Category Archives: Uncategorized

“BUT I WAS TOLD NEVER TO POINT MY TOES!” Why the WHY Matters in Circus

“NEVER point your toes in a double ankle hang.” (false – depends on the wrap)
“ALWAYS immediately trash all rigging that has been dropped.” (false)
“NEVER question your instructor.” (absolutely absurd)
“ALWAYS bring your teacher wine and chocolate!” (ding ding ding! We have a winner!)

I teach an ankle hang that allows for pointed toes. If I had a dollar for every time I told a new student to point their toes going in, and heard, “But my teacher said NEVER to point in this hang!”, I’d be a rich woman indeed. I ask, “Why not?” (…..crickets……..) The student never has a real answer, they’re just fairly certain that they’ll die if they point their toes. Now, I’m all for erring on the side of caution, but the “why” matters in circus. It matters a lot.

I’ve been teaching for 17 years (do us both a favor and don’t do that math), and here’s one of the biggest differences between unseasoned instructors, and those of us who have been around (and around and around) the block: we know our theory. We know WHY you wrap to the front. We know WHY you shouldn’t point your toes here, but totally can here. We know WHY you’re flailing around like a demented bumble bee on your split wraps. And YOU can know why too!

Understanding the theory surrounding your apparatus or discipline allows you to “get it” from the inside out. Try to:

1. LISTEN. Start listening for the whys. I (mostly) guarantee your coach drops little nuggets of theory here and there – train yourself to listen for them.
2. WRITE IT DOWN – take notes. Take notes take notes take notes. You will progress faster, and you’ll find yourself becoming a little circus detective. Write.it.down.
3. ASK – ask questions! If you can’t see an obvious reason for something, ask a question. Not sure what’s holding you in the air? Question. Maybe see another way of doing it? Question.
4. QUESTION AUTHORITY (Trust me – I’m a teacher.) – As your understanding grows, you may suspect that your coach is teaching something a particular way because that’s the way they were taught. A good coach will JUMP on a better (or even different) method – be it getting into a move, communicating an idea, or reevaluating their theory. Respectfully engage in a bit of detective work, but don’t be a twerp about it. Phrases that can help include: “I’m having trouble understanding why we do xyz this way. Can you help me with this one?” Or “Are there other ways of getting into that? Could you also….” If you’re not a disruptive poo head about it, most coaches are happy to explore.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you make your teacher want to take out a hit on you by challenging them on everything that comes out of their mouths – it’s a fine line between eager & curious and confrontational & obnoxious. But take charge of your learning! Some folks have an absurd notion that learning is a one-way street from teacher to student (all you teachers just started a hurricane somewhere in the South Pacific with all that eye rolling you just did). True learning is anything but passive!!!! Pursue the “whys” and watch your training get deep like an ocean. Now, where’s my wine and chocolate? Anyone? Love and pullups, Laura

OMG – Your Back Knee is Killing My Eyeballs! Prettify Your Split!

 

Now, I know YOU never split with your back leg slightly bent. I’m not talking to you, nope, just talking to myself….. BUT, if I were talking to you, I would tell you this…..

That ugly back leg is all I see when I look at your split.

It doesn’t matter how low you go, it doesn’t matter how good your hair looks that day. All that matters is that the line of the back leg is broken, and so are my eyeballs.

Fix It Quick!

Everyone thinks lower is better when it comes to a split, but not when it comes at the expense of lines!

  • Lift your split up. You heard me. I would rather have you higher with good lines than with your ankles at your ear level and an ugly back leg. Lift.it.up.
  • Press your back leg straight. Straighter. It’s still not straight. Think about:
    • Lifting your back kneecap – feel it sliding up as you tighten your quads.
    • Lengthening the back of the knee.
    • Pretending you don’t have knees. Yes, I’m serious. This totally works for some students!
    • Feel as if someone is pulling your legs long (like taffy) in two different directions. You can also pretend your legs are light sabers or laser beams. Add sound effects if you wish.
    • Bring your split all the way up, tighten your knees, go back down, and have someone yell at you the second they see a bend. Extra points if they do it in German – hey, it works for me on wheel!

Go forth and SPLIT, people! Love and pull-ups, Laura

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Stop Looking Down – People Are Gonna Think You Dropped Money

Look out! Point at someone!

Stop it. Stop it right now. You’re doing it again. Quit it! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

You’re looking down. At your feet, at the floor, at your bits, at I-don’t-even-know-what. Girl, people are gonna think you dropped some money! Pay attention to where you’re looking, because the audience will look where you do.

This is an issue of technique, so it may take some practice if you’re used to doing the following:

  • Nodding your head when you climb. Look where you’re going! You don’t want to crunch your neck looking straight up at the ceiling, but your chest should be slightly lifted (boobies to the sky!), and your gaze directed up. If you’re nodding like a bobble head doll as you climb, remember – your feet don’t need you to watch them in order to climb.
  • Dropping your head in splits. This is PRIME looking down time! What are you looking at? Lift your gaze to the horizon! This lengthens the neck, and we don’t just get a view of the top of your head.
  • Looking at your bits. Why are you looking at your bits? Stop looking at your bits.

Don’t Look Down, a Truly Brilliant Poem by Laura Witwer

I am not quite sure where to look,

I did not learn this from a book.

I do not need to see my feet

To know that they’re attached to me.

I will not look down when I climb,

I will not look down all the time!

I will not look down in a splits,

I will not look down at my bits.

I will not look down at the floor,

I will not look down anymore!

 

Seriously, I missed my calling. Love and pull-ups, Laura
 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

The Circus Revolution: Make Resolutions That Will Actually Stick!

happy-new-yearThose of you who have known and trained with me for years know that, after a series of small but annoying injuries, I pretty much stopped training. Everything. No silks, no wheel, no workouts, nothing. Cue inertia. The longer I went without training, the harder everything became. The harder everything became, the less I wanted to train…. Cue depression. Cue weight gain. Cue muscle loss. Cue Ben & Jerry’s (shut up, feelings!). Oh, there was lots of Ben & Jerry’s.

My wake-up call came when, at a recent gig, I audibly grunted when inverting at the end of my act. Thank God the music was loud, ya’ll, because it was NOT ladylike or glamorous. For the first time, my “easy version” of my act was hard. Not just hard – hard. Now, I have two choices: roll over and say die, or fight the good fight (guess which one I’m choosing?). The road is long and Game of Thrones-y, and I see tears and wailing in my near future, but I’m not ready to retire, so there we are!

Getting Back in the Game, or Starting a New Thing

It’s easy to set a goal or make a resolution, right? We go in with the bright shiny intensity of a thousand suns, and YES! I’m going to do it this time! This is so great! Until it starts to suck. And then you miss a day. Then two. Then it’s February and you’re no longer pursuing that resolution because BEN & JERRY’S. Shut UP, feelings!

The good news is that we can sidestep the February Fall-Out, but it means being more realistic than we might want to be (le sigh). It’s a lot like a diet – pick one that you can’t maintain day after day for a year and you’ll be snarfing a pint of Cherry Garcia in two weeks. It’s the same with resolutions. So, consider:

  • Set real goals, not fantasy ones. I have a vision of myself in my head as some yogic goddess, all glistening muscles and flat tummy and beatific zen glow. Then, I look in the mirror while I’m heaving and sweating through my BUTI yoga torture session and want to cry when I see how far I am from that picture in my head. So, I’ve started focusing on the REAL goal – to feel strong, sexy, and flexible again. Yeeeeeeeees. See the difference? One lights my fire, the other douses it with tears. Bring on the fuego, por favor.
  • Focus on process too, not just the end result. It’s great to have a mental picture of what you want to use as a yardstick (unless you’re beating yourself with it), but that end point isn’t as fixed as you might imagine. Think of training as a spectrum or continuum – you’ll ALWAYS be somewhere between the two poles. While it’s great to know where you’re going, you also have to be where you are. Deep like an ocean, people.
  • Comparison is a 4 Letter Word. OK, it’s a 10 letter word, but you know what I mean. I compete with the performance athlete I was 10 years ago; you might compete with a past self, or your best friend, or that girl with the pointy toes that would make Baryshnikov’s heart go pitty-pat. Bring it back to you, bring it back to now. You have the opportunity to manifest something that is utterly unique to you – and only you – right now. If comparing and competing gets you revved up in a positive way, use it! Otherwise, ain’t nobody got time for that.
  • Manage Your Expectations. You are not going to have a straight legged inversion by Friday. Unless you are, in which case I’m not talking to you. Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for major frustration by setting goals that no normal human could reach. This is super tied up with….
  • Don’t set a training timeline. If you were in charge of how fast you learn, how quickly you put on muscles, how fast you can make those muscles stretch, well, wouldn’t YOU be perfect! But, you’re not. It’s going to take the time it’s going to take, and you’ll be a hot mess if you set a timeline for something you only have so much control over. Instead of focusing on result here, bring it back to process: “I’m going to silks class twice a week, and stretching for 15 minutes 5 nights a week.” This is something you can actually control!
  • Trust the Process. The speed of progress may not be something you can directly control, but you CAN trust the process. If you show up, if you put in the work, progress will happen. This is how training works. If you are having trouble seeing or believing that you’re moving forward, keep a training journal – it’s very enlightening.
  • Healthy Discipline vs Letting Yourself Off the Hook or Beating Yourself to a Pulp. Being awesome, dynamic, interesting people, it’s not surprising that we also will spend a great deal of time either letting ourselves completely off the hook or senselessly beating our heads against the wall because we’re “not working hard enough”. It can be hard to find that middle ground, and it takes constant curating to make sure you stay there. Your coach can be a huge help here! Aim for a healthy discipline – you don’t get points for crying after every class.

Revolutionary Resolution Worksheet

I am working on (ex: straight legged inversions):

I will do (ex: three inversions at the end of class when I’m really tired):

My first small milestone is (ex: keeping my legs straight on the way down):

Record your results each time you train. Celebrate every small milestone, and throw a freaking party when you reach your big goal. DO NOT sweep your success under the rug.

 

Love and pullups (and belated HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!), Laura

Hey! If you’re in NYC, consider jump starting your New Years Resolution with a “Resolution Pack”! Check it out!

 

Watch a SassyPants Beginner Demo Class with Steve from Refinery29!

Hello Dear Danglers! This past week, I had the enormous pleasure of putting Steve Doss from Refinery29 through his paces in this short class demo. If you’re curious about what it all looks like, take a peek! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

HELP ESPANA STREB TRAPEZE GET A BRAND NEW AIRBAG!!!!!

Hello Dear Danglers! As many of you know, the Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) is one of my aerial homes. They’re raising money for a new airbag, and here’s Bobby Hedglin to tell you all about it!

 

Dear Friends,

The STREB Lab for Action Mechanics opened its garage door more than 10 years ago and, shortly thereafter, the España-STREB Trapeze Academy (ESTA) was established. Over that time, we’re proud to have built a program that provides a space for exploration, development, and risk and you’ve been an important part of it all.

As a member of the Aerial community, I am writing to you to ask your support.

We’ve had our current airbag-style landing system for about 6 years now. That 800 pounds of red, yellow, blue, and black tarp has served us well, but it’s time to upgrade our equipment. After a lot of research and planning, we’ve decided on a unique system developed by Freddy Osler, a manufacturer in New Zealand. With input from Noe España of the famed Flying Españas, we have co-designed a landing system with Osler that will revolutionize the possibilities on our rig. This innovative design cradles the body, no matter how you hit the mat—head dives, belly smacks, cannon balls. Plus, the new mat comes with new motors that are much quieter than our current blowers, so you’ll be able to hear the music better, and, of course, your instructors.

In order to raise the $16,000 needed to bring this new state-of-the-art system to SLAM, we are launching a GOFUNDME campaign. We want to start off strong and are turning to you for leadership support. A contribution of ANY amount will make you a Flying Angel and will go a long way in helping us reach our goal.

Please take a look at our video!
https://www.gofundme.com/a-new-airbag-for-espana-streb
Thank you and see you in the air! And hey, “Why walk when you can fly”?

All best,

Bobby Hedglin Taylor
Director –The España-STREB Trapeze Academy

 

An Easy Fix for an Ugly Transition – “The Slice”

As a teacher, I see a lot of (ahem) “creative” transitions. Like angry-badger-in-a-whirlpool level creative. The vast majority are a natural part of the learning process which we ALL go through (and let’s face it – they’re HILARIOUS on Instagram). But, what if I told you that you could take one move from unseemly to unbelievable right this minute? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…… The Slice.

What is “The Slice”?

The Slice is an easy and glamorous way of bringing your torso between the fabrics. Instead of recreating the extra-terrestrial birth scene from the movie “Aliens”, two small adjustments can make that no-no say yes-yes. It creates better lines, and is much safer than that weird grabby thing you do. Try it!

  1. Both arms up, then “slice” one arm through the fabrics and press it back.
  2. Shift the other arm through, press back.
  3. It’s important to apply pressure to the poles of the fabric with the back of the upper arm – do NOT let your arms sweep forward, or your shoulders round.

 

 

When Should I Use It?

Use The Slice any time you need to get your bubbies forward and your hips back (going into crucifix, for example). And the best part? You need zero skill to do it – it’s something you can rock on day one. Go forth and Slice, friends! Love and pull-ups, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

Flex for Jesus! Don’t Get Slingshot-ed Off Your Apparatus

If you’re a dancer, or if your feet go into spasms when you have to point one and flex the other, you’ve likely struggled with the dilemma – to point, or not to point? Friends, that IS the question.

During some moves, my students regularly hear me holler, “FLEX FOR JESUS” while they’re whizzing around in the ceiling. It’s a reminder to commit to a strong, well-placed, deliberately flexed foot, which goes a long way towards keeping your butt safely in the air.

 

Hold the Phone – Shouldn’t I ALWAYS Point Everything in Circus?

Well, no. There are a few reasons you might not want to point your foot!

  • When your flexed foot is keeping you alive (example: single ankle hang).
  • When you’re being “contemporary”, and using ALL the flexed feet.
  • When you’re having a leg spasm in the air because you haven’t been to class in a month. Ahem.

 

20150224_201325_Hagrid_GrungeWhen to Rock a Flexed Foot

To every thing there is a season, and that goes double for feet (HA! Folks, I’ll be here all week). There are times when a flex is not only appropriate, but essential.

  • When…it…just is! Some moves just work best with a strong flex. Now, while rules are meant to be broken, and many “flex only” moves can be modified to look pointy, leave it to the super advanced students.
  • When you need a larger margin of error. When you’re first learning a traditionally flex-y-foot-y move (kidney squisher, for example), commit to the flex! You want to increase your margin of error, not decrease it by using a sickle-point, which can pop off unexpectedly. If a move is working really well (pssst – ask your coach – your definitions of “working really well” may differ), it might be time to play with….

 

The Sneaky Sickle-Point!

Some moves (think “crochet up the pole”) should start with a flex; once you and this move are besties, you can safely sneak your foot in a sickle-point. It really is a matter of personal preference – a strong flex is a clean, often aesthetically pleasing choice, so commit to one or the other and do it loud and proud.

 

What does a Good Flex Look Like?

In a strong flexed position, the heel should be pushing towards the ceiling, with the shin flush with the fabric or rope. The knee should be pressing straight (again, push like you’re trying to leave a heel print on the ceiling), and the foot should NOT be sickled – it should be nice & straight. Make sure you’re not doing YOGA TOES, where you press through the ball of your foot (also called demi-point).

 

What does a Good Sickle-Point Look Like?

You want a nice strong foot (VIAGRAVATE IT), with a sickle that corresponds to the level of “OH CRAP” you will experience if your foot comes off. For example, if it just means your foot pops off & the fabric slides up your hoo hoo, well, it’s not the best, but it’s not catastrophic – a light sickle is fine. On the other hand, if the oh-crap level is high, as in you get slingshot-ed 20 feet off the fabric, you might want to play that one a little safer.

All in all, don’t be afraid of the flex, make it your friend! Trying to sneak into a sickle-point before you’re ready, or forgetting to flex enough, can have unexpected consequences (chiefly, you splatted on the floor). Go slow and steady, and check with your coach before leveling up to the sickle-point; or, just enjoy the flex! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

Special thanks to my lovely foot model Megan Harris!

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Help Us Save Circus in NYC!

the museIn addition to the usual questions I get asked (“Why do you look mad?” – I have resting grumpy face. “What’s that smell?” – I’m trying out the hippie crystal rock deodorant like I do every summer. And it’s not working, the way it doesn’t every summer. “Why do you have that sharp knife and a murderous look in your eyes?” – because you have interrupted my watching of “Sherlock” and my Benedict Cumberbatch fantasy. RUN.), I am asked one thing above all else: “Why don’t you open your own space?” (deep breath) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA (more breath) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Well, Why DON’T You Open Your Own Space?

In NYC?! Are you crazy? Here’s why: it’s insane. It’s an insane amount of money, an insane amount of paperwork, an insane (and never ending) amount of bureaucracy, an insane amount of insurance, an insane amount of organization and administration, the list goes on and on. When a person or company takes that on, they are …. insane? OR – utterly dedicated, amazing, tireless, and deserving of our support, love, and admiration – because that sh*t is hard.

What’s Happening Now?

It should be no secret that opening any business – especially a circus business – is tough going in NYC, even for company veterans. The number of permits, initial outlay, insurance at a time when only one company will TOUCH the five boroughs of NY, staffing, and more, makes this daunting for the most stalwart businessmen. But, in Brooklyn NY, a small group of die-hard circus folks have tried to “plant” some circus, and it’s up to us to help them grow.

The Muse has been a circus home for dozens of artists, a safe place to learn everything from aerial arts to acro, and a supportive community for all of us. After they were put out of their old studio by a big magazine (thanks, gentrification), they found a new home a bit further out in Brooklyn. But, they’ve hit on a bureaucratic snag! Read their statement below.


Hello, beautiful circus community,

Thank you! The outpouring of questions and concerns we have been receiving about the Muse warms our hearts. We know that everyone has questions and though we would love to address all of you individually, it seems easiest to answer collectively.

The Muse was unexpectedly hit this weekend with an exceptionally expensive amount of permits and space upgrades. These are all things that were in process previously. However, what we thought we had months to make happen now has to happen in a matter of days.  The Muse was not prepared for this expedited process, and if we do not come up with the funding in time the city will close our doors.

We are now trying to raise $15,000 in the next 20 days to save our circus home.  Support in this time of crisis is greatly appreciated.


 

Be the change you want to see. We cannot wait for someone else to do this. If we want circus in NY, we have to support it – not just with our lips, but with our hearts, our bodies, and our pocketbook. Do you think “supporting the arts” is for folks with ALL the moolah? Nope! It’s for you and me. So, here’s what you can do to support circus TODAY!

Action Steps!

If you’re a circus person in NYC, buy a one year training pass for $1000 – that’s less than $20 PER WEEK! If you train in New York, you know how good a deal that is.

Spread the word – share this blog post on your social media network, with your friends, absolutely everywhere you can think of.

Pay what you can. $5? $10? $20?

Go see some amazing circus at the House of Yes on Aug 24th & 25th! Honestly – it’s worth going just so you can take a selfie in one of the bejeweled bathrooms! Click here to snag a night of glitter and awesomeness. 

If we all pull together, we can make a difference! If we want our community to expand, flourish, and continue to be a place where we learn, shine, grow, and teach, WE have to make it happen. I’m thankful every day that people are crazy enough to plant circus in New York. <3 Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

 

The REAL Reasons You’re Not Progressing in Aerial Class – Why Aren’t I Getting Better?

Photo by Masaru Watanabe. Me actively avoiding instruction.

Photo by Masaru Watanabe. Me actively avoiding instruction.

Well, why aren’t you getting better? Totally legit question! With some mostly legit answers. Training is hard, pointing your toe is hard, adulting is hard. Not eating the other half of your child’s cupcake that’s in the fridge not ten feet away is hard. Legit. But what is really standing in the way of your training? (hint: it’s not what you think… or maybe it is)

Reason #1 – You’re Slacking

Yes, you, friend. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it. A little slacking here and there keeps you from becoming a very tense, neurotic mess. #FunToBeAround Sometimes, you cannot – cannot – muster the energy to give 100%. Know what? That’s OK. It really is, especially if you’re a recreational circus-er. BUT (you knew there was a but coming, or a butt), we are creatures of habit. Is 70% a habit for you? Are you writing things down? Videoing your training? Holding yourself to a standard that will result in progress? Because if you’re not, mystery solved.

Write down corrections, take notes, video if you’re allowed. Repeat.

Reason #2 – Your Teacher is Letting You Coast Because You’re a Pain in the Ass When You Get Corrections

Yup – secret’s out! Sometimes, we let you coast. To be fair, there are a number of reasons we might do this: maybe you’re overwhelmed and very sensitive today, or someone else needs more attention at the moment. This should be the exception, not the rule – and if it’s not, have a chat with your coach and ask for more feedback. But sometimes…

… you get a Laura in class! I am the WORST at taking corrections. I will argue, pitch hissies, and fight for my own limitations – it’s honestly a wonder anyone ever bothers to try to teach me. In fact, one day, in German wheel, my coach had had it up to HERE, and said, “Ok. When you’re ready to be a student, you let me know.”….. (crickets)…… (more crickets)….. (it got awkward)……

I got schooled, and rightly so. If you won’t accept feedback from the person who is trying to teach you, don’t be terribly surprised if they stop throwing good stuff your way. Also? You might want to watch that tone (“duh” your teacher a couple of times and watch the fun dynamic that unfolds).

Repeat after me: “Thank you.”

Reason #3 – You’re Never in Class

The number one thing you can do to get better? Show up. Spotty attendance will get you spotty results. Period. Consider too – if fabric class is the only physical exercise you’re getting all week, or the only strength training you slog through, expect a longer road.

Supplement with all sorts of things – Pilates, weight training, toning videos, hire a trainer, whatever. Just pursue strength! Move that booty.

Reason #4 – The Fire is Out

I get this one, I really do. Our relationship with our apparatus is a lot like relationships with people – you’ve got to keep it romantic. Are you in a rut? Not excited to come to class? Not only have I been there, I’m currently there. But, there’s one thing that never fails to get me going again: A GOAL. Revolutionary, I know. We get bored because we get predictable; our brains are wired to crave stimulation (new stuff) and the thrill of the chase (getting something you’ve been working on). You may not always burn with passion, but remember that you’re an active participant in the “relationship”. Spice it up.

Feed your passion by picking out new moves, putting together a piece, scheduling a meeting with your coach to set some goals, or going to see a circus show (video or YouTube if there’s nothing near you). Whatever gets your heart racing.

Reason #5 – Your Teacher Shouldn’t be Your Teacher

That’s right, I said it. Not all teachers and students have good chemistry together. If you and your teacher don’t have a love connection, or things just always feel tense, try out a new coach if that’s an option.

Additionally, if your inner compass is telling you that you’re not getting very good/safe training, the corrections consistently don’t ring true, or if your teacher seems to be winging it, moooooove along. There are lots of coaches who are fabulous, and lots who have exactly zero idea what they’re doing. Train with the former.

Find a new coach if the two of you lack chemistry, or if they’ve got some work to do in the teaching department.

 

If you’ve hit a plateau, or just don’t feel like you’re making ANY progress, talk to your coach! They will have suggestions for what you can focus on, and hey – circus is hard. If you think you’re going to be inverting like a pro in 6 weeks, you may need to manage your expectations.

What gets YOU out of a rut or propels you forward? Comment below! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 
 

 

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.