humidity is high or swing loosely when it’s low. As such, nobody in their right mind would chastise a concert violinist for deciding not to play a Stradivarius in the rain.
Apparently, however, there’s been something of a fracas over the decision that gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles made to bow out at the Olympics this year (2021, if you’re visiting from the future ^.-).
Many people, it seems, found it very difficult to understand why she might do such a thing, and hurled all manner of invective at her. Biles handled the situation with the same power, grace, and aplomb she displays on the mats.
What her detractors didn’t (and don’t) understand is that Biles’ decision was one that would, for any gymnast, require an immense—even an immeasurable—strength of character. A thousand times more so on the world stage that the Olympics represent.
Because gymnasts, on the whole, grow up in a world that teaches them that there’s no such word as “can’t,” and that winners never quit.
From the first moment budding gymnasts step onto the mat, they’re subjected to a long-standing culture of incredible physical and mental toughness and self-sacrifice. You don’t become even an entry-level competitive gymnast without learning to “tough it out” and “walk it off,” never mind the kind of powerhouse competitor that Biles has become.
To some extent, this is necessary. Gymnastics, like ballet, is hard. It’s tiring and sometimes uncomfortable and demands that an aspiring athlete must learn to reach for deeper reserves of strength than many or even most people living typical, comfortable lives in the developed world can imagine. (Edit: come to think of it, people who’ve given birth prolly get it 🤔)
However, for much of its history, gymnastics training has demanded this in excess, and the result has been injury (and its long-term consequences), careers cut short, and all too often the inability of both gymnasts and coaches to see the body’s breaking point coming until it’s too late. (If this sounds like the ballet world, by the way, it should. Dancers face the same pressures from a similarly young typical age at entry.)
Those of us who have trained seriously in gymnastics understand this. We know what it is to bounce up off the floor after what observers might regards as a terrifying fall and jump right back in without stopping to make sure we’re okay. We know what it is to feel uncertain about whether an injury can withstand the pressure of training or competition and step onto the mats anyway.
We know how very, very effing hard it is, after a lifetime of being told, “Get up; shake it off; you’ve got this,” to say, “You know what? No. I’m staying down and I don’t have this right now, thanks.”
Simone Biles knows her body. She knows her mind. And the fortitude it took to stand before the entire world and say, in essence,”No, I’m not okay to do this right now and I’m not going to take the risk” … That’s a fortitude that a lot of people, to be honest, can’t even imagine.
In short, Biles simply refused to break out her Stradivarius in a hurricane. The fact that the hurricane was an invisible one is irrelevant.
To say, “Biles refused to break out her Stradivarius in 90% humidity” might be more accurate, but it might also be harder for people to understand. So we’ll stick with the hurricane analogy.
Gymnasts, hockey players, dancers, bike racers, aerialists, and many other athletes understand implicitly how very tough Biles had to be to do that.
We also understand that her decision was, whether she thought of it this way or not in the moment, a stand for all the young athletes growing up in athletic cultures in which it’s considered anathema to say, “No.”
In my own life, I’ve injured myself by pushing through things I shouldn’t have, extended the time to full rehabilitation by pushing too hard too soon, and on some occasions avoided serious injury solely by a combination of pure dumb luck with excellent reflexes and an unusually elastic body.
I could’ve avoided most of these things simply by learning, earlier in my life, that there really is a point at which you can and should say, “No.”
My generation grew up with coaches who, as young gymnasts themselves, were inspired by Nadia Comaneci’s endurance under harrowing conditions and Mary Lou Retton’s maxim, “Follow your dreams.”
Those stories bear so much merit—but I can’t explain how much it meant to me, and what a wave of … relief? release? liberation? … broke through me when I heard (through DisabilityTwitter!) about Biles’ decision. I mean I literally, physically felt it—like something exploding deep in my chest, but in the best possible way.
Like the moment when you see someone you love crash their bike hard, and you think, Oh f**K, they’re a goner, but then they get up and look around and kind of dust themselves off, and your heart just goes BOOM because, frankly, you’re so relieved. Or like the first moment in your life you realize that you really, really trust someone.
As an artist-athlete and teacher of artist-athletes, somehow it was Simone Biles that really crystallized for me the idea that, yes—you can say, “I’m not taking my Stradivarius out in the rain.”
I’ve been saying those words for a long time now, but a part of me had a hard time believing them when it came to my own instrument. I could believe them for my students, but not for myself, and that meant I wasn’t always living those words, whether for my students or for myself.
Simone Biles made that idea real for me.
Going forward, of course, negotiating that reality in the world of ballet, where sometimes you’re the only guy and without you the pas de deux isn’t gonna happen, will be another thing entirely. But it always is. Action can’t be divorced from context like that, yo.
Chances are that I’m still going to have to explain, once in a while, why I chose to break out my instrument in the midst of a downpour. I pray that in those moments I’ll be granted the wisdom and grace to do so with clarity, but human beings are imperfect and maybe I won’t, and that’s part of life, too.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Ehlers-Danlos.
Well, two things.
First, from what I understand, Simone Biles also has hypermobile-type EDS and her decision was at least partly based on an episode of “the Twisties,” aka proprioceptive dysfunction.
Proprioceptive dysfunction is a feature of EDS—one that can be really hard for people without EDS to understand, especially where elite athletes and dancers are concerned. It’s understandably hard for them to imagine how you can be someone who’s at the top of the world (or at least, pretty darned good) in a sport or artform that depends on exceptional spatial and body awareness and also be someone whose proprioceptive faculties just … go on strike sometimes.
And yet, that’s how it is. Sometimes the right matrix of stressors makes things go extra haywire, and the systems that allow us to fly through the air with the greatest of ease just plotz. And, trust me, neither you nor we need us flying through the air when that happens.
Second, my excessive sweatiness is very probably also related to EDS—it’s part of the suite of dysautonomic features that come with the package, so to speak—as are my orthostatic hypotension/POTS, episodes of (literally) staggering fatigue, sometimes-weird relationship to hunger and thirst signals, and possibly my tendency to dump salt in my sweat.
So, on Saturday, these conspired to create a situation in which I rocked up to the gym for a doubles coaching session on the apparatus we’ve nicknamed “the rodeo lyra” (bc that mofo will throw you like a bronc if you don’t pay attention) already feeling spacey and fatigued and missed the first mount with the apparatus hung so low I could’ve just forward-folded onto it, lmao (in point of fact, the mount we’re using is harder on a lower apparatus, but not so much harder that I, who literally never miss a mount, would have just completely failed at it if things weren’t decidedly pear-shaped from the word go).
It’s pretty hilarious in retrospect, of course, but at the time scared the hell out of D, who’s my partner in this piece. He’s well aware that I never miss mounts, and because the mount in question results in us facing away from each-other upside-down, he couldn’t see me. His own nervous system decided that the only possible explanation for the fact that my weight wasn’t balancing his was that I had either fallen and broken my neck or was strangling in the span-sets above the hoop o_O””’
I decided (with a little help from ABM, our kind and intrepid coach) to reschedule and go home to take care of whatever the heck was going on with my body (in case you’re wondering, it was what they call “chronic hyponatremia”—the kind you get when your electrolyte levels drop below a certain point over the course of a few days).
Anyway, while I was apologizing to everyone and trying to be okay with that decision, ABM said to me, “You know what we’re calling that now? We’re saying, ‘You Simoned it.'”
As in, you made the right call—you saw that storm coming and put your instrument away.
And I hecking love that.
PS: I got a bunch of rest, sucked down a bunch of noodles with salty broth (and spinach and chicken), and felt like myself again on Sunday. I opted out of morning modern and ballet classes bc I wasn’t sure my electrolyte levels were up to that kind of sweating yet, but was able to get through a slowish-paced lyra class and a rehearsal session on the rodeo lyra.
That’s why you Simone it: because sometimes the best way to get up and kill it tomorrow is to lie the hecking heck down and drink salty, salty broth today.
PPS: I’m working on addressing the dietary imbalances that led to this situation, so hopefully it won’t happen again any time soon. Basically, the past two weeks were unreasonably hot, and there were several days that I forgot to add electrolyte powder to my water but still sweated buckets of salty, salty sweat.
Saturday morning, I had an outdoor performance gig, and although the heat wasn’t as intense as it’s been, I still sweated like a firehose, as I do, and apparently that was the last straw, bc I was a glassy-eyed zombie by 1 PM when our coaching session was scheduled.
One of the joys of hyponatremia will be familiar to endurance athletes who’ve faced the dreaded “Bonk:” your body just … refuses. In the case of the classic Bonk, it’s typically attributed to the depletion of glycogen stores without sufficient carbohydrate replacement, but depletion of electrolytes yields the same basic result (as opposed to extreme over-hydration, which can lead to rapid swelling of the brain, coma, and death before you quite grasp what’s going on o_o).
It’s like someone cranks the power to your muscles way, way down. That’s how I missed my mount. My brain sent the signals to execute the movement, and my body just kind of didn’t.
It tried, bless its heart, because my body is (as I’m learning to understand) a miraculous beast like one of those fantastic, sweet, patient draught horses who will try with everything in themselves to do whatever you ask of them and will almost always succeed. My friend and teacher Killer B recently summed this up by enthusiastically replying, “… Which can do everything!” when I said, “It’s so good to take class with someone who understands my body.”
But in this case, while the conscious motor controls were sending out the plan for “pullover mount to straddle balance,” the unconscious ones were trying to take care of the body by down-regulating the wattage so I wouldn’t waste any more electrolytes doing athletic stuff and possibly die, and/or there just wasn’t enough sodium left for electrical signaling to be that efficient.
Either way, the immediate result was muscles that wouldn’t fire with enough power to bring me over the bar from a standing position. Instead, I got a powerful lesson in really listening to my body.
This isn’t hyperbole, btw. There is no muscling through that specific experience. You can try all you like, but you’re really no longer the one in primary control of the ship. Until you experience that sensation (and I suspect that in our sodium-enriched and largely sedentary culture, most never will), it’s very difficult—maybe even impossible—to imagine.
Fwiw, as an experience, I don’t recommend it. Like, 2/10, and it only gets the 2 bc hecking heck, does it ever teach you some things. But they’re things you can learn without taking all the way to that extreme, and it’s No Fun At All, as the delightfully hedonistuc elves used to say as they died in whatever magical-realm civ-building game of yore that was.
GIF credits: all via Tenor via WP.
Bar Apparatus: Avoiding The No-Fly Zone
I don’t usually write about aerials technique because the potential for disaster is way too high, but today I’m making an exception to address one minor but useful point.
I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who more or less specializes in bar apparatus, but it can be translated to vertical apparatus (fabric, rope, pole, etc) with a little thought. It’s useful no matter what kind of junk you’ve got in your drawers, but particularly helpful for people with dangly bits.
At the studio where I train, there’s a segment of the human anatomy we like to call the “No-Fly Zone.” It’s the zone you really, really don’t want to land on, or roll over, or otherwise crush, spindle, or mangle. I think you get the picture.
Anyway! That said, a lot of moves all but invite you to do exactly that—vine climb, almost anything you do in horse, arabesque on the bar, etc.
If you’re like most aerialists, you’ll Land in your No-Fly Zone maybe once or twice, and then your body will figure out ways to avoid it.
That said, the ways our bodies work out aren’t always as efficient as they could be—hence this post.
So here we go!
Here’s a sequence of stills from a video I took on class this morning. The sequence is simply a transfer on the bar from a hooked knee on one side to a hooked knee on the other side.
In the photo above, I’ve just straddled up to the bar and hooked a knee. Because I began with my grip a bit low. This lyra hangs fairly high, and I was tired so I didn’t take a higher grip that would require a bigger pull-up. As a result, I’m bringing my hands up higher on the apparatus to give myself room later on.
Depending on what you’re doing, that step may or may not be necessary, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Here, I’m beginning the process of rolling myself over the bar by pressing my top leg as I straighten it. At the same time, I’m using my arms to give myself a bit of lift.
It probably looks like I’m about to land right on my No-Fly Zone—but I’m not.
Above (although I apparently grabbed the screenshot from the other side … oh well), you can see what prevents me from crashing in the No-Fly Zone: squeezing the extended legs together as if I’m doing an assemblé.
This allows me to control how high the bar can travel on my legs. At this point, my arms aren’t really taking much weight at all—they’re just helping to steer.
Here, you can see how much control I have over where the bar goes. I’m squeezing my thighs together and using a moving very much like a soutenu to push it around relative to my body.
One quick note: this is easier to do on lyra than trapeze—on trap, you also have to manage rope tension relative to your movement. Same goes for rope, hammock, fabric, and sling: you can transfer this basic idea, but the mechanics are a bit trickier.
In this last shot, I’m transferring the bottom bar into the pocket of the opposite hip as I bring my head under the top bar. My No-Fly Zone is safely out of the way.
In short, what allows me to avoid a crash is pressing through a fully-engaged leg, then squeezing both legs (again, fully-engaged) as I pass over the bar.
For someone like me—someone whose pelvis is put together so there’s never going to be a thigh gap, but also a ballet dancer for whom this movement is inherently familiar—this is pretty easy to do.
- Seriously, even at my most underweight, 84 pounds at 5’4” when I was 13, there was no gap. My pelvis isn’t built that way.
For bow-legged aerialists (like D) and those with wider-set hip joints, it’s imperative to really cross the legs from the top of the thighs and squeeeeeeze.
This is one of many places where ballet training can be so useful for aerialists. The degree of overcross and engagement is almost identical to sus-sous, or to a strong assemblé.
In either case, the movement that you’ll use to pass over the bar without crash-landing is still very much like a soutenu turn. You’re squeezing the thighs as you rotate your hips.
In ballet, this turns your body; on lyra, it turns the hoop (on trap and other apparatus, the action varies, but the principle is the same).
Even if you’ve never taken a ballet class, if you’ve ever tried to hold something (a box, a bag, a curious dog that wants to run off and check out the neighbors’ dog) between your thighs while turning around to grab your phone, you’ve probably done this exact sequence on the ground.
You probably don’t want to squeeze your dog as hard as you’d squeeze the lyra, but the principle is the same.
One more note: take it as read that, sooner or later, you’re probably going to crash in your No-Fly Zone. Don’t take it as a sign of failure—it’s just how we learn. For many aerialists, it’s something that happens as we begin to feel more confident and to take risks.
And you’ll probably only do it once, maybe twice. Consider it a rite of passage in your #CircusLife. Trust me, we’ve all done that walk of shame.
You* Don’t Have To Do Everything
*by which I mean I, though also you
I’ve written before about the experience of being someone who never expected to find the one thing for which I was willing to knock everything else right off the table, and then finding that thing.
I am (as a matter of course) talking about ballet.
When you’re in that position, it’s easy to forget that not everything works that way.
I am (as rather less a matter of course) talking about aerials, but also about Ehlers-Danlos.
Sometimes, Making Decisions Gets Complicated.
Recently, I decided to try training seriously on rope (as opposed to just occasionally hopping on the rope and being like, “This is fun” and then not doing it again for 4 years). I love watching rope, and it’s a great apparatus for strong, bendy people, so of course it seemed like it might be a good thing to add to my toolbox.
It took only a few weeks to realize that I was … well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.
Because, as it turns out, rope is a great fit for my strength and flexibility and a terrible fit for the connective tissue disorder that is the source of my flexibility.
The form of Ehlers-Danlos I have is mild—perhaps not as mild as it gets, but the Ehlers-Danlos spectrum includes flavors that are much harder to live with than mine. Because of that, I sometimes forget that my entire body, as D recently put it, “…is always just on the edge of blistering.”
I mean. We all remember that time I went to a modern SI and my foot blistered under its callus all the way down through several layers of skin, right?
(If you don’t, there’s a pic of the partly-healed blister here CW: ratchet-a** blister pic. I don’t actually think it’s that gruesome, especially not compared to when it first happened … but since several people I know disagree with me about that, consider yourself warned? ^-^’)
Anyway! So, yeah. EDS makes my body respond weirdly to friction and pressure.
And rope is all about that friction and pressure.
Horrible, Unavoidable Blisters Are A Good Reason Not To Do Something, Right?
It didn’t take long to figure out that rope training gives me weird, super-hard, glass-like calluses on my hands … or that the tissue under those calluses then blisters and sloughs, leaving behind raw, blazingly painful ulcers that take for-freaking-ever to heal.
Or that trying to do anything with giant sloughed-off blisters right over the distal ends of your metacarpals is … difficult.
So THAT happened.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, after attempting to get through rope class using a combination of Neosporin Plus, blister bandages, cloth tape, and self-adhesive bandages, I decided to take a couple weeks off of rope, let my hands heal, and think about what to do.
Like, even I am together enough to figure out that I needed to seriously think about whether rope was, in fact, a good fit for me.
Like, yes: it’s cool and I love watching rope performers, but was it worth literally flaying my hands on the regs?
And if I opted out, did that make me, like…
[ G A S P ]
This Is Where You Phone A Friend.
Or, well. If you’re me, you either slide into their DMs or just talk to them in person at the gym, bc actual phone calls??? LMAOOOOOOO. Who even does that? That’s not even what phones are for.
- Yes, I’m making fun of myself. Kind of. But also, that ISN’T what phones are for, or at least not my phone, as evidenced by the fact that it’s absolutely terrible at voice calls. I’m also absolutely terrible at voice calls, so it works out.
Anyway, long story short, last week I finally got around to asking my friend, mentor, and hoop instructor ABM, who has pretty much the same version of EDS that I have, if she does rope, and if so how it plays with her EDS.
- Is a combination friend-and-mentor a “frentor?” Or is that more like someone who’s a friend, but also a bull?
- EDS is a rare disorder unless you’re a dancer, aerialist, or contortionist, in which case sometimes it feels like half the planet has it.
It turns out that she doesn’t, largely because it doesn’t play well with her EDS.
When she does rope, AEB gets the same weird, glassy calluses that I get. They inevitably blister underneath and slough just like mine do. She also said it makes her body hurt in ways that other apparatus don’t, which is consistent with my experience as well. (In my case, I had assumed that more training would fix that, but maybe it wouldn’t.)
ABM is also a super boss-level badass.
So this, in turn, made me feel more okay with the idea of not continuing to pursue rope.
Practically speaking, I’ve pretty much put the question to bed. I haven’t gone to rope class since my glassy calluses tore off. I’m not planning to go to rope class.
And yet my brain still finds it difficult to accept that. I hate being told that I can’t do something, even when I’m the one telling myself that I can’t.
Bargaining Is One Of The Stages Of Grief.
- Which are non-linear, and may be visited numerous times. I think of them as trains: you can ride them more than once, and sometimes you’re on a train that at this moment is operating on both the Denial and Anger lines, for example, which might run concurrently in one place but not another. Like trains, they can also take you to places good, bad, and indifferent, and sometimes even to destinations you didn’t expect.
Figuring out that, realistically and practically, you can’t do a thing you’d like to do is a kind of grief.
So is facing down the fact that, no matter what your Russian-born gymnastics coach told you, sometimes there really is such a thing as can’t, or at least such a thing as, I could, but it would be a spectacularly bad idea on levels that I probably shouldn’t ignore.
And so, when I find myself in this position, inevitably I go through this whole mental wrangling process.
Like, I deny that there’s a problem. I give you full permission to laugh at this right now, in this context, because Y’ALL. Me denying that my skin sloughing off is a problem is like:
I get mad: maybe at myself, maybe at the world. I bargain with myself: “Okay, so I can’t do it in its default state, but can I maybe modify it somehow???”
And I do this, I think, partly because I really actually want to Do The Thing, but also partly because I need to know that I haven’t given up prematurely. Only, when it’s something that I want to do, my brain considers giving up at any point to be premature, and reverts to You Just Don’t Want It Enough mode.
Which Is A Problem.
While there might be ways I could work around the blistering thing, it really seems as if there probably isn’t one. At least, nothing short of inventing a modified version of the apparatus (which involves an R&D budget that I don’t have, because I can’t afford to pay an engineer rn).
Normal skin calluses, but doesn’t then blister under the callus. For those of us whose skin does do the thing, most dance contexts, allow shoes or dance socks or whatevs, and they prevent the whole problem. Artistic gymnastics and some circus disciplines allow “grips” that covered the parts of the hands that are most prone to EDS callus madness and tears (the rippy kind, not the kind that stream from your eyes as you attempt to pick up your coffee pot with your poor, ulcerated hands).
- I mean, assume there are circumstances in which this could happen to normal skin, but for me it’s the norm in some contexts.
- There are modern companies wherein it’s barefoot or nothing. I will probably never work for any of them, because I respect that as an artistic decision and just don’t even audition. I’m going out on a limb to say that it’s also a bit on the ableist side, but That’s Another Post.
Rope isn’t dance or gymnastics, though, and it has some unique constraints. I don’t think grips, or anything else I’ve dreamed up, would actually solve the problem. Like, seriously, I’ve been lying in bed and thought, “Maybe I could stick that moleskin stuff on my hands???” but … no. Freals. There are about a million reasons that probably wouldn’t work.
If I had slightly bigger hands, and could wrap them all the way around the rope, that might make a all the difference for me. But I don’t, and the diameter of the rope used in aerials is pretty much standardized.
Being able to wrap your hands all the way around the rope lets you take some of the pressure off of the distal ends of the metacarpals–I can do that on trapeze, silks, hammock, and sling, and while it doesn’t always prevent the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence, it does most of the time.
That’s good enough. I can work with most of the time, especially since when it does happen on trap or things other than rope, it’s typically because I’m doing something wrong.
On rope, though, even when I’m doing things right, I frequently have to grip the rope in a way that transfers a ton of pressure to the distal ends of my metacarpals. Result: the whole glassy callus-blister-slough sequence (and a couple weeks of wrestling with simple tasks like buckling a seatbelt, driving, or pulling up the covers in bed).
Even if I had bigger hands, though, the surface texture of the apparatus that I’m lazily calling “rope,” which is actually corde lisse, might still be a problem.
Corde lisse translates to “smooth rope,” and it is smooth–in a sense.
You can’t see or feel the twist of the rope fibers. This isn’t the rope you climb in gym class, which is visibly a rope, but something that looks more like the “velvet rope” barriers one encounters at museum exhibits and performance venues.
It’s a kind of long textile sausage. (It is not, however, velvety.)
Wikipedia describes corde lisse as being made of “soft cotton.” This also is true in a sense.
Une corde lisse has a layer of padding between the steel cable that forms its core and its sausage casing, so in that sense it’s softer than just, say, climbing a naked length of aircraft cable.
Likewise, the heavy-duty canvas duck that forms the sausage casing is made of cotton, in that the cotton itself was presumably soft at some point in its life cycle. But that cotton is then transmogrified into the fabric generally known as “heavy-duty canvas duck” and associated with such words and phrases as “tough,” “stiff,” and “military duffel.”
It is not, in fact, actually sandpaper. It feels soft if you gently stroke it, like you might stroke the belly of a cat sleeping in a sunbeam.
But if you use the boniest bits of the palms of your hands to apply intense pressure to a long sausage cased in heavy canvas duck, “soft” isn’t the first word that comes to mind. Like the cat, who was only feigning sleep and did NOT invite you to disturb their recharge sesh, it has bite.
So, basically, for a handful (pun intended) of reasons, rope probably isn’t ever going to actually be my jam, no matter how much I want it to be.
The challenge is feeling like that’s okay.
You Really Don’t Have To Do Everything. Really.
This is where the idea of being fair to myself comes in.
Like, I try to do this thing in which I try to convince myself that it really is okay by playing out a hypothetical situation in which someone else comes to me about a similar problem. It goes like this:
I really like rope, but I’m not sure I can keep doing it because it does bad things to my body. I feel like I should stop, but I also feel weird about it. Like, in gymnastics, the coaches never let us use the word “can’t,” and *shrug* … you know what I mean?
I totally get it! I think you’re making the right decision, actually. You only get one body, so it’s good to listen to it and take care of it! Besides–you do trapeze, hoop, hammock, acro, and adagio, which is a LOT, and you’re doing the right thing to take care of your body so you can keep doing amazing stuff with it.
I’ve had these conversations in real life. Lots of them. And when I’m talking to someone else, I mean it.
Like, I’ll straight-up tell you if I think you’re being a big weenie. I mean, depending on the context, I’ll probably do it in a less-insulting way, like saying, “I know you can get that plank tighter! You’re strong!” or whatever–but still.
- Also, can we all stop for a sec and appreciate the delightful oxymoron implicit in the phrase “big weenie,” since “weenie” is used, in other contexts, as an adjective meaning very small? And also that as a derivative of “weiner,” AKA PENIS, PENIS, PEEEE-NISSSSS, it’s for once not insulting to age groups, non-male genitals, non-male persons, any particular ethnic group, people with disabilities, etc?
Sometimes deciding not to do a thing is how we take care of the beautiful instruments that are our bodies. And taking care of the instruments that are our bodies is essential.
The only way I can stop being mad at myself about this kind of thing is to be like, “Yo, you need your hands for PARTNERING, which is your basically YOUR ENTIRE JOB, and also girls won’t like it if they’re all covered in hard, stabby stuff.”
- D, at any rate, doesn’t seem to mind, though maybe he would if I was partnering him in pirouettes on pointe.
And That Isn’t Even The Point.
Look … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there’s great value in the kind of quiet toughness and resilience that training in aerials or gymnastics or ballet, at its best, builds in us.
It’s good to try to overcome obstacles whenever they stand between us and something important or something we really want.
But you know what?
It’s also good to be able to say, without deriding ones’ self as an inadequate little panty-waist, “Actually, I don’t really need a world-beating reason to not do this thing.”
- Apparently, a “panty-waist” was originally an undergarment generally associated with babies–like a shorty union suit. TBH, that sounds like a pretty useful thing. #TheMoreYouKnow
It is okay to want to do a thing, and to try the thing, and to discover that maybe it just doesn’t jam your jelly or whatever. Or that it would jam your jelly, but instead it jellies your distal metacarpals, and that isn’t going to work.
So maybe you change your mind, and decide that the thing in question isn’t for you, at least not right now. And that’s fine.
Changing your mind doesn’t “make you a quitter.” It gives you room and time and energy to not quit all the things you do keep doing.
I do think that I have a good reason for deciding not to continue with rope training.
But it’s not the only good reason, and it would be good if someday I learned that sometimes you don’t even really need a good reason to say, “I think I’ll skip x thing.” That you–I–don’t really need any reason at all except that’s the decision you–I–have made.
Has writing this post moved that needle for me?
I don’t know. I’ve noticed that sometimes we need other people to help us move needles like that. And time. We need time, too.
So even if this doesn’t help move my needle, maybe it’ll help move someone else’s.
I’m working on a post about some of the stuff I learned in David Reuille’s masterclass, but for the moment, check out this post by Circus Out Of Joint:
I’ve been lucky to have ballet, circus, and gymnastics instructors who understand the differences in the ways hypermobile people perceive the world and in how our bodies work (versus those of people with average mobility). They’ve done a great job helping me build habits of sound alignment, teaching me what to engage and disengage when, and guiding me towards beautiful ways of moving that won’t destroy my joints.
That doesn’t mean I’m as good at looking out for myself as I should be, though. Circus Out Of Joint discusses some of the ways those of us with hEDS can advocate for ourselves in class, along with some of the challenges that we face in doing so (like, when should we ask our six million questions?).
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.
Thursday Night Notes
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.
Saturday: Back in Class
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.
Marching On (In February)
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.
Lest I Miss The New Year Entirely…
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.
Stand Back—I’m A Proffesional
woo! Finally getting paid on the sorta regular! I can buy a