Here I sit in Boulder, were I have been calling home for the past two weeks. I unloaded my possessions and launched myself into the most intensive training regime I’ve experienced yet. I spend around 30 hours each week in the studio, and more in my own home continuing the conditioning, as well as 15 hours each week working at a coffee shop that requires me to be up before dawn, and add to that the marketing I am doing for another performer, and I’ve got a full load. It’s wearing me down – my muscles almost constantly ache, my mind is persistently active, considering the next task at hand, I cannot eat enough, and I still have a child to take care of. When I’m not running a mile a minute, I’m a complete zombie. And somehow, with all of this activity, with the pain and exhaustion, I find myself happy. I feel strong, I am gaining confidence, I am in love with my new home, and I have faith that the end result will be completely worth it.
The training schedule goes like this:
Monday: 1.5 hours Ballet, 1.5 hours Open Gym
Tuesday: 2 hours workshop (nutrition, and later will be kinesiology), 2 hours technique (currently Sling), and 1.5 hours Fabric 3/4
Wednesday: 2 hours improv (Skinner Releasing), 1.75 hours Fitness, 2 hours Performance Seminar, and 1.25 hours Student Company
Thursday: 1.5 hours Aerial Fitness, 1.5 hours Pilates
Friday: 2 hours Improv and aerial dance history, 1.75 hours Partnering (Contact Improv)
Sunday: 1.5 hours Advanced Static Trapeze
Danielle, our sling instructor, has asked us all to keep journals throughout the next nine months of training. I have a personal journal, as well as this blog, so I thought adding another one would be too much. So far, I have written one entry, but it turned out to be a pretty powerful entry. Danielle asked us to think about why we are here – why aerial dance? Why do we care this much? Why are we willing to test our physical, mental, and emotional limits for the sake of dance? And for each of us, there would be a different motivation.
That evening, I opened a new notebook, and the lined page stared at me for a good long time. I picked up my pen, wrote the date and prompt at the top, and put the pen down again. Why am I here? Why did I quit a stable job in Evanston, Illinois – a job that was less than a mile from my home, with benefits and paid vacation, that allowed me to bring my daughter in when I needed to, that paid reasonably well and in which I got along with a fair number of my coworkers – why did I quit? Why did I quit, pack up my entire life, throwing out or giving away 90% of my possessions, break my lease, and decide to spend the next two and a half months on the road, searching? Why did I have a plan for every letter of the alphabet, but really only cared about plan A, which was to audition and get accepted to the Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance Professional Training Program? Why did I give up familiarity and stability to become what I have always attested I wasn’t – a dancer?
I sat there thinking about it, with the quiet pressing in around me, at my glass dining room table, with my notebooks and papers spilling out around me. And I thought about something I wrote in my application essay. People listen to music; it’s an auditory experience for everyone. But for me, I see it. I see how I could twist with the melody, the rise and fall of equipment with the crescendos, transitions from the ground to the air and back. The bodies rigid lines and writhing grace. I hear the music and the music paints visions on my eyelids.
I am here because I need to move, because every time dancing has been taken away from me, I find myself falling into a spiral of anger and depression. I never considered it dancing – it was moving. It was an extension of what I needed to be doing. In Milwaukee, just before I turned 21, I saw an advertisement for swing dancing at a restaurant/bar downtown. I asked my friend, Liam, if he would be interested in trying it out with me. He was thrilled. Together, we leaned on each other through the struggle with time, feet, and dancing with a partner, and we both fell head over heels in love with not only swing dancing, but the community that came with it. We started dancing as often as possible – a minimum of 2 nights each week, but sometimes as many as 5. I loved the energy and the release from dancing. I laughed often and created a circle of friends that was the strongest I’ve ever had.
When we moved to Chicago, I felt really disconnected from the swing dance scene. I found most of the venues to be pretentious and uncomfortable. I would occasionally head back to Milwaukee for dancing, but that eventually phased out. I spiraled downward, into a bad bout of depression. It was in this time that I discovered aerial arts. Initially, it was a method for staying fit and meeting people; I never dreamed it would become such an integral part of my identity.
After my breakup, when my depression was at it’s worse and I was getting fed up with myself (not to mention how fed up with me my friends were getting), I needed a change desperately. I allowed a friend to introduce me to blues dancing. After my first night out, I was hooked. This was it! The music was soulful, deep and resonant in me, and I could move softly or dramatically, pull in elements of swing or allow it to be an entirely different manifestation of movement. I was only dancing once a month, but it was the perfect anti-depressant. I brought a couple friends along, and soon I had built another circle of dancers I could connect with, laugh with, and most importantly, share a moment in movement with. It was then that I started dancing with my eyes closed, when I surrendered completely to the music and the dance. There were a few leads I craved dancing with, because they would put their hand around my waist and we would be so close I could feel their breath on my skin, and I would close my eyes and trust the communication through our bodies to carry us. It was the perfect moment when everything else ceased to exist, and more importantly, a moment in which I wasn’t alone, but had someone sharing it with me.
It’s only in the past year, perhaps having something to do with blues dancing, perhaps just a natural progression of my need for movement, that I started to stray from the “circus” path of aerial. I would spend hours searching YouTube for videos of aerialists, looking for inspiration for my own choreography. But I was bored with what I was seeing. It puzzled me. The aerialists I was watching were technically magnificent, they were graceful and articulate in their movements, but something didn’t pull me in. And then I would find the video that I would watch over and over and over again, seeing new things each time and coming away with reams of inspiration. What was so different about them? i would watch their fingers and their toes, the way the small appendages were given as much intent as the large ones. The “ta-da” moments were almost imperceptible, to be replaced with a languid fluidity that said to me “My apparatus is my limb and not my tool; it is a part of me.” That, I thought – that is what I want to do. I want to dance like that.
Really, it wasn’t until I was choreographing my audition piece for the Frequent Flyers that I understood the potential of what aerial dance could be for me. Aerial dance being different than circus in ways that are still be defined – in ways that I can help define with my work. I had recently been dumped by my partner of 5 years – and granted the last 2 of them were really shaky – it was still a shock to me. I felt like i had nothing left to be in Chicago for – no partner and my job was making me miserable – so I packed my bags and resolved to go “ELSEWHERE,” and the only thing I knew for certain then was that I wanted to be an aerialist, and more importantly, an aerial dancer. My audition piece was crucial. So, I channeled all of the heartbreak, the anxiety and fear and depression, into my piece. I work-shopped the crap out of it, until I was a huddled mass of human puddy on a mat, trying not to cry too hard. I put my trust in the fabric, and by doing so put it into myself as well. It was the moment when I needed it – I needed to fly, to move, to dance. I could close my eyes and breathe, and in turn began to heal.
By the time I completed my audition, the heartbreak was mostly gone and a brand new direction had been found. I was on a path that made me feel strong. Not entirely secure, but my existence and happiness is literally tied up into the air.
I am here, I am flying and dancing, because I allowed myself to finally surrender to what I needed. I need to move, I need to stop thinking and stop feeling and find the moment, the tension and resistance and completely give in to it. My apparatus is my partner, supporting me, loving me, sometimes hurting me, but always teaching me to be stronger, to be supple, and giving me a means for movement.
After what I’ve been through finding this about myself, the next 9 months seem like a walk in the park.
(Now, ask me in two months if it’s still a walk in the park, and the answer may be *slightly* different)