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!!

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