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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.

The author performing arabesque on the bar in a 36" lyra/aerial hoop.
No family jewels were pulverized in the making of this pic.

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.

The starting point: with one knee hooked, I’m reaching up to re-grip higher on the lyra.

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.

Pressing through the inner thigh while lifting with the arms.

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.

So technically this is a shot from the other side of this exercise, sorry.

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.

Again, other side, but you get the point.

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.

Ugh, this angle, y’all.

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[1], but also a ballet dancer for whom this movement is inherently familiar—this is pretty easy to do.

  1. 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.

Gratuitous straddle-down shot, because I’m proud of that straddle dismount!

Today’s Preview

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:

This Skin-the-Cat Walkout Dismount works much better a little higher up!

Calendar Boys

Our friendly neighborhood photog, Kevin, has created a 2017 calendar of images from performances and workshops at Suspend and, by happy coincidence, Denis and I are collectively Mr. February (I’m a February baby).

The image he used is one of my all-time favorites, captured during our dress rehearsal/tech run of “Duelo Trapecio.”

I love this shot so much.

In a lot of ways, this image speaks to the best gift that Denis has given me: specifically, a stable foundation from which to fly. 

Literally, in this picture, I’ve just mounted the trapeze from a candlestick:

…Like this, only in parallel, legs together.

…and I’m lifting my body out of Denis’ hands so he can roll to the side and I can beat up to a pike balance. (Technically, in this choreography, that’s all one move for me: I use the muscles of my back to pull up into an arc, release my back à la Martha Graham at the top, then allow momentum to carry me around the bar and the act of straightening my legs to pull me into the pike balance.)

As these things go, it’s a fairly basic acro-to-trapeze transition, but it’s not without risk.

In this sequence, timing is crucial — if he releases before my knees catch the bar, I have a split-second to react so I don’t pile-drive into his face and potentially break my own neck. If I enter the swinging phase of my beat too soon, I’ll whack him in the head with my hands or head at high velocity.

Likewise, if (as happened in the night of our first performance!) something goes wrong(1) and the trapeze isn’t where it should be, it’s up to me to gracefully exit the candlestick without making both of us look like idiots (hello, walk-over), and up to him to proceed smoothly with his portion of the choreography. 

  1. What happened, in practice, was that D somehow got blinded by the stage lights during his transition from the previous sequence (in which I cartwheel and he catches my legs) and whacked his head on the trapeze! It’s on a rotating point, so it turned 90 degrees and wasn’t there when I reached the apex of the candlestick. Thank G-d for the billion years of training and preparation that made me steam right on through with a walk-over followed by a straddle mount. 

Metaphorically, he has grounded himself so I can reach my goal (the trapeze) and soar. He has lifted me up without hanging on. I have trusted him to support me, and he has trusted me to take care of myself and of him.

As a model for relationships, there’s much to be said in favor of partnering. Each party must do his or her share of the work, each party is accountable to the other, and when both parties do what they need to do, the result is a beautiful harmony of movement; poetry in motion indeed. 

When things go wrong, as they sometimes do, the dancers or aerialists in a good partnering relationship are able to respond accordingly — and while nothing can prevent all harmful outcomes, the care and attention that go into this kind of work allow for damage control through rapid-fire adjustments (and the kind of trust that can think, “I get that you’re presently holding me up by my unmentionables so I won’t fall and break my neck so later we can laugh at this trainwreck instead of crying about it…”).

Perhaps most importantly, though, a good partnering relationship allows us to accomplish things we cannot do alone — like a pas-de-chat that floats two meters above the ground, or (as in our example above) mounting a dance trapeze from a handstand(2).

  1. In an unassisted handstand, this trap hits too high for that. I could manage an ankle hang, or I could maybe mount from a front handspring, but a regular handstand won’t get me to the position depicted.

    A good relationship of any kind, really, allows us to accomplish things we couldn’t on our own. 

    I am able to pursue my dreams because I have a strong and stable partner helping to lift me up towards them. I hope that I am, at least to some degree, doing the same for D. But it’s not only romantic partners and spouses who can do those things — good friends, loving parents and siblings, and even our peers in the dance studio lift us towards our dreams.

    Just as ballet partnering depends not on romantic attachment(3), but on consistency and trust, so with the relationships in our lives that allow us to fly.

    1. Not that I would deny a certain kind of romantic sensibility that can evolve even in the most most platonic of these relationships — but that’s a topic for another time. 

    I am, of course, planning on buying a copy of Kevin’s calendar for our house (and for my Mom and Mother-in-Law, as Christmas presents). It will help keep him in photographic equipment so he can continue to grow as an artist and to take amazing pictures of all of us that sometimes manage to say a great deal about important things. 

    A Few Thoughts, Late In The Evening

    I’ve been trying to sort out the unique flavor of my feeling of anticipation about my upcoming trapeze performance, and I think I’ve finally sorted it.

    I was surprised by this sense that I don’t want the next few days to slip away too fast — I’m not prone to stage fright. Rather the opposite, in fact: I’m essentially a giant show-off by nature, but shy around strangers in small groups. Give me a stage or a podium, and I’m good.

    So why, I kept wondering, is my anticipation not the unadulterated OMG OMG I am going to explode if Saturday doesn’t get here soon! of my childhood?

    And then I got it: this is the feeling of knowing that it will be over as soon as it begins. We get one night: for me, 2 minutes and 30 seconds. It will be amazing — and then it will be over. It would be easy to get so caught up in eager anticipation that I actually don’t experience the actual thing, let alone this whole week.

    I don’t want to get caught up in the anticipation of this singular moment in the future — our first-ever trapeze performance — and miss now.

    Right now, my summer looks a little like a running start off a cliff into a wild, exhilarating wingsuit flight. It would be easy to miss the whole thing if I let my monkey mind run away with me. Anticipation has its merits, but it can definitely take the but in its teeth and run.

    So I’m going to work on being present for the next few days. Really, I guess, that’s work we should be doing always — but some moments make better examples than others of why that is.


    Shamelessly stolen from Hendy Mp/Solent News via The Telegraph.

    So, in short: here is good. And I’m going to try to be here, now.

    Time To Get Serious*

    *Insofar as I am capable of ever being serious about anything, ever, because I am a focused person, a dedicated person, an all-of-that-kind-of-stuff person, but serious? I’m not sure that’s the best descriptor, really, where I’m concerned.

    So, yeah.

    I am thinking about injuries, and my history of accumulating them, and being like, “Ha! Ohai! I haz hurted myself again,” and then basically making jokes about it because that’s way easier than actually admitting that I’m hella pissed at myself.

    But, like, I am.

    Pissed at myself, that is (for my Brits: I don’t mean I’m drunk at myself, I mean I’m mad at myself … this time … which you probably already knew from context because you’re smart, but somehow my inner Smart-Alec just wouldn’t let me not say it).

    Or, well, I was.

    And then I realized that I’m looking at this incorrectly.


    Denis recommends a change in perspective.

    I have a habit of injuring myself mildly, which just happens in Teh Ballets and in life at large sometimes, because humans can be careful but can’t be perfect.

    Injuring myself mildly from time to time wouldn’t be a big deal in and of itself.

    The problem is that I also then have a problem of doing things that exacerbate minor injuries and turn them into major ones, like I did this week.

    I’ve been mad at myself because I was like, “That’s just careless.”

    Except, it’s not. Carelessness isn’t the problem.

    The problem is that I don’t perceive pain normally and I’m stupidly hypermobile (okay, and my drive to do things like dance and aerials often exceeds my limited supply of common sense).


    Shamelessly stolen from Monty Python by everyone ever.

    So, basically, parts of me don’t start hurting when they should, then stop hurting before they should. The level of pain I experience does not accurately reflect the severity of any given injury, nor do they reflect how much it has healed.

    Theoretically, the deep muscle in my “thut” (that’s thigh-butt; you can thank my aerials instructors for that one!) that I could barely use yesterday should be causing a shedload of pain today, but it actually doesn’t hurt at all**.

    **Maybe it would if I tried to do the things I’m not supposed to do. Maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t plan to find out the hard way. At any rate, it should at least be sore.



    Everything is fine. (Shamelessly ganked from

    Likewise, parts of me stretch in ways that increase the likelihood of injury under certain circumstances. This is partly due to associated abnormalities in proprioception and pain perception (see above) and partly due to the fact that greater flexibility often correlates with reduced strength.

    Not that I’m not strong; I’m just not necessarily strong in the places that will prevent me from doing things like yoinking the crap out of my turnout muscles.


    Seriously, there is absolutely nothing wrong here, guys. Everything is definitely under control.

    I haven’t been treating this seriously. I’ve been too busy being delighted about the things that my abnormal pain perception and hypermobility let me do to be willing to countenance the fact that they also predispose me to injuries that I could better avoid if I was, basically, less weird.

    As they say: “You take the good with the bad.” And I’ve been trying only to take the good, without accounting for the bad.

    This past week, I turned a minor strain into a major one and bought myself several days off dancing and a term of about six weeks to full recovery (with appropriate management).

    I wasn’t being careless. Things just didn’t hurt, so I carried on as usual. My leg was a little stiff and sore in the morning, but felt okay enough by the time class rolled around, and really quite okay indeed by the time trapeze class rolled around — so I proceeded with business as usual.


    Business as usual (actual video to follow … eventually).

    This is the same approach that bought me a layoff of a couple of months last year, followed by a long reconditioning period.

    Obviously, a rate of one serious injury per year is quite a bit higher than is really sustainable.

    So, in additional to healing, I plan to spend the next several weeks learning how to prevent injuries to my specific body. Clearly, this will mean developing both better awareness of what’s going on in my body and a greater willingness to turn to my live-in Physio (AKA my husband, Denis) when I think I have a minor injury and follow his advice.


    This is me, not following advice (because I hadn’t asked for any). For the record, yes – that *is* the leg I strained, though this is not how I strained it. Bizarrely, that involved neither aerials nor ballet. In other news: yup, I am still pasty.

    And, of course, because I like to write about everything (if nothing else, it serves as a kind of external backup drive), I’ll probably be writing about this process here.

    So there you have it. Some insights about injuries that I don’t think I really had before.

    Also a terrifying picture of my butt. Holy chromoly. Who stuffed ‘roid-raging weasels down my tights?!

    Iron Cross is SRS BZNS!

    I’m having WP issues this week. I wrote a dance-related post on Monday, but the editor kept locking up, and I got frustrated and never finished it — so I’m behind on that.

    As you can see, I’m something like back in action, though not completely. I did make it all the way through Modern T’s class, which was a little less athletic than the previous two classes (probably because Modern T is also recovering from the Great Plague of 2016).

    Today I made it most of the way through Ms. B’s Killer Class, though I had to bow out of medium and grand allegro, because I was too wheezy by the time I finished (or, well, sort of finished) petit allegro. C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

    This made me sad, because our grand allegro combination was flat-out awesome — so Ms. B let me video it so we can do it at our next class after Spring Break. Yaaaay! (I don’t have permissions from my classmates to share that video, so apologies for that. Also, the camera work sucks :D)

    I opted only to do trapeze tonight, and I think that was the right call.

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