Sunday, 15 February 2015

Trapeze: Cornucopia of Goodness

Human in graceful flight (pic found on Pinterest, not sure who to credit!)
It's been half-term at the NCCA this week, which means no classes, and although I've tried to substitute mine with another beginners ballet class and an aerial conditioning/rope class somewhere else (rope = fun, who knew!) I have definitely missed my weekly trapeze fix.  Which has made me wonder why it is that I love it so much, even though I'm a complete novice. What is it exactly that makes messing about on a bar and some ropes so appealing?

I guess the most obvious things are the usual endorphins you get from exercising, and the feeling of connecting back into your body, of using it properly, after a long day hunched over a computer. But it can't be just those things, because you can get them from any old sport right? Including running (not for me, thanks), ball sports (are you insane?) and swimming (oh dear god, no!).

I was thinking maybe it's the added 'artistic' factor. You know, that there's a bit more style and beauty about trapezing than, say, athletics or netball. But that's equally true of dance, and although I feel there's potential for me to grow to enjoy dance classes, I haven't immediately fallen in love with them the way I did with trapeze.

No, aerial classes give me so much more.

First there's the pleasantly light-hearted experience of learning a new skill in a positive, non-competitive atmosphere where repeated failure and looking silly is totally acceptable because everyone is in the same boat. Turning upside down with your bum in the air and twisting/swinging your body into new shapes is something its impossible not to look silly doing - most people up laughing at themselves and everyone else.  Then bit by bit, move by move, this becomes a triumphant feeling of achievement and pride as you start to master some of the tasks and techniques, along with feeling genuinely happy for others who are also succeeding, because you understand.

As well as gradually getting physically stronger, more capable, and achieving things you didn't think you would be able to, with aerial skills you get the added frisson of being a bit daring. Of doing things that take a little courage and grit, and the ability to deal with pain. Personally I love this, even if it's not a completely accurate view of myself just yet! I have spent much of my life being geeky, non-sporty and utterly impractical, but building up my aerial skills makes me feel like I'm giving those bitchy, sadistic hockey girls from school the middle finger.  F**k you I'M PROPER HARD and stuff me now, haha. I mean this symbolically obviously.

(Why is it your school experiences stay with you for basically ever?  I'm 33 for goodness sake, but I still remember certain PE lessons at school in great detail *shudder*)

Freedom (pic from
But apart from all this constructive physical stuff, trapeze especially is just good for your soul, I think. The sensation of flying, or being uplifted - even just by being up high on the equipment - is something that fufills some funny human need.  I'm sure there's all sorts of literature about the human desire to fly, but I don't need to read it to know that it's a thing - at least for me.  Who doesn't see birds soaring up into the sky and wish they could do the same?  It looks like freedom.  It looks like joy. Trapeze gives you a taste of this freedom from the weight of gravity (don't worry, I'm not about to break into song), and it also gives you a taste of a greater freedom of movement in your body, because training increases your strength and flexibility.

It's lovely.  Even watching someone else do it is fabulous.

It's not just me that's noticed the mood-enhancing qualities of trapeze either.  I had a little Google time and found a few other people espousing the benefits. Most noteably there's a lady called Jo Rixom who has run a project with My Aerial Home in south London, looking at the effect of trapeze lessons on women with depression. I was not at all surprised to learn that the results were definitively positive. This story was picked up by the Guardian and the BBC last year and subsequently all over the place, yet somehow I missed it!

Quite a few things in the articles chimed with me, but I particularly liked the quote from a participant that 'trapeze is symbolic of things out of reach and you find your way to get up... to turn your body upside-down was extraordinary, as an adult shifting your whole perspective physically moved things'. Read all about it here, or watch the BBC video. Jo Rixom had an academic article published about the project too - nice work lady!

I also found a great blog post, which is along similar lines to this one, but way funnier:

Despite these bits and bobs, and the handful of articles about social circus, I get the feeling that there's potential for more research in this area. Maybe it's just because I'm working in an academic environment at the moment, but.... my PhD ambitions are stirring again. Whether it's remotely possible for me to do a project on the therapeutic effects of trapeze without a degree in Psychology is doubtful, but I'm SO glad that I've discovered - even as a stiff, flabby adult - the happiness that is hanging upside down from bit of circus equipment!!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Aerial Lesson #3 - Flying Trapeze

So, with the swiftly rotating nature of the NCCA Aerial 1 course, last Wednesday ushered in my first ever lesson on Flying Trapeze! Hell yeah!!

I had basically no preconceptions of what flying trapeze would be like. Strangely, I've never been that bothered about the whole 'flying' part of the trapeze concept, which seems to be what most people get excited about - but I was open to giving it a try. I guess I had a vague impression of one of the other groups swinging around somewhere over the other side of the room while we were doing our stuff on static.  I could see there were harnesses involved anyway, so the flying bit was not gonna be a big deal, lalala.

For this first week, there was a lot of safety instructing. It was all very sensible. Yeah yeah, the belt is tight enough, we know how to stand on the platform correctly, yaaaaawn and then -
   - BAM, three of us were up on a terrifyingly high and narrow ledge, clinging onto the ropes by just our little slick-with-fear-sweat hands, swallowing back the nausea and helping each other shakily attach harnesses, check carabiners and hook the trapeze up. I was honestly not expecting it to be anything since I don't have vertigo and it did NOT look that bad from ground level, but ohhhh mama. That shit was genuinely scary.

Of course, along with the gut wrench of dropping off the platform, comes the massive exhilarating adrenaline rush as you swing through the air with the greatest of ease (haha), beating your legs like some kind of demented dolphin...before finally dropping to the ground (crash mat) on command and trying to regain your dignity whilst surreptitiously brushing off the Residue of Terror (rosin dust).

Pic borrowed from
I suppose it was pretty good. Fair to middling.

OK it was SO MUCH FUN!!!

The thing that surprised me the most, though, was actually the effect of working together to support and ensure the safety of everyone in a group, in a situation that feels a bit under pressure-ish (under pressure to not chicken out, or accidentally kill yourself by letting go and landing on your skull somehow  - even though this wasn't remotely possible, it kind of felt as if it could happen - and also because the instructor was trying to keep things snappy so we could all get a proper turn).  I now know all the names of the other people in my group, and despite the fact they are basically strangers, feel some level of affection/respect towards all of them, both for having guts and successfully fly-trapezing, and for helping me not die. Always an endearing trait in a fellow human, helping you not die.

It was.... nice?  And I say that as someone who is emphatically not a team-player, joiner, group mentality, team spirit type at all. This kind of thing traditionally repels and disgusts me.  But I guess now I kind of understand why activities like this are good for 'team bonding' (ugh I hope never to use that odious corporate phrase again). I hereby grudgingly acknowledge it as a thing.

In other news, this week I have been capitalising on the big kick of motivation I got from watching Stateless and have been busting my ass. As well as the usual aerial and flexibility classes at NCCA, I have done a yoga class, beginners ballet class, and beginners jazz dance class. That's an unprecedented FIVE exercise sessions! In one week! I'm interested to see how long it takes before my inherent lazy slob-ness kicks back in.

Pic borrowed from
Things I have learned from taking 'beginners' dance classes:
  1. When they say 'Beginners' they actually mean 'people who already have some co-ordination and control over their limbs'.  
  2. I am not naturally gifted in the arena of choreographed dance.
  3. Unlike circus skills venues, dance studios are lined with mirrors. These mirrors are not your friend, they are there to show you exactly how ridiculous/flabby/ancient you look. It is all part of a dastardly plan by the dance people to make you spend every penny you earn on more dance classes, in an attempt to become less ridiculous/flabby/ancient. 
  4. For a gallumphing decrepit crone such as I, dance classes are essentially an exercise in public humiliation (I possibly shouldn't have gone to the famous Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden for my first attempt, but waited and signed up for the 'dance for ABSOLUTE beginners who can't even follow the simplest moves, haha you bunch of RETARDS, we spit on you!' course at an obscure adult education college next term).
  5. Despite points 1-4, dance classes are extremely enjoyable and energizing. Really! I will probably go back to the ballet one as I could see it improved my posture and limb-control within minutes.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Circus Video of the Month - January

I know I'm a day late with this post, but shhhhh, maybe no-one else has noticed!

It's that time again! Time for me to share another fabulous diamond in the rough of circus videos on YouTube.  This feature is kind of like Humans of New York - except, I don't interview the subjects,  share their moving life stories, have an incredibly popular Facebook page, or the slightest clue what I'm doing.

It's absolutely nothing like Humans of New York.

ANYWAY, here is this month's offering.  To be fair it's not really much of a secret, this one.  The video actually comes up on the first page when you search 'static trapeze', but it is one of the most-watched trapeze videos for a very good reason - it's lovely.

The trapezista here is Shannon Gray Collier, whose personal website unfortunately seems to have expired, but from what I can determine is American, does a fair bit of performing and was big on competitive athletics growing up. There's a more polished version of this act on her YouTube page, but I prefer this one. I don't know why, there's just something about it that is totally captivating.  Maybe it's to do with the small venue? And the fact that she speaks to the audience whilst dangling from the bar, looking like a gangly teenager, before unceremoniously launching into a whole load of stunning mundane-reality-transcendence?

The fact she is incredibly skilled and graceful goes without saying, but Shannon has this lyrical, emotional quality to her movement that I haven't seen anywhere else on trapeze. This, together with her total concentration, delicate control and ability to be completely absorbed in what she is communicating somehow makes it really moving.

When you combine all of this with the connection and responsiveness to the music it just equals infinitely watchable - and when I say infinitely, I actually don't think it's possible to get tired of watching this video! (Of course it helps that the song is SO GOOD. Whatever happened to The Cinematic Orchestra? Are they still around? I need to look into this).