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One Coach or Four? The Ups and Downs of Circus Monogamy: Part 1

Chris risked his life by getting in a wheel with me. That's dedication.

Chris risked his life by getting in a wheel with me. That’s dedication.

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” ― Richard Feynman

Hello, Dear Danglers! First, let me say how utterly delightful and insanely wonderful you all are. Your words of kindness and encouragement helped me  re-frame my entire experience! (if you missed it, click here) You are magical, and I love this brilliant  community right down to the tips of my toes.

It occurred to me that perhaps I  should contrast the Sturm and Drang of the previous post with a sliver of silver lining,  and so I shall. In between all the “ugly crying” and feeeeeeeeeelings, I also  got a few minutes with my two very favorite wheel coaches in all the world. I think now might be a great time to talk about the pros and cons of circus monogamy versus poly-amoury: should you have one coach or many?

 

In it For Life – My Main (Wheel) Man, Chris Delgado

Story time. Chris was teaching workshops nearby as I was having my wee crisis learning new techniques on “twisties,” as we call them. When he had a five-minute break, he came over, put his hand on my shoulder, and gently asked, “Do you want me to fix your twisties?” I nodded, hiccupped, and stepped into my wheel. And with three words (“push, grab, GO!”), he did it. He fixed my twisties. THAT, friends, is the beauty of one coach.

 

  • They Know You. No doubt about it, poor Chris had never encountered a student like me. Demanding, emotional, Type A, lippy, and a New Yorker of 18 years, I don’t think he’ll disagree that it took time for us to learn to speak the same language. But here’s the beautiful part: now, he GETS me. He knows from minute to minute whether to push, or to cajole; whether to introduce new material, or let me be the one to set the pace. He knows how to fix what’s broken, hammer my bad habits, and calm me down when I’m scared. He knows just where to spot me, the ridiculous things I’m likely to do, and my litany of ouchie places. He knows what I know, and what I don’t – we don’t have to invent the wheel every day. (!!!)

 

  • They Don’t Let You Get Away With Anything. It sucks when your coach calls you on all your shit. It is also wonderful. Nobody said this wouldn’t be complicated.

 

  • The Technique is Consistent. In training, especially in the early days, consistency counts. Doing the same thing the same way increases strength, muscle memory, and a solid foundation on which to build. BTW – this is one of the reasons it’s so important to find a coach with EXCELLENT TECHNIQUE. Good freakin’ luck unlearning bad habits once you’ve been training them for years on end.

 

  • You Build Trust. Trust is sometimes hard for us in circus. Letting someone else be responsible for my safety in a metal wheel zooming along at what is SURELY 10,000 MPH just does not come easily. Real trust takes time. Also? Time will reveal whether that teacher is worthy of your trust.

 

“So Laura,” you ask, “what more do you NEED? He’s an incredible wheeler, amazing coach, knows you, you trust him, and he puts up with all your crap. Seriously – you’ve got it all!”

I AGREE, Dear Danglers! And he will always be my Numero Uno! I cannot imagine loving a coach more. But tune in tomorrow, and I’ll tell you a (not at all) sordid tale of my wheel guy in Chicago, and why I really want them both… 😉 Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

For the second in this series, click here!

 

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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

 

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.

 

3 Things Students Do that Make Their Teachers Insane

Miss Charlotte ALWAYS practices "safe silks"! Consequently, her awesomeness grows every class!

Miss Charlotte ALWAYS practices “safe silks”! Consequently, her awesomeness grows every class!

Being a teacher is weird sometimes. It’s a lot like being a parent (but also not at all like being a parent). See? Weird. You praise your participants for the things they do beautifully, want to throttle them when they’re being naughty, and hold your breath in fear when they put themselves in harms way. When students make progress (or hell, even try really hard!), I nearly burst with pride. When they are disappointed in their work, my heart quite literally aches. When they choose to be naughty? That’s when the insanity comes in. So, are you making your poor teacher 50 shades of crazy?

 

Is One of these Students YOU?

The Flail and Bail

The hallmark of the Flail and Bail is PANIC. This student will work well right up until the point when they feel their arms getting tired, or a twinge of discomfort, and then all hell breaks loose. It’s like someone throwing a wet, angry, fabric-wrapped badger at your head. This participant will typically get into a wrap or position, panic, and then try to get out as quickly as possible (FLAIL!). This usually results in more pain, an awkward position, and a hopeless knot. If they do manage to get out, they then fling themselves off the fabric to the ground (BAIL!). The risk of injury is much higher for this student, and they require quite a bit of supervision.

Remedy: Approach new things cautiously, one small piece at a time. Low and slow is the name of the game! This is about feeling in control, so take charge of that fabric and your body. The goal isn’t completion of a move, it’s progress in a move. Can you only go half-way? TOTALLY FINE. I would rather have you working consistent baby-steps with good form than go for the whole she-bang and wind up caught by one foot hopping around going, “ow ow ow ow.” If flailing and bailing is your default mode, it’s time to reset, friend. You will get stronger, learn faster, and have more success by working in smaller increments! Trust me – it’s not my first rodeo.

The Let-Go Guy

About eight years ago, I was guiding a young man into splits. He was stable, good form, working well. He hung out in his splits for a while, then just let go. (????!!!!!!!!) He was quite low, so no harm done, but I was shocked. When I asked him why on earth he had taken his hands off, he responded, “I just felt like I could.” This was my first encounter with the student I’ll call The Let-Go Guy.

This lad or lady is the most terrifying of all students! They frequently take unexpected risks, push themselves beyond their capabilities, or deliberately ignore instruction; along with Flail and Bail, they are the most likely to be injured in a class. While my students know that their safety in class is their responsibility, no teacher ever wants to see a student get hurt. Having a Let-Go Guy in class means constant vigilance, as they are generally incapable of realistically assessing the risks in any given move.

Remedy: If you’re a Let-Go Guy or Gal, allow me to be candid. Knock it off. You are killing your teacher. Pay special attention to the contra-indications and instructions for moves. If your teacher says, “Do this low,” please don’t try to place it in the rafters. If she says, “Don’t take your hands off,” then don’t take your hands off. Not even one. Your coach has a different perspective than you do, and can see very real and immediate dangers that you cannot. By disregarding instruction, not only do you place yourself at risk, but you eat up all your instructors focus. Put on your listening ears, and do your teacher the courtesy of honoring his or her guidelines.

Rafter Wrapper

The Rafter Wrapper likes to work high. The problem comes when they get 15 feet up and forget steps 1-5 of whatever they are supposed to be doing, and you hear a little voice from above say, “So, now, what do I do?” Gah! Ironically, this student is almost ALWAYS  a kinesthetic learner, meaning they learn by doing. So good luck talking them through the move! We might get there eventually, but it sucks all the coach’s focus, and takes up a good deal of class time.

Remedy: It’s simple: stay low until you’re supremely confident in what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re working low, you have the benefit of my hands helping to spot you through moves – you’ll learn faster, and I won’t want to put you in time out when you come down. 😉


 

You and your teacher have the same goal: to bring out your breathtaking awesomeness.


 

I love my students. No really – I adore them, even the ones who test the limit of my sanity. I’ve even BEEN a number of these students before (ask Chris Delgado how many ways I make him crazy in wheel class – he’ll gladly tell you), so I know from whence I speak. Learning new things as an adult is HARD, especially if it’s something that doesn’t come easily. WHAT IF (and I’m talking to myself here, too) we got out of our own damned way and let our teachers teach us? You and your coach have the same goal: to bring out your breathtaking awesomeness. Your successes are my successes. Your heartbreak is my heartbreak. I worry about you, cheer for you, and wrack my brain for ways to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Work with me, not against me. And have a care for my mental health – I don’t need any more gray hairs! ….. Oh please, who are we kidding? My colorist and I are so tight, I’ll never see a strand of gray.

Next week, tune in to chat about class etiquette! It’s a conversation worth having. 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.

 

From Drabulous to Fabulous! The INFINITY Dress!

My infinity dress!

Hello Dear Danglers! If you’re like me, you start to feel a bit frumpty-dumpty running around in training clothes every blessed day. I try to sew fun stuff on Saturdays, and today I found this free tutorial for the Infinity Dress – a stretch knit dress you can wear 20+ ways! It’s so stinking easy, I can’t take it. It’s also super versatile! Wear it over leggings & a long sleeved T and it’s great for winter, too. Here’s a link to the tutorial (sign up for her emails if you sew – they’re AWESOME!!!), and a video showing oodles of ways to tie the dress. Have fun! Let me know what you make! 🙂 Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

**UPDATE – this is also a great way to up-cycle old stretchy silks! Just did it with my blue one and it works great. WIN!

 

Tutorial Link: CLICK HERE
 
 

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New Years Revolution

Dear Danglers, I LOVE making New Years resolutions. Love it. I dream big, and New Years has always seemed like the perfect time of year to construct lofty, towering goals for myself. Take flamenco lessons? Check. Institute Family Game Night? Check. Get my Flying Ass Grinder on the German wheel? ….. hmmm….. well, I can make that goal, but what happens if my wheel and/or body doesn’t cooperate? How do I establish realistic goals in my training without setting myself up for disappointment or harsh self-criticism if I try hard, but don’t make them?
 

A Different Approach This Year

I can easily tackle things that are within my control (1. Stop eating pie for breakfast. 2. Do not put the Brita back in the fridge empty. 3. Do not cut your bangs when you’re angry.), but training this year is going to require a different approach. I jumped into German wheel assuming it would be easy for me – after all, I’m reasonably muscle-y, have a great sense of my strengths & weaknesses, am somewhat flexible, etc. Turns out, success in wheel depends on exactly none of those things. As my (long-suffering) coach can tell you, because of my unrelenting focus on “goals” in the traditional sense, I’ve had something of a rough go of it. I beat myself up and frequently sob, “But I should be faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarther than this! How is it possible that I suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck so much?” Then, inevitably, he winds up with snot on his shirt, and I have an emotional hangover the next day. Perhaps there’s another way?
 

Meaningful Goals – How We’re Doing It This Year

Instead of focusing exclusively on where we want to go, maybe it’s time to give equal attention to where we’ve been. That push and pull of past and future helps us to keep our perspective on the days our leggings get wrapped around the trapeze, or our thigh fat gets caught when we’re doing a drop. Try this:

 

  • What can you do now that you couldn’t do this time last year?
  • Do you have a favorite training or class memory from this year? What really stands out?
  • Whenever you have a success, write it down. Date, move, how it felt.
  • Now, NOW, you can write your goals.

 
I see you struggling with this too, Dear Dangler. I watch you wrestle with your (fill in the blank) – getting it one week, losing it the next, or just working to get off the ground. I watch you fly through early training, then hit the wall in a certain area. I watch you thinking you have it all figured out, until you see the next level looming and realize you might not be the hot sh*t you thought you were. I see the thought written all over your face: I should be able to DO this! I thought I would be farther! I keep trying, but I’m just stuck! WHEN WILL I BE AWESOME?????” But we often forget how far we’ve come. When reaching for the stars starts feeling like getting a root canal, it’s time to get some perspective, friends. Remember how far you’ve come, and let it whisper softly in your ear….”gravity is for suckas…..” 😉 Love and pull-ups, Laura
 
 

 
 

 

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Ring-a-Ding-Ding! The Posts That Had You Talking in 2013!

Hello Dear Danglers! Just for funzies (and because we’re all snot factories over here – Happy New Year), I thought it might be fun to take a quick trip down memory lane. Here are the top posts that had you guys all fired up, with your knickers in a twist, or both in 2013!

  1. Why YOU Want to Be More of a Tight Ass – Essential Stability for Aerial Arts
  2. Get a Grip! 5 Ways to Improve Hand Strength
  3. … and The Ultimate Hand Warm-up!
  4. C is for Cookie – The Ultimate Aerial Diet
  5. Defensive Much? Learning from Criticism
  6. Rigging From Trees: Magical or Moronic?
  7. The Great Boobie Caper: Aerial Necklines
  8. … and Part 2!
  9. 5 Ways to Bounce Your Booty Back Faster After a Break
  10. The pregnancy series! Trimester 1 , Trimester 2, Trimester 3!

 

I didn’t write this in 2013, but I’m going to include it anyway since it caused quite the stir. 😉 Workin’ Cheap: How Shortsighted Ninnies are Ruining our Profession, and Part 2!

So, let’s welcome this new year by celebrating the insanely awesome (and sometimes questionable) things we can do! Enjoy! Love and pull-ups, Laura
 

 

 

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My Holiday Giftie to YOU!

Hello Dear Danglers! I just wanted to wish you all a VERY happy holiday season, whatever you celebrate! Here is my gift to you (I remember the 80’s, this stuff really happened… on a regular basis). So, Merry Christmas, (belated) Happy Hannukah, Blessed Yule, Peaceful Solstice, Happy Pancha Ganapati, Joyous Kwanzaa, and Warm Winter Wishes for you and your people! I love you and am grateful for you EVERY DAY!!!! 🙂 Love and pull-ups, Laura
 

 

 

 

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Laura’s List of Aerial Silk Moves

You asked, I answered! Dear Students, HERE is my list of silk moves! It’s a work in progress, so if you see moves that aren’t listed that we’ve done in class, give me a holler! You’ll need Evernote on your computer or phone to access the list (don’t worry – it’s free!). Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

PS – you’ll notice I didn’t include instructions? If you want to know what the heck these are, get to class! 😉

 


 

Laura’s List of Aerial Silk Moves

 


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Why YOU Want to be More of a Tight Ass – Essential Stability for Aerial Arts

Stayin’ tight with the Baby Janes! Photo by Kenneth Feldman, www.pfdigital.com

Dear Dangler, do you consider yourself a tight-ass? I hope so! There’s a certain amount of essential tension necessary for fabulousness in aerial and circus arts. If you’re flopping around up there like an overcooked spaghetti noodle, it’s time to tighten that sh*t up.

What is “Tightness”?

When my coaches first began barking, “Tighten up! Stay tight!”,  I clenched everything (and I do mean everything) and hoped for the best. But what I grew to understand is a) tightening EVERYTHING leads to you looking awkward and constipated on your apparatus and b) “tight” is not the same as “rigid”.

 

Staying tight means keeping muscles active and firm at about 50% power. For example, let your arm flop. Now, tighten your bicep REALLY HARD (make a “muscle”). Now, relax to about halfway. That’s tight.

 

Why Tension is Important

Try this: find a friend with a two year-old. Wait until the toddler is good and pissed off (if they’re two, you won’t have to wait long). Now – try to pick them up. THEY ARE SO HEAVY!!!!! 25 pounds never felt so hard to lift! Now – try to pick them up again when they are calm and amenable to being lifted. See how much lighter? Tension, people. That boneless-ness creates the experience of a noticeable increase in weight.

 

Without a certain amount of tension, you’re going to feel like you’re hauling around a lot of dead weight; eeeeeeeverything becomes more difficult (and your lines look le poo). While some muscles are lying around on the beach in Aruba sipping pina coladas, other muscles are trying to (literally) pick up the slack. Before they start picketing for better working conditions, you’re going to want to start redistributing the labor.

 

Viagra-vate It!

Fear not – tension is a habit! Try this:

 

  • at least one session of Pilates mat work every week (for oodles of free videos, check out www.hulu.com!) Pilates cultivates the exact type of resistance-free tension we’re trying to produce. It’s also great for helping you find the muscles you’re supposed to be using.
  • reeeeeeach (“peripheral” tightness)! Think of being pulled in different directions. For example, I am hanging upside down in my fabric. My free hand is reeeeeeeeeaching towards the ground. My leg is reeeeeeeeeaching for the back wall. If an appendage is floating free, it should be reeeeeeeeeeeaching (try not to get jazz hands, though). 😉
  • lock and load! Bits of your body that are bearing weight (bent knee, stabilizing arm, etc) should be nice and tight! Remember not to hyper-extend your joints, but this is a time for very “active” tightness.
  • zip up your abs! Abs should always be firmly engaged (“core” tightness). Bring your navel to your spine and hold your tummy firm – pretend Ian Somerhalder just walked into the room and you’re in a bikini.

 

Now, for a supremely insane example of tighness: behold, the Ukranians! Watch how they keep that tension, even when folding themselves in half backwards. You know, like ya do. Love and pull-ups, Laura
 

 

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Shake Shake Shake, Shake…. Your Feet?! Nope.

 

Isabel & Emily in foot knots they will get out of without kicking!

Many thanks to the endlessly sassy Miz Cathy Gauch from Aircat Aerial Arts (get over there the next time you’re in Boulder, CO!) for the inspiration for this post!

Apparently, there’s an aerial instructional video floating around in which the instructor encourages students to just “shake their feet” to come out of their foot knots. After I finished having a seizure, I thought maybe we should talk about this! Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen said video, but I DO know what I see around town: shake shake SHAKE KICK KICK KICK FLAIL! Now, unless you are being electrocuted, there is zero reason for you to be so spastic – you’ve got other (more glamorous) options, friend!

Figure 8 Foot Knots

Tied one at a time, this is the first foot knot many of us learn. Coming out cleanly is simple! Simply flex your feet, lift them up, move them back, and point your toes. Observe!

 

 

If you’re stuck and panicking, you can also use your other foot to pop the fabric off the toe (but save it for emergencies – it’s not your sassiest moment).

 

Aerial Dance Wrap

Wrapped together, this knot is great for getting lovely, even splits. To come out cleanly, simply lift your feet 2-5 inches (just enough to take the pressure off the heels – DON’T lift too high!), point your toes, and slide your feet forward and down.

 

 

Seriously? That’s IT. No need to flail, shake, kick, twerk, twitch, convulse, flap, shudder, oscillate, or combust. Just lift and send your feet in the appropriate direction! I know some of you have other snazzy ways of getting out of foot knots that you love. Hey – as long as it doesn’t involve an aerial seizure, go on with your bad selves! 😉  Hope you’re having a swingin’ holiday season so far, Dear Danglers!!!!! Love and pull-ups, Laura

 

 

PS – By the way! I hope you’ll join me in welcoming the FABULOUS  and talented Miss Rebecca Collins to the SassyPants Aerial Arts team! Rebecca will be helping me answer emails, get ya’ll scheduled into classes, and all sorts of other good things. Welcome welcome, Miss Rebecca!!!!!!