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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!

Lyra Photos! 

Holy Cow, My Cheekbones, Y’all

A Few From Open Fly

A Very Tardy Update

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:

…aerial hammock:

Cindy led a great aerial hammock class.  Here, she's showing me how to get into a forward balance (once you get to this point you take your hands off the hammock; I don't have a picture of that, though).  I didn't get pictures of the coolest parts, since Denis was in the other group on one of the other rigs at the same time.

Cindy led a great aerial hammock class. Here, she’s showing me how to get into a forward balance (once you get to this point you take your hands off the hammock; I don’t have a picture of that, though). I didn’t get pictures of the coolest parts, since Denis was in the other group on one of the other rigs at the same time.

Denis points out that it looks like Cindy is doing a stage magician's levitation trick with him, here :D

Denis points out that it looks like Cindy is doing a stage magician’s levitation trick with him, here 😀


Denis got some great shots of me on the lyra.

Mermaid with a slightly-broken line: I should’ve brought that arm up just a tad higher

Denis gets his mermaid on

Denis gets his mermaid on

…and static trapeze:

Denis on the trap: just call him "Susan."

Denis on the trap: just call him “Susan.”

The sunglasses just sell it. *snrk*

The sunglasses just sell it. *snrk*

And then, because we had the opportunity, we played on the trapeze a bit more:

I need to practice this one more.  I tend to set up too low.  Terri got me sorted, leading to this rather lovely moment...

I need to practice this one more. I tend to set up too low. Terri got me sorted, leading to this rather lovely moment.

...and this one.

…and this one.

Denis is more nervous on the trapeze than I am, but he still got both hands off the ropes.

Denis is more nervous on the trapeze than I am, but he still got both hands off the ropes.

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 🙂

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