I have officially graduated from circus school. Well, from aerial arts level 1. After four weeks on ropes (awful), and four on static trapeze (great fun), my last piece of equipment to get to grips with was the flying trapeze.
Week one was surprisingly terrifying. We all trembled our way through the briefing, eyes fixed on the platform. In no time at all it’s up the ladder, palms sweaty, head foggy and totally empty of useful information. Two people must operate the rig while a third swings. Even operating the rig, high up and not clipped to anything, feels perilous.
Soon it was my turn to ‘fly’. I thought I might step off the platform and vomit in my own face with fear. Check your harness (ARGH I’M NOT HOLDING ON TO ANYTHING ARGH), toes over the edge, one hand on, then the other, then step down and…Oh, actually it’s ok when you get going. For one thing your feet are considerably closer to the floor. For another, all you have to do is hang off a bar and swing your legs back and forth. There is a little bit of accidental bum-platform contact if one mistimes the swing, but that’s about as scary as it gets.
But when the instructor says ‘let go on three’ and begins counting, the fear creeps back in. We go through a couple of threes where I don’t let go. Everyone is waiting. My hands are stuck in a death grip around the bar. Three happens unfathomably right at the highest point of the swing. I know it’s something to do with physics (you want to come down straight and not while you’re travelling backwards) but it feels like a very foolish place to let go. I let go. I land on the mat with a WUMP, collapse backwards onto my bum and then lie on my back feeling the sweet, sweet thrill of not having broken my neck.
It gets easier after that first time, but the pattern seems to be that just as you get comfortable with something, as the terror subsides and you can climb the ladder and breathe at the same time, a new maneuver is introduced.
I’m fine with all this, I’m actually not too shabby at it, and then I miss week three where everyone TURNS AROUND mid air and then has to try not to hurtle into the platform shins first. When I return in week four they’re attempting to hook their knees over the bar and dismount upside down from there. UPSIDE DOWN.
Whereupon I am terrified again.
I have been at a festival all weekend and am enduring a ruthless and protracted hangover. I am fragile and some might say willfully pathetic. The ‘I can’t’ voice that I’ve come to know so well during aerial arts is back. I stick to swinging back and forth and trying to dismount in an orderly fashion.
I manage swinging without so much as brushing the platform (actually harder than it sounds) and I manage a dismount where I VERY NEARLY could have stayed on my feet if I’d not trained myself to automatically sit down the moment I touch the mat.
I’m disappointed in this final week performance. I know I could have done it and I don’t usually let myself off stuff when I’m scared. I am really rather glad the course is over though. I never quite got the hang (sorry) of things. Never quite got into the swing (worse?) of it.
I’m not comfortable right at the bottom of the class but that’s where I spent much of my time and it stopped me having as much fun as I should have had. It made me fret, which made me frustrated and clumsy.
I suppose all this is character building in some way. It was certainly a helpful reminder as to why so most of us feel some resistance to taking up new sports. It’s no fun being bottom of the class, especially if everyone else is looking on and, even worse, trying to encourage you. I tend to perform at my best if people ignore me.
Next week I’m doing some table tennis or similar. Something where it’d be almost impossible to break my coccyx.