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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!

Belated Notes 

Since Ms B got married and there are no longer two BWs among my ballet teachers, I shall henceforth refer to Company B simply as BW (because I’m lazy and it’s easier). 

Anyway, class with BW was, as always, good. I didn’t dance as well as I usually do, but everyone has those days. Only three of us again, so once again there was much drilling down deep in the technique. There was also more than the usual array of conversation; we were all tired and disorganized (I arrived earliest, only 5 minutes before class time; BW arrived just after, and everyone  else was late). 

My turnout took a while to turn on — back to Trap 3 last night meant back to Single Knee Hangs (with ronds-de-jambe), and those make the turnouts tight. (I’m going to have to contemplate that, as I plan to use SNH w/ RDJ to open a trap performance on Saturday.) Not that it was non-existent; it just wasn’t up to the standard of Wednesday’s class.

On the other hand, my grand rond got its stuff together after a fashion. Coming from behind, I was rotating the turnouts later than necessary and thus losing much of the quality of the movement. BW laid on hands and fixed me: he proved to me that I can rotate my hip much further in arabesque than even I thought possible, which made for one high extension coming  à la seconde. Like, BW even commented on it to B: “See how high that is?”

I appreciate the fact that my teachers aren’t afraid I’m the least to touch me. 

Going terre-à-terre, though, my brain was absolutely determined to leave our the waltz turns. This kept making me end up facing the wrong corner. This may have been fatigue (I’m sleeping better, but still not really well, as you might gather from the fact that I’m posting at 2 AM), or it may have been  a lack of Adderall. I forgot my second dose until it was legitimately too late to take take it. Ironically, I was so busy cleaning… Anyway.

I discovered that I haven’t lost my attitude balance, and that I can pretty reliably élevé into it now. After class, BW worked on my arms, which are slowly becoming graceful. Minor miracle, there, all things considered. 

So that’s about it. 

Trap performance on Saturday should be interesting. I’m resetting some existing choreography to Billy Joel’s “You’re The Only One Who Knows.” Here’s hoping I get through without bursting into tears. Seriously, that’s why I’m not even thinking about using “Leningrad.”

Also, a picture from Burning Man, below the fold since it’s mildly NSFW:

Read the rest of this entry

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.

image

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.

Choreography Workshop #1

But first, a few thoughts on teaching.

I gave our Sunday class an exercise with temps-lie (in open fourth) today, and they rocked it out.

There are a billion reasons to love and to use temps-lie — it’s great for teaching how to transfer balance, it helps students figure out how to use their feet, it feels dance-y, etc, etc. Today, though, I discovered one that I’d never thought of: it helps you spot students who are struggling with turnout.

Temps-lie in fourth with turnout is an unusual motor pattern.

In parallel, it’s actually a pretty common kind of movement — you’ve probably done something similar balancing yourself on a moving bus, train, or boat, for example, or reaching for something on a high shelf.

In second, even with turnout, it’s still not terribly unfamiliar.

The combination of turnout and open fourth, however, can make for a really challenging kind of movement. Suddenly, a student faces the potentially brand-new problem of shifting weight through their center of mass while continuing to rotate the hips open.

Students who are still developing the ability to maintain turnout from the rotators and intrinsic muscles at the tops of their legs tend to start to turn in, particularly on the leg that’s passing the weight along — that is, in temps-lié avant, the back leg may tend to turn in as the body is carried over the front leg, for example.

Those who are doing a little better but still not quite on top of the turnout problem will tend to roll the arches of their feet as their knees travel out of alignment. Their thighs may not appear to turn in much, but the rolling arches are a dead giveaway. (The turnout issue becomes more readily apparent when you look at these students from the side.)

Hands-on corrections can make a huge difference in both these situations: first, to indicate which muscles a student should activate to keep turnout going; second, to gently guide the movement of the knees so they track correctly.

Some students may initially feel like passing through temps-lié in fourth without rolling in at the knees is impossible, but it’s not (as long as they work within the purview of their natural turnout). Gentle hands-on guidance can usually solve that problem pretty quickly.

Some of our Sunday students are still finding their turnout, period, which is fine. Given that they’ve only been at this a few weeks, for the most part, I think they’re coming along rather swimmingly.

Next: Choreography Workshop #1

Today, most of us who have submitted acts for the Spring Showcase met to discuss our ideas, get a better sense of how getting-to-the-Showcase will proceed, and so forth. Denis brought his printed spreadsheets of our act, which more than one person found impressive. Heck, I’m still impressed.

After the group discussion, we broke out and worked on our pieces. This was the first time I got to try most of the sequenced choreography for my part.

I must say, I’m quite impressed with the work Denis has done: not only do the moves hang together well (there’s only one spot where the transition isn’t essentially automatic, and I worked out a graceful solution today), but there’s a natural coherence to everything. Incidentally, the moves also sync with the music really nicely, which is a bonus, since Denis’ only music-specific concern was trying not to make the whole thing too freaking long.

Evidently, I also look good doing my part of the act, which is nice. There was a conversation going on about my lines that culminated in someone asking me how long I’d been dancing. That was pretty cool 🙂

I ran through the core of my routine about a dozen times or so — enough to really make the choreography start to gel, since I probably won’t be at the aerials studio again until Tuesday.

All told, between dance and trapeze, I spent about two and a half hours doing physical stuff.

For some reason, I seem to be very hungry. Hmm. Wonder how that happened.

Good Things

I’m still wrestling my freight train, but at the same time, a couple of really good things have happened this week.

First, I’ve been promoted to Trapeze 2,which surprised the heck out of me, since my formal trapeze training has encompassed about two, maybe three months (it took us a while to pick up Trap 1 after we finished Intro). I do feel confident with the Trap 1 material, though, and I can execute most of the skills with quite a bit of polish and finesse. I’ve also gained a lot of strength, which is nice.

Second, we handed in our application for the Spring Showcase tonight. We want to do a tandem dance trapeze act, if the rigging allows — the defining différence being that dance trapeze uses a single point with a pivot, while truly static trapeze is rigged to two points — dance trapeze can freely spin; static can’t. We want to use the spin in our choreography.

The music will be the Spanish Dance from Swan Lake. I’ve got the opening and the end worked out in my head, as well as some of the skills and transitions in the midst.

B. and I also did some good work on the opening to Simon Crane, which is shaping up nicely.

Also, the opening développés are no longer hard. I really will have to try to video some of the choreography — though the opening is written for ten dancers, minimum, so it would have to be an abbreviated version.

Okay, so that’s it for now. Video of the Dueling Trapezes will be forthcoming!

Aerials: Iron Cross is My Jam

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:

image

The smaller image gives you a sense of the lines from the side.

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 🙂

A Long Day’s Journey Into Trapeze

Wednesday Class this morning was, as ever, a challenge: a greater challenge, in fact, than is entirely usual.

In short, I was extra tired this morning, possibly due to the extra aerial technique class yesterday. Oh, well — to this I say (addressing myself, of course), “Suck it up, Buttercup.” My brain and legs were apparently not on speaking terms. Even when my body had a given combination right, my brain would occasionally butt in to say, “Wait, are you sure that’s right? Because it could have been—“ and finish with some different version that, no, it couldn’t have been. Ugh.

I was comforted by the fact that various company dancers and one of the former pre-pro girls, back on spring break and freshly accepted to IU’s excellent dance program, were also struggling at times. This is why we all love Mme.B’s class: she stretches us, and then when we think we’ve been stretched to the breaking point, she shows us that, no, we’ve got a little more.

I was, nonetheless, sufficiently awake by the end of barre to deport myself quite respectably during adagio, which was a beautiful combination carried over from last week. My tours lent, in particular, we’re accomplished without flailing in both directions.

Turns, too, were acceptable, as was the terre à terre or whatever the correct name is for that bit.

But not petit allegro. We did last week’s combination again, there, and while it went well last time, neither my legs nor my brain were having any of it today.

As for grand allegro … Eh. It began with temps de flèche, which I kept screwing up by starting on the wrong foot. But the last two thirds (from a direction change to entrelacé through another direction change and a bunch of other stuff), I had. There was a really cool part with a giant pas de chat that became part of a directional change. I’ll have to try to describe it better when I’m, like, awake.

I asked M. B. for guidance on temps de flèche after class, and I think I’m on top of it now.

The day ended with an excellent conditioning class followed by an awesome trapeze class. I heart trapeze so much at the end of a day of fumbling through Killer Ballet class (“Hard Mode” just doesn’t always catch it). We did, among other things, pike beats, which I looooove.

That’s it for now. Chores, Web work, bells, and acro tomorrow.

À bientôt, mes amis.

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