Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Long, Strange, Wonderful Trip

Yes, that's me in the photo above with one leg wrapped around a trapeze rope while the opposite foot grips the other rope between my toes.

Yes, I am performing eight feet off the ground.

No, I never saw myself doing any of this.

When Rick first said to me, "You might really enjoy this," I thought it was kind of funny: A Pilates-based workout where you use props from a real circus. Cute. Sure, why not? I hated conventional gym workouts anyway. And although I'd been a gymnast...oh...25 years ago, I didn't think any of that would really apply here--or even be in my muscle memory.

When I first started taking classes with Rick at Cirque School, not only was I a bit intimidated by these other men (I was taking a men's class) whose bodies were already ripped, but also totally discouraged by my lack of finesse, strength, and stamina. I had considered myself "in shape," as I did cardio, yoga, and swam. But this kicked my ass. I was asked to do a pull up as I was piked under the low trapeze and hanging from my hands. I could only do one. I came home that first night and my hands hurt so bad I couldn't even wash them without pain. Ryan asked me, "Are you sure you want to do this?" and smiled at me. He knew how I'd answer.

I was slightly discouraged. But I was also challenged and intrigued. How the hell did people do this? How on earth would I ever be able to learn these trick names? Why do I need to build up callouses on my hands. I wanted to find out.

The pictures I see now of that first summer of learning all the basic vocabulary, while also just building up some muscle in my core and my arms and shoulders, I begin to see how far I've come:

Looking at the picture of me trying to climb the tissu I can tell how much I still needed to learn. But what so many of my classmates taught me was that this wasn't about self-recrimination. It wasn't about beating myself up. It was about learning a whole new way of using my body and mind.

I was not always sure that I really wanted to learn, of course. When I developed muscle soreness or stiffness--or when I was having a bad self-esteem day--I was all too eager to look at the people around me and feel like there was no way to keep up. But then I would learn the mechanics of another new trick. I'd be asked what I wanted to learn. I'd find myself hanging upside down from my legs and feeling the blood rushing happily to my head.

By the time Cirque School had acquired a new space in the spring of 2009, I'd been taking a class every week or two for a year. My body was changing, though I couldn't see it. But, more importantly, I'd discovered an outlet for so many other things. A bad day at work or a day spent feeling listless had to disappear when I set foot on the mats at the school to warm up, stretch, and begin to do work on the apparatus. I had to be physically and mentally present. I also needed to use my creativity as we began prepping for a long-delayed student showcase.

When you begin to put together any kind of "routine" you necessarily become fixated on it, second guessing some things, wondering what you should do or not do, and wondering how the hell you will ever get through it. We had to choose music from a film, so I chose a song I'd always loved (and wrote about in my last blog post). I wanted to create a zombie horseman of sorts...a character who comes back to life for a few last moments before being able to move on.

In piecing together the moves and making them flow, I had developed a sequence of tricks that nailed my thigh every single time I performed it, leaving me with horrible bruises week after week. Is this really worth it? I wondered over and over. As I found out between November 15 and 22, the answer is a resounding yes.

I had been neurotic and nervous through the rehearsal process. I am no seasoned showman, after all. But by the time we could hear a large crowd buzzing around out on the floor and the lights dimmed, I was suddenly lit up with an electric urge to be out there, to get on with the show. By the time my cue was set to make my entrance to perform, the nerves were no longer there. Instead, I was secretly excited--the adrenaline was pumping, and I wanted it to look effortless and beautiful. I wanted to do justice to everything I'd told everyone for 18 months in the abstract.

I think I did.

And now I can't wait to get back on the bar.