I was suspended from a Velcro chin-strap, bobbing in the chlorine-stinky swimming pool I shared with a handful of geriatric stroke victims three times a week, when I decided I was going to be an aerialist.
Hip to the urban circus scene, I’d seen plenty of death-defying awesomeness performed by sexy women with fake eyelashes and killer biceps dangling from swings, hoops and trapezes. But it wasn’t until I was crippled that I decided to follow suit.
Three years later, I saunter into Wise Fool’s Agua Fria Street warehouse space for my first aerial silks class.
I’m fully recovered and certain I’m a natural. As a former gymnast, a dancer, a yogi and a Pilates fiend, I am limber, graceful, core strength incarnate.
While the class warms up, I realize I’m the only student without pink or crooked hair; without tribal ink, pierced breathing passages or perky 20-something tits.
It’s daunting enough climbing lengthy swaths of fabric affixed to the world’s highest ceiling. Doing it as the “Wow, you remind me of my mom” lady is downright appalling.
Beginnerhood grows less and less appealing with every passing year. Of course, it’s an ego thing. No one wants to look like an idiot. But it’s also a rigidity thing; the longer we spend moving muscles a certain way, or not moving muscles a certain way, the (exponentially) harder switching it up becomes. Challenging though it may be, the beginner’s path is a juicy one that we’re wise to take as often as possible.
While I am indeed a beginner-enthusiast, I’m not super keen on my role as that hyperventilating lady—the one with stretch marks, the arm flab and overly cautious approach, endeavoring to lift my Lycra-clad legs up over my head, without jumping, such that I’m dangling upside down from a swaying swath of silk, which, by the way, is impossible.
Here’s where I start wavering on my “I am aerial superstar squared” declaration.
But it’s not just the circus crone stigma that’s cramping my confidence. It’s one thing to lay claim to a path of superhuman physical prowess when you’re in the throes of spinal collapse. It’s quite another when you actually step upon said path, spastically clutching at those same silks of which you’ve been dreaming while a guy wearing a pink leotard and hair feathers balances in a perfect split in the rig 10 feet away.
I don’t think I want to do this, I realize, watching him spin his way down a million-mile-long-length fabric to crash with a thud in a resin cloud on the mat below.
I notice the scrapes and welts and bruises covering his legs and arms.
Yeah, I really don’t want to do this, I confirm, while tangled in a mess of silk, arms shaking, feet spastically clenching the fabric between them, wondering why my Pilates strength and my yoga coordination aren’t translating to any of these damn fabric exercises.
I spend the next week with useless, achy arms. I can hardly dress myself, let alone show up for the daily ab workout I promised I’d do in service to my burgeoning aerial prowess. I consider quitting, but I’m not sure “I hate it” is a good enough reason, so I slather more Traumeel onto my wrists and head to Wise Fool for another round of humiliation.
Lesson two isn’t nearly as sucky as the first. Maybe I can do this, I think, reaching behind my back for my ankle, while hanging from the fabric threatening to tear my kidneys in half.
I’m high on silks as I drive to Peñasco for the Smoke and Mirrors show. With two whole lessons under my belt, I feel like an insider. I claim a space in the back of the sold-out theater as my fellow aerialists—circus duo extraordinaire, Ricochet—take the stage.
As I watch the world’s strongest humans climb, flip and dangle through a rich narrative of modern-day slaves gone temporarily sovereign by way of nudity and rope tricks, I realize my toes are tapping and my head is bobbing. The woman with the exposed 20-something tits and the crooked-haired guy hanging from her toes are aerial-ing TO MUSIC—like, in sync to rhythm and melody and back beats.
I’d forgotten about the music.
Walking back to the car, past the cluster-fuck of a Peñasco fair, while being followed by a growling pit bull with a disconcerting taste for ankle, I relinquish my fantasies of aerial silk proficiency. It is within my reach—threadbare thirties and all—but I don’t want it badly enough to bleed and bruise and ache for it. I’ve got plenty of beginnerings on my agenda, and there are only so many hours in an ever-shrinking life. I’d rather share mine with my guitar, practicing the transition from the F to the G chord without an eternity passing between strums, just as I’d rather draw better—learn to foreshorten a leg or master an elbow, or maybe both.
So long, aerial silks. It’s been—well, if not sweet, definitely painful. Thanks for the bruises.