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When Training Hurts Your Heart

Photo by Masaru Watanabe

Photo by Masaru Watanabe

So, Dear Danglers, I know I promised you a bloggie on class etiquette (it’s coming!), but I find I have something else on my heart today. Indulge me, won’t you?

Tough Training – When Your Heart is Breaking

Going “back to school” with German wheel lessons was one of the best (and hardest) things to ever happen to me as a teacher. I cannot wrap my brain around what I’ve learned about myself as a student, person, teacher– literally every lesson is a revelation. I would love to say that it’s been a series of pleasant discoveries, but it’s mostly been a lot of “ugly crying” and sheepish apologies. *sigh*

I went to Wheel Weekend in Chicago this past weekend– love it!!! I get to spend time with the superstars of wheel and train with some of the best coaches in the world. I wound up being spotted by a top-level coach I hadn’t worked with before. I was nervous, so I chose a move that was working reasonably well, but I still didn’t feel comfy doing alone. He tried to teach me a new technique, but I just couldn’t get it into my body, and failed again and again… and again. After about ten tries, he threw up his hands and said, “OK – I think we leave this.” And he turned abruptly, and walked away.

He didn’t come back to spot me that day, or the next, or the next, spending the majority of his time with the advanced students. I was OK with that. What I wasn’t OK with was being given up on – designated unteachable. Sounds like such a little thing, doesn’t it? But I was left breathless with hurt. I felt all my shortcomings and failures as a student rushing up at me.  Something broke in that moment.

Teachers – Your Words Carry More Weight than You Can Imagine

Today, I am left with a Very Uncomfortable Feeling. How many times have my careless words bruised a sensitive student? How many times has a heart been broken because I’ve had a bad day? How often have my students – who I LOVE – felt the full measure of my frustration, either with them or with my inadequacies as a teacher? How often has a student left my class with their light a little dimmer?

It’s a horrifying thought – that in a moment of frustration or carelessness, I might create scars that last for years, if not forever. That I might unwittingly kill the spark of love a student has for the work, and replace it with the kind of dull, sick feeling I have now whenever I look at my wheel. We forget – we forget how much responsibility we have been given to keep them safe – not just their bodies, but their spirits. Their heart for the work.

I jumped into Johannes (my beautiful wheel) last night for the first time since The Incident. Let’s just say it was a hard class, for a number of reasons. I’m a pick-yourself-up-dust-yourself-off-and-get-your-ass-in-gear kind of person, but every time I rocked, my failure rose up to meet me. I found it more painful to be in my wheel than out of it.

For the Student – Moving On

I’m not exactly sure what to say here, because it’s new territory for me too. I cannot bear the thought of a life without wheel, so I suppose forging ahead is the only option.

Speaking as a teacher, I can tell you this. We have horrible days, frustrating moments, times when you terrify us. We have times when we feel like we’ve tried everything, and that we are failing you. And that is our shit, not yours. And it’s unacceptable when we make it yours. So, when you find your light a little dimmer, when your hand on the fabric or the bar feels more like condemnation than joy, here is a piece I come back to again and again:

“To Have Without Holding”, by Marge Piercy

“Learning to love differently is hard, love with the hands wide open, love with the doors banging on their hinges, the cupboard unlocked, the wind roaring and whimpering in the rooms rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds that thwack like rubber bands in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open stretching the muscles that feel as if they are made of wet plaster, then of blunt knives, then of sharp knives. It hurts to thwart the reflexes of grab, of clutch; to love and let go again and again. It pesters to remember the lover who is not in the bed, to hold back what is owed to the work that gutters like a candle in a cave without air, to love consciously, conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing me, but you thrive, you glow on the street like a neon raspberry, You float and sail, a helium balloon bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing on the cold and hot winds of our breath, as we make and unmake in passionate diastole and systole the rhythm of our unbound bonding, to have and not to hold, to love with minimized malice, hunger and anger moment by moment balanced.”

Sorry if I’ve overshared, hope it’s not awkward when we see each other next. 😉 Keep your heads up, Dear Danglers. Love and pull-ups, Laura


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19 comments on “When Training Hurts Your Heart”

  1. Carly Reply

    This is a great post and explains the primary reason I always try to be very encouraging as a teacher, even if the student is acting negative.

    I think it’s good to remember that people who hold themselves to very high standards (like me and probably like you, too, or so I would guess) sometimes interpret others’ comments as negative and discouraging when they’re actually meant to be neutral. It’s a way of reflecting our own feelings and perceptions on others. I experienced this during an incident yesterday, and actually it’s something I struggle with on a near-daily basis. So I don’t know how to make it better, but I do know that it has helped me a little bit to try to be conscious of how my own standards for myself color my perception of others’ comments and actions. Basically, I try to repeat to myself, “Carly, it’s not all about you. Chill out.” 🙂

  2. Mel Reply

    Thanks for this. I had an instructor once refer to me as a “slow learner” (not to my face, but it got back to me). Which is entirely true, as someone with no appreciable background in anything that would remotely help with body awareness, it’s something I don’t have any trouble admitting to myself. But it really stings when it comes from someone you thought you was helping you to learn and grow as an aerialist. I can’t even imagine taking another class with her, who wants to feel like their teacher is silently judging them while they fumble through something new?

  3. Ashlay Reply

    Wow. 🙁 I know how that feels and it suuuucks. It’s hard to come back to that thing that just glares at you from a dusty corner- a slimy pile of dead bravado sucked hollow by being written off as a failure by someone you respect. But- sometimes the only way to save that pile is to just leave that thing be for a while. The knowledge is there now- you’re brain has to sort it out and you have to let it. When I was in college I was trying to learn how to solder silver- a very basic skill for that major. It took me three f’ing semesters and my prof didn’t even want to mess with me after a while. Then the next semester we had a guest professor. Like freaking magic, he does one demonstration and the click in my brain I swear was deafening. He just showed us a slightly different way to do it. He will always have a place in my heart for that. Point being- don’t give up. Please. 🙂 Johannes loves you as much as we do. James and the Giant Peach taught me that when you can’t figure out a problem, look at it a different way.
    Some trainers only want to train the ones who already know what to do. Teachers are the ones who grab the rest of us by the hand and help us learn how and to love these contraptions as much as they do. You’re a teacher. 🙂

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Ashlay – perfect words. You actually just jolted me into a completely different perspective – thank you, thank you, thank you. 🙂

  4. Jen Reply

    Ugh, I’m so sorry! That feels awful. I once had a guest instructor say something along the lines of “Did you not WANT to do it, or did you just not try?” It still feels horrible, because it was a skill I’ve been struggling with then and now. Months later, I had another wonderful new-to-me instructor give me a legitimate reason for/potential fix for this skill. What a difference perspective can make!

    If I were you, I would try to think of your experience in another way. Perhaps your instructor realized that continuing to try this skill in the face of multiple failed attempts would just be repping bad muscle memory. Easy for me to say, right? I hope you can find your excitement for wheel again!

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Thanks, Jenn! I think it would be easier to re-frame if he hadn’t avoided me for the next two days. 😉 BUT, I’m sure he was frustrated with himself too, and I can’t say I blame him for wanting to avoid discomfort. On a positive note, I did get some great coaching from Wolfgang B, who is one of my absolute favorites.

  5. Kate Reply

    This is so true, and such a struggle as both a student as a teacher. I tend to be very direct (sometimes even blunt) as a person, which of course comes through in my teaching. I’ve been criticized for being too direct, but I’ve also had students who loved that about me. Ultimately I can’t change my personality, and what one person loves in a teacher may be exactly what someone else hates (I, for instance, HATE it when a coach feels the need to “cheerlead” me. I’m a grown-up. I know I did that trick wrong. Just tell me how to fix it already.)

    I always try to be supportive and point out the things a student is doing correctly, and I don’t think I’ve ever “given up” on someone. But I do know that I sometimes get frustrated with my own lack of communication skills. It’s not always easy to come up with another explanation of a technique when the student obviously isn’t understanding the way that’s clearest to you as a teacher. While my frustration in these cases is never with the student, I’m sure there have been students who interpreted it that way, which makes me SO sad.

    Any teachers out there who’ve dealt with this?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Kate, we may actually be the same person. 😉 I am also super candid, and I think it’s one of the things my students really value. This coach and I clearly were not a love connection. I’m also working on my verbal cuing skills, as students can clearly hear the frustration in my voice when, instead of saying something another way, I just say it LOUDER and with more EMPHASIS. 😉

  6. Lauren Reply

    Right on! It is so important to look at yourself when these situations arise. I feel that the most important thing is believing in your student. As a student, in Chicago, I had a similar experience learning static trapeze beats. My instructor simply said (on my first attempt of learning this) that “some people get it and some do not” when I asked what exactly I was doing wrong. Well guess who has no problem doing beats now….that’s right… So never underestimate your students they are the ones with the heart! Encourage, encourage, encourage.

  7. Karen Bolda Reply

    Many of us learn by doing, and cannot process verbal information while attempting a new move. I had a wonderful teacher who would just touch the body part that was doing the wrong thing and say maybe one word, like “bend”, and then I would get it. Now that I am a teacher, I keep a look out for those who may listen as hard as they can, but still won’t retain it while they are doing the move. I keep them low so I can reach them, stop talking, and help guide the motion.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      I love that, Karen. I am a kinesthetic learner, and have a “no talking and wheeling” policy. Until I “feel” something, it doesn’t compute, and I absolutely can’t process information in the moment. I love the one word idea – what a wonderful technique! Love love love. I’m going to begin working with that tonight! Thank you!

  8. Jackie Reply

    I am coming back to silks from an injury. I am happy to say that I have one of the best and most encouraging teachers ever! She is such a rock and she is really helping me to get back into my practice. I think this is because she has been in a similar situation. We all learn from the mistakes we make and we witness others make. That’s how we get better!

    I am also an elementary school teacher. Your post resonates with me on that level as well. I never want to be that teacher that destroys some part of a child’s joy in learning. It’s HARD to keep your cool though! I am going to share this with the staff at my school as a reminder of how much strength our words and actions have on others.

  9. cc Reply

    This is a really insightful post for so many reasons and it is completely timely since I had a very challenging day yesterday flying. I’m nowhere skilled enough to teach any sort of aerial arts, but I do help out with trapeze classes where there are beginners, and this is a really good reminder for me. When someone is encountering flying for the first time and they’re finding it challenging, I have a lot of responsibility to stay positive when I can see they don’t believe in themselves. It’s a fine line because I am NOT the teacher and don’t want to sidecoach, but I do feel it’s helpful to have a friendly face and cheerleader when you’re climbing a 30′ ladder. (haha, I also get to high five them first when they catch the bar on the return since I usually help them take their lines off 😉
    On the flip side, I also understand how they feel when they’re trying their hardest to make their body do something and it just will not listen for whatever reason. I am having the hardest time fixing my takeoff right now. I can feel it when it’s right but unfortunately I haven’t been able to really get the best feel for it to really make it feel like second nature and it can be so discouraging since nobody can really “fix” that for me. Fortunately I have an amazing coach who has open arms and a really supportive community. I mean my confidence took a huge nosedive yesterday and if someone had been poo-pooing me, WOW! It’s already a job to pick myself up from the dumps and dust myself off! LOL!
    If this is helpful, when these “problems” arise, I try to remind myself that one day my experience in correcting it and making it great will give me the vocabulary and skills to be able to encourage someone else who is having the same problem. That’s the wonderful thing about difficulties – when you go through them, it is a step above sympathy. You have real empathy. And you can connect with someone on a human level in a way that speaks to their heart, which may just inspire them to take that next step forward, whatever it may be (and possibly even be that one little “freaking magic moment” that clicks for them too).

  10. mink Reply

    Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We seem to give our consent to our teachers almost without question. Maybe we shouldn’t. You can trust them without giving them consent to make you feel inferior.

    This coach dismissed you and apparently judged you “unteachable” in the time it took to do just 10 tries of a move. That’s a hell of an extrapolation from a very limited data set. Somehow I don’t think it would hurt so much if you didn’t believe it (or part of it). Sure, it’s someone you respect, but EVERYONE is wrong at least some of the time (but I’d venture to say most of the time!) Why in the world would you believe his judgement of you? I bet you’ll discover something really interesting if you choose to pursue an answer.

    I have a practice I do before and after every teaching session. Before I start, I remind myself that I am just a humble servant to the art/science/craft I am about to teach. After a session, the student and I have a 5-minute (or less, or more!) “debriefing” in which I’ll tell the student the 3 best things they did in that session (improvements, etc) and the 3 things they need to work on the most. I point out any moments that I perceived I may have been harsh or said something in a way I didn’t mean (doesn’t happen too often but it still does). Finally, I ask them with specific pertinent questions how they felt about what we did in the session and any ways I could be a better teacher for them next time. I take what they say without trying to defend myself. I simply say, “Thank you for letting me know how you feel”.

  11. Kate Reply

    I love this post and admit that it even made me teary. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the courage and strength it takes to be truly vulnerable and forthcoming. THAT is what inspires me the most because we can all relate. Thank you, Dear Sister, for sharing this with us. Your sharing makes ME feel stronger. So yes, thank you, thank you, thank you….

    and p.s. I’m so happy to read someone said exactly what you needed to have a perspective change ~ truly magical.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      That brought tears to my eyes, Kate! (but the lovely kind!) Thank you – your encouragement means the world!!!!!! 🙂

  12. Paula Reply

    Thank you so much Laura! Your post and the whole discussion made me teary. Thank you for revealing your struggles and vulnerabilities, it makes me appreciate your achievements even more. You are a wonderful teacher and I never experienced anything other than support from you, even when I felt inadequate because my injuries prevent me from doing so many things 🙁 . It’s great that you have new passions and keep learning new skills!

  13. Alisha R Reply

    Oh my. I have had these experiences many times. Both in life and in trapeze, I took a long break after the first time which continued to happen over and over. Thankfully that relationship has been repaired but I know this so well. Thank you for posting. I actually cried a little reading this.

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