*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.
We worked in the sphere a bit more today, first at about knee height, then at a more respectable height of 1.25 meters or so.
My bit of the brief duo is essentially nailed down; my partner is adjusting hers since we’re using a span-set rigging that allows her to work atop the sphere.
Got a little video and some decent still shots from there. This is one of my favorites:
I got Iron Cross on the silks this weekend, so now I’m all about doing it all the darn time, because, quite frankly, I didn’t expect to be able to pwn iron cross this early in the game.
I’m case you’re wondering, Iron Cross is this:
I didn’t want to just steal someone’s actual photo and couldn’t find any public domain ones, so I hope this quick sketch gives you the basic idea.
It looks fabulous on silks or trapeze — I think it’s harder to “get” on trapeze, but once you know how to do it (and have sufficient strength), it feels very doable on either.
Today I tried it on trap again and was able to do it well. I’ll have to see if I can get a picture tonight.
Anyway, that’s what I’m obsessed with right now 🙂
This clip is really short; I’ll ask Denis to try to get a longer one next time!
Also, check out my crazy dismount o.O For some reason, I over-rotated and then had to manually untie my foot 😀
Here’s Denis, who looks so unhappy, but was actually having a blast:
Today was Shiny Tights Day … At least, it was for me.
Candlestick in a straddle with no feets. No big deal.
Just, like, hanging out with our instructor, Ms. C(1). (There were two Cs today.)
A little Archer’s Pose (this was actually part of the dismount).
“Squatty hip lean,” and probably the nicest picture of me going. Also, I haz a pasty. Wow.
Finally flying Denis in foot-bird!
The highlight of acro-balancing, in which we built a mighty wall of tabletops.
Today, we took our first class at Suspend — their “Cirque Sampler” offering, which lets you try things out (we focused on silks and trapeze).
We had a blast. It turns out that being a dancer makes silks feel pretty
intuitive — but not so much that it makes you entirely equipped to pwn the silks right out of the gate. Works out about the same on trapeze.
In short, today’s lesson essentially confirmed my worst fears about my core- and upper-body strength (or lack thereof): or, well, maybe not confirmed them, but indicated that they weren’t entirely out of line with reality.
So, while I was intuitively able to do graceful things on the silks and the trap, I was not able to climb the silks (or, well, I could climb onto the silks, and that was it) or to hold the extended chair position for any length of time, and my straddle dismount on both silks and trap was somewhat uncontrolled, though not as bad as it might have been.
Denis, meanwhile, has the core strength of a hundred men and climbs like a natural-born monkey. Seriously. He’s just like, “Climb a thing? Sure, I can do that. Extended chair pose for four hours? No problem. Do you need me to work out the Grand Uniform Theorem while I’m at it?”
Basically, in terms of climbing and core strength, I got schooled by the hubster.
Conveniently, however, the muscles that need to get stronger for aerials are the same ones that need to get stronger for ballet, particularly if I want to venture into partnering someday (which I very much do).
Also conveniently, we were able to convert our 10-class card (and $25) into two intro-unlimited-classes-per-month plans — one for each of us for the next month, starting Tuesday, and our instructor today said we’re good to go ahead and step into the second class of Intro to Aerials. w00t!
So, naturally, Denis has now signed us up for All The Classes, and I will finish the month of January significantly more fit and, I suspect, significantly more tired 😉
It looks like we’ll be doing aerials and circus arts on a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule for now, which should nicely complement my Monday-Wednesday-Saturday ballet schedule. I’ll still have two scheduled rest days, unless I pick up a Friday class somewhere, which depends on a number of factors. I do not want to overdo it.
Tuesday we’re doing Intro Aerials and Thursay we’ll try Acro Balancing, which looks fun. I’ve done a bit of that as a function of gymnastics training when I was younger.
Next Saturday, we’ll be trying juggling after Advanced class, so that should be interesting. I have never actually really juggled, so my day will encompass both something I do well enough to more or less legitimately take an advanced class and something in which I am a complete and unregenerate novice*.
*I realize that “unregenerate novice” doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense, but gosh darnit, it sounds good, and because I also write poetry, I am just going to claim poetic license here and go with it.
So that’s our first day of life as Official Cirque N00bs.
In other news, I just realized that the grad school application I need to knock out this month needs a 7 – 10 minute audition video, so if I disappear off the etherwaves for a bit, my apologies. Between that, ballet, aerials, and a job I’m in the middle of applying for (for which I’m now in “doing evaluations and preparing for 2nd interview” phase), I don’t expect to come up for air again until the 16th.
Ballet class notes, however, might continue apace, primarily because I ride the bus back from ballet class, which gives me time to do that.
À bientôt, mes amis!
People keep asking where I (or, rather, Denis, technically) found my excellent peacock tights, and I finally remembered to ask him for a link, so I’m going to post it here:
If your browser or WP app is being screwy, here’s a verysion you can copy-and-paste:
I’m having a random tough week. The fact that I slept for fourteen hours last night and keep wheezing makes me think I’m coming down with something. That said, it’s been quite a while (by my standards, anyway) since I’ve been sick enough to be more than a nuisance, so I guess that’s something positive.
Anyway, I may drop off the radar for a bit while I’m trying to get over whatever this thing is, for which I apologize. I hope to be back soon with the first installment in my my much-promised and much-procrastinated-over Cooking With ADHD series.
That’s it for now.
Enjoy the tights!
Sometimes the Universe steps in and reminds us where we’re supposed to be going.
On Thursday last week, I finished my first aerial hammock class and said to Denis on the way back to our camper, “That makes me feel really happy.”
He said, “You always feel happy when you’re moving.”
This meshes nicely with last week’s (umptillionth) heretofore-unannounced revision to my long-term plan, in which I first discovered that one does not necessarily have to effectively complete a second master’s if one first completes a stand-alone master’s program and then goes for a doctorate, then decided that maybe doing a DMT Master’s (or a counseling or clinical psych Master’s with concurrent DMT cert) first would be a good idea after all, rather than diving directly into a doctoral program and attempting to do the alternate-route certification concurrently.
PlayThink was yet another reminder of the things that make DMT such an ideal fit for me: I love moving; I love helping other people connect with themselves through movement; I don’t want to sit behind a desk; I don’t want to have to wear normal clothes (seriously, if you’re choosing a career path, that’s something worth thinking about: Do I want to spend my entire day in khakis and a tie, or in lycra? As much as I like getting dolled up in a sharp suit, I’m happiest in dancewear).
There’s another point, though, that I didn’t quite get until this morning. I’m going to take the long way ’round to explain it, because words.
Last night, I was pondering and feeling strange about an experience I had at PlayThink; about how a guy (Brandon, if I didn’t hear him wrong) who I barely knew embraced me and just held me for a long moment with a singular intensity and, strangely enough, it didn’t freak me out (that was the part I felt strange about — the not-freaking-out part). I’m still, generally speaking, quite protective of my own body, but for whatever reason, in that particular moment, I was able to just let go and experience and enjoy that physical connection, that closeness (for which, if you ever happen to stumble across this blog, thank you, Brandon!).
I wanted to talk to Denis about it, but was struggling with how to explain all the feels (in fact, I still can’t really articulate how I felt or still feel about that particular experience). I said, “I want to talk about something, but I’m having a hard time explaining it.”
Denis smiled and said, “I always kind of think it’s funny when you say that, because it’s always hard for you to explain things.”
I laughed, then, because he was right: I really struggle to explain anything (even my blog posts get a lot of revision, most of the time), especially abstract concepts.
Feelings are the hardest. I have trouble figuring out how to describe them using the abstract vocabulary of emotion — but I can dance about them … and, oddly enough, often moving my body helps me figure out which words to use.
Moreover, moving with people makes me feel connected to and comfortable with them in ways that nothing else does. The sense of instantaneous trust I felt towards Brandon resulted at least in part from our participating together in an activity that involved movement, cooperation, and spontaneity. It reminds me of nothing so much as the first group improvisation warmup that we did in Linnie Diehl’s Intro to Dance-Movement Therapy intensive last November at the ADTA conference!
I suspect that connection, that sense of trust that stems from moving together, may be one of the greatest tools that DMT can offer. For those of us who struggle with language and for those of us who struggle with trust, there’s a profound potential there.
That trust is a sacred one. In a way, that same sacred trust suffeses the work of dancers, of aerial artists, of acrobats. There’s a connection that runs deeper than words that we can find when we move together.
It all sounds very mystical, but even mystical experiences occur in the realm of neuroscience (and, in fact, the domain of the liminal, mystical mind is one in which neuroscience as a field is very interested!).
I don’t know, yet, precisely where my journey is taking me, but that is ground I very much hope to explore: first, in the experiential sense, connecting with other dancers, with other artists, and someday with other DMTs and with DMT clients; second, in the scientific sense, trying to understand how our experience of that physical, movement-based connection which bypasses words takes place on a neurobiological level.
DMT as a modality is a good one for me to practice because it takes advantage of my own native language: I’m a physical being first and a cerebral one second, and that’s okay. I realize that this is a huge part of why I am much more confident and social in the ballet studio; why I felt so confident and social at the 2014 ADTA conference; why, at the end of PlayThink this year, I didn’t hesitate when more than one near-stranger bypassed my proferred handshake and went in for a hug.
As for the present tense: maybe I’ll stop trying to describe my experience with Brandon and, instead, I’ll try to dance about it.
Last Wednesday, I wrote out my usual class notes but never got around to posting them because we jetted off to PlayThink Movement and Flow Arts festival right after class.
To summarize: I made it through all of class last Wednesday; mostly kept my proverbial waterfowls in a linear array during barre; managed some rather nice center adagio; did rather well going across the floor to the right and somehow lost the combo going left (qv: threw in an en dedans turn where there should have been an en dehors turn and my brain clicked on and proceeded to hose me up completely — I repeat: THERE IS NO THINKING IN BALLET); nailed some entrechats quatres; and didn’t get the medium allegro combination down (in case you’re wondering: when you’re tired, it’s a good idea to mark the combo, because your brain alone might not catch it).
While we were in Florida, I did a lot of tendus, frappes, and degages in the water, as well as some grand battement. That made a big difference to my speed during petit and medium allegro last week. It would be awesome to have regular access to a pool in order to work on that stuff!
At PlayThink, my goal was to gain some more exposure to aerial apparatus. Terri and Cindy from Turners were back again this year, and they’re both great teachers (Terri, in particular, reminds me of Brienne :D).
Last year, we only got to try stationary trapeze because of timing issues. This year, we got to try:
…and static trapeze:
And then, because we had the opportunity, we played on the trapeze a bit more:
The trapeze was set about 2 meters up during our second session, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get up there, but it turned out to be very doable.
Of all the apparatus, I think I enjoyed the hammock most (which, by extension, probably means I’d also really love silks; we missed the intro silks class, though, since Denis had to work on Wednesday morning). I’m pretty flexible, and hammock takes advantage of that in a particularly cool way.
Things I learned this weekend (besides new moves on the aerial apparati):
- My lower-core strength is great.
- I need to work on the uppermost core muscles, as well as shoulder-girdle and arm strength.
- I really, really love aerials (this should come as no surprise).
- I should be more confident about life in general.
Both Terri and Cindy teach locally, and Terri will be teaching at the new aerial arts studio that’s opening (which is in a really convenient spot and offers a very reasonable price structure), so I’m hoping to add some aerials to my rotation. I think they’ll be pretty compatible with ballet, and the class times won’t conflict.
First, though, I need to get some income happening 🙂