Dallas — Let me just start this off by saying, circus is hard.
It’s like really hard. Not the kind of hard that happens when you are learning a new phrase in class, or learning how to tap and the difference between a stamp and a stomp, but like physically, mentally, and emotionally, hard.
I took my second aerial silks class while I was in New York in October, and to say that I was a bit trepidatious about the impending experience is an understatement. I was scared out of my mind. But I should preface this fear by explaining why the nerves were kicking in even before I entered the studio or touched the silks.
In the summer of 2013, I took my first aerial silks class and struggled immensely during the process. Now, the struggle of learning something new is not foreign to me. Every day that I’m in a rehearsal, or taking a class, or teaching, the process is not always smooth sailing; in fact, I’m in constant competition with my brain to remember every bit and piece. But climbing up those silks? It was like nothing I had ever done before. Also, I have a slight fear of heights (and of failing) and all those emotions were running in top gear. But I tried my best and, if I’m being honest, I had fun doing it. I was really looking forward to going back and trying again, but that didn’t happen. The next day, I slipped on a puddle, my right foot falling fast in front of me, and I immediately went into the splits and hit my pelvic bone on concrete. No one ever said dancers were graceful in real life.
24 hours later, I couldn’t walk and rotated between complete numbness in my right leg to hot, fiery, shooting pains through my hip flexor down to my toes. After a MRI, it was determined that I had an advanced second degree groin strain and “snapping hip” syndrome. The doctor said I was looking at 4-6 weeks recovery time. That meant no dancing and definitely no aerial silks in my near future.
While I know I didn’t sustain this injury while attempting aerial silks, I was a bit scared to step back into the studio and climb up those silks again. I had numerous opportunities to try again after I was given the OK to dance, but I shied away. Why risk it? Plus, I wasn’t really that good at it anyway. I barely got three feet off the ground my first time climbing. I just told myself it wasn’t for me.
Fast forward to October 2014 and my 30th birthday.
My boyfriend surprised me with an aerial silks class at the famous Streb Lab for Action Mechanics. My first reaction: No. No. No. No. No. No. I instantly started having flashbacks to my numb right leg, my hip started screaming at me saying, “Remember me? You’re not as flexible as you used to be,” and I was sweating through my lightweight sweater and it wasn’t because of the spicy food I was eating when he told me about my “present.” I was scared. What if I couldn’t make it through the class, what if my hip started hurting again, what if I hurt myself again—but really, what if I couldn’t do it. What if I embarrassed myself on my birthday? It’s a silly thought, I know, but it was very real to me. Turning 30 was petrifying enough. Imagine sliding down the silks and falling, or trying to climb and not being able to even pull myself off the floor; what if they all laughed at me? All these thoughts were running through my head and I almost said no. I surprised myself by saying, yes. Right as the words came out, I knew it was the right decision. I mean, I’m about to turn 30, it’s about time I got over my fear, and myself.
The next day, I found myself at Streb ready for whatever lay ahead. The instructor lead us through some stretches, walked us through some handhold and footholds, and then turned to me and asked me to climb as high as I could go. I just stared up at the warehouse ceiling for what seemed like an eternity turning to figure out just how high high was. I wrapped the silks around my hands and then my wrists, got my feet and ankles in place, and started inching up the silks like a little worm. Reach, contract, pull, and repeat. Just take it slow, I told myself. Reach, contract, pull, and repeat. Reach, contract, pull, and repeat. Reach, contract, pull, and repeat. When I went has high and as far as my body could handle, I stopped, looked down and realized that I had climbed nearly 12 feet! That was enough for me. Down I went. When I got to the floor, she told me to try again. So I did. 14 feet. 16 feet. That’s high. But I did it. And I did it quickly, and I did it without fear.
Then came the arabesque stretches and leg over flips. I knew the words, but the actions? No way. But there I was, doing them, and doing them pretty well. I was flipping, though quite simply, hanging upside in a straddle stretch, learned a simple ankle hang. I even did this back contract thing that folded my body in half and my feet touched the back of my head. Even now, as I write this, I don’t have words. I have never been able to do that, no matter how many yoga, tumbling, or stretching classes I have taken. But put me on some silks, and miy circus dreams are coming true! Also, the students in the class were so wonderful and supportive. It was all cheers and grins and helpful hands. I don’t know what I was so afraid of. Now, I can’t wait to climb and fly again!
But I think it’s important to know that you’re not going to be the best at it when you first start. Aerial silks takes an extremely long time to master, I would even say that you don’t ever really “master” it, you are constantly a student at it, learning new skills, teaching people how to overcome their fears, and constantly pushing yourself. It is difficult. Just like any movement style, it has it’s peculiarities and you have to find your way into the craft.
Be open to the fact that you might suck at it at first. That’s totally ok. It’s more than ok! I can almost guarantee you that if you decide to take a silks class, you won’t be the only one in there whose first time it is, or who is thinking that they can’t do it. But you can! Take it from me. It will be hard at first, and you might be telling yourself that you suck, but in reality, anything new takes time to learn. If you want to be good at something, then you have to work hard at it, and for a long time. But once you feel the weightlessness and the freedom of flying, you won’t mind the work at all.
Keep an open mind and have fun! And maybe your instructor will let you be a butterfly!
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
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