On skills and sanity

Betty has been trucking across town to circus class every Thursday for a while now, and quite honestly wouldn’t like to imagine this present life without it, if at all possible. This past term has been lovely: a different teacher, who is supportive and wonderful and shares Betty’s love for the clinically special and their siblings and art and dance and behaving like a holy fool from time to time; classmates ranging in age from ten to Betty, one of whom has an aunt who made a career as a human cannonball; and a beautiful studio by the zoo with windows covering one wall; and, importantly, enough rope…

It hasn’t just been trapeze all term, either. There are silks, or tissu, which are beautiful and difficult – one has to climb to fearful heights and hang on, and wrap one’s limbs into various locks and wedge one’s torso between the ribbons and reserve enough energy to come down again, while making it one’s resolve to stay up, because the silks are like a wave pool of gravity, constantly inching one down. The day after tissu is achy shoulders, tender knuckles, slight burns on the tops of one’s feet, and back muscles like a flying squirrel.

There’s also a hammock of silk, rigged from two points, that mimics the cloudswing made of rope – it’s lovely fun, perfect for flipping in, or as a place from which to sling some small child. There’s a lyra, essentially a hanging hula hoop that looks graceful but causes about as much pain as you’d expect from a solid piece of metal. The studio has two trapezes, a triple (four ropes and a bar, as seen in the previous circus post), and a single, which is currently rigged from one point, which makes it a dance trapeze. It spins.

But what Betty is trying to convey is the motivation and the challenge of aerial circus. Betty has terrible upper-body strength and a dramatic fear of heights, both of which amplify the temptation to slack off. I might just do another gazelle, one thinks to oneself. I might do something more experimental. In lieu of actual skills, I shall emote at a medium height in a paroxysm of dorsiflexion. This video, I think, shows a slightly more realistic view – the excuses of laziness don’t really fool the camera. Uninitiated viewers will have to imagine the sensations of having fairly substantial rope wrapping around the knees, with one’s practically entire and very non-Bulgarian-gymnast weight resting on it; of becoming semi-stuck on one’s own proverbial; of being acutely aware that the bar is rigged, I don’t know, two feet higher than when one started to learn this piece, which shouldn’t change much, but does. In the half-hour after this video was taken, with the help of some rosin and a run-through on the silks and the teacher’s direct suggestion, Betty did the handstand anyway and it didn’t kill her. You see?

The day after trapeze is bruises behind one’s knees, bruises across one’s pelvis, bruised ankles, bruised shoulder-blades, callouses under each finger, a decompressed spine, pathetically exhausted arms, and a smile.