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THE CLAW: Hand Pain in Aerial Training and What to Do About It

GripAre you waking up with hands that have suddenly aged 50 years over night? Sore joints? Stiff fingers? THE CLAW? Yup. Either you’ve made like Rip van Winkle, or you’ve been training aerial work! What is that pain? Will it go away? Will chocolate cake help? (yes) Welcome to the world of…. arthritis.

The Most Common Cause of Hand Pain

If you’re encountering dull, achy finger joints in the morning or during training, chances are good that you are experiencing good old-fashioned arthritis**, which is quite common early in aerial work (glamorous, no?).  Simply put, arthritis is just inflammation of the joints (read more here). When we begin our training, we’re asking hands, that haven’t been asked to do much more than hold a pen or wield a tennis racket, to suddenly manipulate our body weight and, you know, keep us from falling on our heads. No biggie. Any time you ask your body to do something hard, or even very different, you may experience some inflammation. Don’t panic! You’ve got options.

** If your hand pain is severe, or located in one spot, see a doc! Speaking of doctors, I’m not one. This post is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or care!

What to do About It

OK – you got this. Here we go!

  • Warm up your fingers before you train. Just like the joints and muscles of your shoulders, back, etc., your hands need some love too!
  • Stack your digits on fabrics (see the photo above). If you find your fingers sliding on top of one another, use a bit of rock rosin until your grip gets stronger.
  • Give it time! Those are muscles in there! They won’t get Herculean overnight.
  • Train your grip and hands. There are so many ways to do this! Train on your apparatus, yoga (manipulating your body weight), grip apparatus like Dyna-Flex or stress balls, free-weight training, hand exercises, etc.
  • Lotions and potions! There are a number of anti-inflammatory creams on the market if you find that the pain is following you throughout the day. I use Tiger Balm and Penetrex (that one sounds so naughty!).
  • NSAIDs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofin are also an option.
  • Acupuncture! You may feel like a human pincushion, but acupuncture is one of the most effective ways I’ve found to deal with inflammation. It may even be covered by your insurance!
  • Trip to the doc. Pain getting worse? Feeling “grind-y”? It’s worth a trip to the doctor to find out what’s happening in there.

 

Click here for a good PDF of hand stretching & strengthening exercises! 

 

Don’t worry – it won’t last forever, and you’ll be grippin’ like a ninja! Love and pull-ups, Laura

  

 

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Awakening and Discovering: a French Approach to Training Part 1

Acro in front of the Eiffel Tower!

Acro in front of the Eiffel Tower!

Those who know me are also privy to my embarrassing (and completely irrational) love of the French. From the quirkiest Quebecois to the snootiest Parisian, j’adore les francais! As far as I’m concerned, they’ve nearly perfected l’erotique, creme brulee, and the delicious, zany humor I’ve come to crave from small French-Canadian circus companies. While I’ve never acquired their taste for stinky cheese, and I’m entirely too enthusiastic about, well, everything, I love their approach to early learning: awaken and discover.

If you take your bebe to swimming lessons in Paris expecting her to actually learn to swim, oh non – you will be disappointed. Instead, until around age 6, bebes are encouraged to awaken to the joys of being in the water, and discover the wonderful things floating will allow their little bodies to do. Then they learn to swim. C’est merveilleux!

My face when Angela tried to take my cheese away.....

My face when Angela tried to take my cheese away…..

The French coaches I studied with in Montreal differed quite a bit from my American and Russian coaches in a number of ways. In the infancy of my training, after learning the basics of foot knot, inversion, hip key, etc, I was also strongly encouraged to play and experiment, see how I could move, see what was possible. In the crush of our “do it now have it now need it now instant gratification must be perfect tomorrow” culture, I find this particularly refreshing, don’t you? Early on, you will be dreadful (oh trust me – you will). But, perhaps getting better immediately isn’t the point – it’s a time to acquaint yourself and your body with the apparatus. Training isn’t just a means to an end, but a journey that can be as rich as a triple creme brie….mmm, brie….

The next time you’re in class or in the studio, stop for a minute. As you climb, how does the fabric feel? What about the steel bar in your hands? The dull ache of your muscles after a tough class? Take a minute to savor the goodness of training. Try to get a sense of that spark – that ignition and possibility – that can translate into such richness in your work. Have you just begun your circus journey? Or perhaps you’re getting frustrated? Maybe the luster of training is wearing off. Time for some awakening. Time for some discovery. Time for some cheese…. er…. maybe not…. (though I’m fairly sure a gateau au chocolat is calling your name). Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

  

 

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Make Like a Ballerina – Why Dance and Circus Go Hand in Hand

TangoYou know this girl. She comes to class the first time and can’t climb (or do much of anything, really), but DANG she looks good! While some of us are heaving ourselves through the air with all the grace and daintiness of a linebacker, she looks cool and poised, even when she’s struggling. We hate her just a little (tell the truth!), but we also want to know her secret. I think you know where I’m going with this.

Why Dance Makes for Happy Aerialists & Circus Artists

Even if someone has only studied ballet for a few years, it shows. Folks with dance training under their belts:

  • have better body awareness (where their body is in space, and what it’s doing)
  • have better muscular control
  • demonstrate consistently better lines
  • have lower rates of injury thanks to better body alignment
  • tend to have greater range of motion in joints and muscles

 

I’ve Never Taken Dance, and I’m 78. Ballet is Intimidating, and What Good Will it Do Me if I Start Now?

Um, I hate to point this out, but you’re going to be 78 whether you train ballet or not. And didn’t everyone tell you that you were insane for starting circus training so late in life? Tell them to suck it. Also – we’re not aiming for the Bolshoi auditions two weeks from Saturday. We’re aiming for little improvements.

  • even a class or two a month makes a difference in your level of body awareness! This doesn’t have to be something you do three times a week unless you’re a hopeless over-achiever. Find an adult class and make with the plies!
  • it is gooooooooood to work in front of a mirror. I always think I look SO amazing until I see myself on video and it’s all Bent-Knee-Sickled-Foot-Fest-2014. Correcting your form in real time is so valuable!
  • ballet strengthens oodles of supporting muscles that keep joints happy.
  • dance training can reduce your risk of injury by creating muscle memories of correct alignment.
  • it’s great to “cross train” – moving your body (stretching, strengthening) in unfamiliar ways.
  • looking more like a linebacker than a ballerina? Time to learn some grace and, even more importantly, how to move from your core.

Don’t be intimidated – you got this!!!! If you’re here in NYC, Circus Warehouse offers a great barre class for aerialists and circus artists – check it out! Love and pull-ups, Laura

Now, for your viewing pleasure, this is one of my favorite YouTube videos of all time. You will die laughing. Enjoy!

 

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Micro-Movements – An OCD Aerialist’s Training Dream

 

I’ve encountered so many different types of learners among my students. It’s profoundly exciting for me when they take charge of their training, and ask clearly for what they need (if they know what they need, that is). Today, we’re going to talk about the beauty of the micro-movement, and its ability to put the “BAM!” in your training.

 


Micro-movement – a very small additive training goal (straight arm, hips up, point left foot, etc). 


 

Story Time

It’s no secret that there are MANY aspects of learning wheel that I’ve wrestled with. So much of the struggle has been determining how I learn. With silks, I saw it, I did it. I’m strong (thanks, genetics!), and had a dance background, so fabrics came easily to me. Wheel? Oh no. Not at all.

One day during a lesson, as Chris was giving me notes, I may or may not have gently lost my sh*t. I felt so completely overwhelmed and hopeless – it was too much. I started to cry (Chris loves it when that happens….), and blubbered/snotted/hiccuped out, “I need ONE thing. Please – I can’t do ALL the things!” And then, it clicked. We knew we had just found the thing that would reliably move my training forward.

 

Small Victories, Courtesy of Micro-Movements!


 

How It Works

  1. Get a visual on the move.
  2. If possible, have your coach has help you through it near the floor or with a spot.
  3. Give it a go, or try an abbreviated version. Feel like it just needs practice? Great! Zero percent success? See Step 4.
  4. Figure out the next tiny step. It may mean going back to a basic skill that needs work (wrapping your ankles, for example), or identifying an area where you need more strength.
  5. Do the move again, trying to add in your micro-movement. Do it until you’ve successfully executed your goal.
  6. If you cannot complete the micro-movement in five or six tries, it may be a tad ambitious. Break it down further, or re-evaluate whether this move is even something you should be attempting yet. (ex: until you have an in-air inversion, working in-air hip key is kind of pointless).

 

This technique has COMPLETELY changed my training. Completely. I’m learning faster, and having considerably more success. Some of you may work better tackling a move all at once, but for those of us who need more of a feeling of control and focus? Give it a go!  Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

Psssst…. Here’s another way to break it down!


 

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“Hey – I Can Do That!” STOP! You’re Not as Awesome as You Think… Self Efficacy in Circus

… or, maybe you are. But one of the keys to mastering any apparatus? Having an accurate estimation of your abilities. Without that, you may think you’re more of a badass than you actually are, OR you may be way too hard on yourself without reason. Knowing “where you are” allows you to direct your training by:

  • understanding whether you’re ready to attempt moves or train by yourself
  • gaining a sense of which tricks you’re ready to tackle
  • playing to your strengths (strong shoulders, flexy back, etc.)

 The Process of Learning Circus

Learning a single move goes something like this:

“I’m excited to learn this! I don’t know what the f*ck I’m doing yet (and OOOWWWW!!!!), but this is cool!

“OK – it’s not pretty, but I’m getting through it without dying! I still need a spot or eyes on me though.”

“I can do this on my own! I’m comfortable with how this goes, but my knees/feet/wrists, etc are ugly. Needs cleaning.”

“I don’t hate this on video! My lines are clean, and I’m super comfy.”

“This feels like part of me. I can trouble shoot it easily, and I want to play. Time to dance it and make it my own!”

 

Learning an apparatus follows a really similar arc.

“This is amazing! I am so bad! But I love it, so I don’t care.”

“Look at meeeeeeee! I can do stuff! I still suck, but I’m seeing some progress!”

“Ugh. This is hard. I am seeing no progress. I should be BETTER than this by now! I must be the worst at this. Ever.”

“HEY!!!! I GOT IT I GOT IT! That thing that I’ve been working on for 25 weeks! I got it! Maybe I don’t suck?”

“Seeing some progress! I’m not the best, but I’m surely not the worst!”

“OK! I’m working comfortably. I have a lot of vocab under my belt, my instructor doesn’t have to tell me to straighten my arm/leg/etc.”

“I’m pretty good at this! Time to create an act.”

 

Self Efficacy in Circus

Seems pretty straight forward, right? BUT, what happens when you get hung up in an “I suck” loop? Or, you go right from “I pointed my toes today in class!” to “I’m a pre-professional student!” Both mental states suggest that you may have an inaccurate understanding of where you fall in the learning arc. That inaccurate understanding can lead to injuries, feelings of intense defeat, and/or wildly inefficient training.

The best way to keep yourself “real”? Check in with your (professional) coaches, and talk to them about the training arc in your discipline. Video yourself. Watch the best performers you can on YouTube. Ask for feedback. Be aware of how you talk to yourself. Research your industry. Train train train. And put on your listening ears.

Here’s a fantastic article by the NY Times about how self efficacy affects training in regards to injury (you have to make an acct, but it’s quick, easy, free, and WORTH IT).

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.

 

Break a Bad Aerial Habit in 20 Minutes – BAM!

toothpicMany moons ago, I had the pleasure of working with the American Mime Theater here in NYC. Among the very valuable bits and pieces I picked up was a gem I’ve recently found myself coming back to: the use of “devices” to facilitate correct form. A device, in this sense, is something you employ that prevents you from continuing a bad habit and forces you into a correct one. Seem harsh? Perhaps. But, indulge me for a moment, won’t you?

Hard Core Device Use

Paul Curtis, the late director of American Mime, shared a story with us. There was a company member who could not – COULD NOT – keep his stomach tucked in. He fought with it for over two years with no success (don’t we all know how that feels). One day, he came to class with a perfectly tucked tummy. “Holy sh*t!” said Paul. “How did THAT happen?!” The gentleman lifted his shirt to reveal a series of tiny cuts and scratches across his stomach. He had created a belt of glass over the weekend, and boom – tummy tuck.

My Bendy Arm

Now, before you all go out and say, “Miss Laura told me to make a glass belt and strap razor blades to my knees and beat myself with a hammer!” I did not. The above is an example (albeit extreme) of the power of corrective tools. Piano teachers have taped popsicle sticks to students to correct droopy wrists since the dawn of time. My (okay, sadistic) ballet mistress in college would strap yardsticks to legs to combat soft knees (she would also hold lighters under our butts if we stuck them out, but I think fire is a bridge too far, don’t you?). This ain’t new. But, you may never have thought to try it with your circus training!

I had completely forgotten about the power of devices until recently. Completely fed up with an arm that would not stop bending no matter how hard I tried to keep it straight, I taped a toothpick to the inside of my elbow, poised to impale me if I bent my arm. It actually wasn’t so bad – just enough of a prick to remind me in that second to straighten my arm. And you know what? In 20 minutes, I had a straight arm. BAM.

Your Turn!

What’s your habit? Bent knees? Sickled feet? Floppy core? How long are you willing to do battle? If you’re not gaining any ground, consider employing a device. Get creative! Think of what needs fixing, and what might help force the correction. Some examples:

  • Legs need to stay together – put a penny or a credit card between your knees and keep it there
  • Straight leg or arm – tape a popsicle stick in the joint
  • Jumping off the floor to start your climbs – climb with a book balanced on your head

However you do it, don’t destroy yourself. Get creative, stay safe, and vanquish those habits once and for all! 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.

 

Aerial Expo this Summer!!!


The Aerial Arts and Fitness Association Expo will be held this year in the beautiful central city of Des Moines, Iowa. Aerialists from all over are coming for t
hree days and two nights of competitions, performances, workshops, shopping, networking, learning, and FUN! In between it all, hang out with everyone during the open aerial gym time. Come join the celebration of all things aerial!

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www.AerialExpo.com


 

July 25-27

Misfit Cabaret- Opening Night of the Expo

Central Iowa’s latest production focusing on showcasing quality variety entertainment, promoting local artists, and creating performance opportunities.

Two Different Showcases

The Aerial Expo showcases give aerialist opportunities to perform at the Aerial Expo without competing. This also give attendees and the community a chance to see a variety of artists perform who may not qualify for the amateur competition.

 

This is not a competition. There will be not be trophies, ranking, or scores either for showcase performers. Judges may be present as guests to enjoy and watch the show, but there will be no score keeping or evaluations.

Enjoy a spectacular show! Artists from all over the country will showcase their aerial skills. Special performances by Expo instructors. 

 

Competition

Accepting registration for the amateur aerial competition now!

Think you are not ready to compete? This is an amateur competition! You will be surrounded by friends and supporters and will receive feedback from the industry’s top aerial professionals! Do something for yourself! Take the leap and register today!

BONUS: All competitors receive a weekend pass and access to everything the expo has to offer!

 

After Party Saturday Night

Join after the competition us as we celebrate all the hard work that the 2014 Expo competitors put in, as well as the showcase performers, workshops leaders, and expo attendees.

 

Aerial Lounge / Open Aerial Jam

A place to hang out (pun intended) with other event goers, network, and play!

 

Workshops

Aerial Silks, Aerial Hammock, Lyra, Corde Lisse, Doubles, Mini Aerial Cube, Aerial Straps, Kids Aerial, Intro to Aerial, and MORE!

 

Not to mention more non-aerial workshops like pole dancing, breakdancing, burlesque, acro-yoga, just to name a few.

 

Master Workshop Leaders and Judges: Suwasit, Caty Mae, Rachel Bowman, and Brett Womack

Face Palm! When Performance Goes Horribly Wrong

Ghetto StrapsStory time! So, this past week, I saw an old flame for the first time in about 12 years. Now, I’m a blissfully happy married lady, but you know how this works. No matter how much of a douche he was, no matter how happy you are now, you REALLY want to look amazing when you see him. With this in mind, I booked myself an afternoon at the salon to get my color done (it’s quite the ordeal). When the poor stylist took the foils out of my hair the first time, my streak was half yellow, half lilac. I sh*t you not. So, the guy puts Extra Strong Heavy Duty Super Terrifying Bleach on my hair to try again (by this time, I was just hoping that my hair would actually stay attached to my head). We rinsed again, and success! Glorious color! But now, it was too late to blow my hair out to the sleek, sophisticated do I’d envisioned.

 

 “I know!” said my stylist. “I’ll make it all Burnadette Peters fabulous! The higher the hair, the closer to Jesus!”

 

He proceeded to tease and spray my hair until it stood a full four inches off my head. Instead of cool and collected, I looked like the Wild Woman of Borneo. To top it off, there was a gale-force wind outside. By the time I saw my old dalliance, I looked like a homeless woman who had been though a hurricane. Oh – it was so bad. Instead of the, “Damn! I can’t believe I let that get away!” I had hoped to inspire, I’m fairly certain he thought, “Damn! Dodged THAT bullet!” Awesomeness fail.

 

Aside from a bruised ego, I was fine, of course. But what on earth does this have to do with anything aerial, you’re asking? Well, I’m a-tellin’ ya. Have you ever had a performance go very, very wrong? Messed up your routine? Got tied in a knot? Or (worst of all), gone Big Boom like our friend below? When you feel completely humiliated, it’s HARD on the ego. Grab some cawfee and a prune danish. Let’s tawk.

 

When You Just Want to Die

Performances are funny things. Rehearsal is meant to prepare you for every eventuality, but when you’re confronted with an audience, nerves, lights, loud music, and a host of other things you didn’t have to contend with beforehand, stuff can get weird. Fast. When you finish a performance feeling more mortified than marvelous, keep the following in mind:
  1. It’s almost never as bad as you think. The audience may have had a COMPLETELY different view of your act than you did! Find a sounding board you trust, kvetch a bit, and let them console you. Very therapeutic as long as it doesn’t become a habit!
  2.  If it was, in fact, as bad as you think, try to put it in perspective. Other than your ego, is anything else in shambles? Unless there was a Cirque du Soleil scout in the audience, chances are that this one performance won’t have any major repercussions in the grand scheme of things.
  3. If you clearly and meaningfully injure yourself (intense pain, a blow to the head, etc), stop immediately and, as gracefully as possible, exit the stage. It’s tempting to try to keep going, but adrenaline could be masking more injury than you think. Really be conservative on this one. If you destroy your body, where are you going to live?

 

Prepare the Right Way

I’m big on troubleshooting and preventing problems before shows. Not everything can be anticipated, but here are some good places to start.
  1. Rehearse your ass off. If you’re a seasoned professional, you can push your limits a bit. But for the student or green performer, you’ll want to make sure you can easily complete your act three times in one hour. Can’t do it? Make the piece shorter or put in more resting moves.
  2. Make sure you’re totally 100% comfortable with the elements of your piece. Performance is not the time to bust out the stuff you’re struggling with or just learned yesterday!!!! This cannot be overstated. Know what you’re doing onstage.  
  3. If you’re doing ambient work (nightclubs, for example), don’t just wing it. Prior to the event, string together lots of sequences that are second nature for you. Not only does this keep you safer, but it keeps your work dynamic so you don’t keep repeating the same four moves ad nauseum.
  4. Check your lighting. Make sure you have enough light to consistently see your apparatus (and the floor if you’re doing fabrics or a flying apparatus, especially if it’s a dark floor). You also want to make sure you’re not being blinded or disoriented by bright lighting. Talk to the LD (lighting designer) about your needs. For us, we request a basic wash on the apparatus (and floor if we need it), about 70% brightness for stage shows, and no strobes, fast-spinning gobos, or unexpected bally-hoos with the lights. Beyond that, they can have fun!
  5. Make sure the sound person is really clear on when to start your music. 
  6.  If there’s time, do a quick sequence on your apparatus in the space. Just a little “check in” can make a big difference in how comfortable you feel.
  7. Do a good warm up and make sure you’re hydrated and fueled! Eat a light meal about 90 minutes before the show, and make sure you’ve been sipping water regularly. A warm-up should elevate your body temperature, take your muscles and joints through their anticipated range of motion, and get you feeling strong and ready.

 

 

Enjoy the Show! Do a good prep, do your best onstage. If the piece goes Very Wrong, take heart: we’ve ALL had awful shows. Truly! Take a good look at what happened, and learn from your experience. Then, go have Dance-on-the-Table-Margarita Night with your best friends, and make them all tell you repeatedly how awesome you are. Because you are awesome. 🙂 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.