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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The One About Being Terrible At Something

Jake the Dog speaks the truth
Most, if not everything we do we once sucked at. Even the most basic skills like tying your shoes were once monumental tasks only performed by the most skilled people…aka your mom. Hopefully, through persistence and practice you at some point mastered tying your shoes and went on to tackle new and even more difficult tasks.

While it is easy to become discourage because we are comparing our fumbling attempts to polished routines performed under the big top it is important to remember the circus arts are no different from shoe laces. Each performance starts with simple skills building on one another and small victories.

When I started hooping I was constantly inundated with videos of the very best in the discipline spinning hoops at high speeds and constantly pushing the bounds of their tools. At 5 weeks of daily practice I was barely able to maintain the hoop at my waist. So often we feel like we need to immeditaly be masters at our craft when we should allow ourselves to be students first.
A skill means you had to learn how to do it
Here are the top 5 things I try to remember when working towards my goal

  1. Practice - You do not have to put restrictions on your practice just spend time each day making your passion a part of your life. That can be as simple as researching new moves, taping your hoop or just working for 5 minutes on stretches. Make your hobby a habit
  2. Give yourself permission to fail – If you are not failing you are not pushing your limits. Try for that hoop trick you saw on youtube or try that silk trick you could not quite complete last week. If you are only doing things you know you can do it will look great but you will not continue to grow in your discipline.
  3. Don’t measure yourself against others – Mentors and goals are a great part of any discipline but do not let comparison discourage you. The only person you should compare yourself against is the performer you were yesterday and the performer you are today.
  4. Circus hurts – This sounds kind of terrible but it is true. You are going to bruise, burn and bend yourself to discomfort but stick with it. Those pains will go away to be replaced by new ones but that means you are learning.  Practice within reason but do not be afraid to push your limits
  5. Love the process –Even if you are trying to learn a new and impressive trick do not let it own you. Celebrate successes…even the tiny ones. Even if you only held the handstand for a second or you had to help the hoop around with your hand it counts. You are learning and that means not doing it perfect every time. You did it once now you can do it better in the future. Enjoy your practice. Do not lose sight of why you are doing this. Have fun!
Safire created a great video on this topic. It has been an inspiration to me on my journey.

Love the Process!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The One With A Different Perspective

I think I have said it before but I really dislike exercise that feels like I am doing it for the sole purpose of fitness. Running on a treadmill or lifting weights does not engage my mind and I struggle to commit to the same routine every day. When I decided I wanted to take up silks and lyra because it seemed like the next logical progression from hula hooping I realized I was probably going to need to start some kind of fitness routine. After my first class I knew that I was completely in love with the feeling of being in the air but also that I was going to have a lot of work to do if I ever wanted to advance.  I was concerned that I would not be able to force myself to do the conditioning required because of my aforementioned aversion to exercise. Luckily for me there are some fun option I have learned that are engaging and can help target the areas that need to improve for different acrobatic skills.

No lie, I am a master couch potato
In order to climb, invert or do just about anything on the silk you are going to need upper body strength. You are constantly supporting yourself with your hands and arms as you lock your feet to position for another trick. Planks are a great way to build strength but ultimately kind of painful and frustrating. I totally feel like a boss when I complete a series of planks in class but unless the torture is instructor led, chances are I am not going to inflict it upon myself in my free time. This is why I have come to love the handstand. Handstands not only develop your arm and core strength but also engage your mind as you concentrate on keeping your feet in the air rather than thinking about how much your arms are hurting.

Sadly, not everyone has as much love for the handstand as I do. Most people I talk to are nervous of being upside down, losing their balance or do not even know where to begin. The handstand does not need to be some impossible acrobatic feet if we break it down into simple parts, slowly increase our skill level and reward ourselves for small victories along the way. When learning the handstand there are several approaches depending on your comfort level. I am going to cover the 2 most common I have used.

Wall is your friend!
Before we start getting inverted lets get aquainted with some tools we have to help.This is Wall. For those of us who have not spent much time looking at the world upside-down Wall is a friend as we find our balance. Wall is a great spotter who will never let you down and doesn’t care how hard you kick him in the face.
Some of us are a little uncomfortable with hurling ourselves at the ground or do not have confidence in our ability to support our fully body weight on just our hands. In cases like this a progressive approach might be a good option. Personally I feel like this process takes more strength but there are also more exist points before becoming inverted should you lose confidence at any point.

It helps if you sing about Spiderman while you do this
1. Start by facing away and with your heels against the wall. From this position bend over and place your hands on the ground. You will now transition your weight into your hands and while supporting yourself start walking your feet up the wall. You will probably reach a position where your body the wall and the floor are creating a triangle.

2. Now for, in my opinion, the hardest part. Start walking your hands back towards the wall. As your hands get closer to the wall you should be able to walk your feet up. Personally I find it very difficult to get to a completely vertical position using this process and I dislike not having the wall at my back when trying to find my balance.
Remember to breath
Now that you are feeling more confident you can practice kicking up directly into a hand stand.

1. Facing the wall place your hands on the ground about 6 inches from the base. From this position you should look like an inverted V with your hands and feet on the floor

2. Keeping your arms straight kick your feet up and against the wall. When you first start do not worry about making it pretty. Smash your feet into the wall, bend your knees or whatever you need to do to get up there. Once you do hold that position and appreciate your accomplishment

3. Straighten your legs and point your toes. Now most importanly tighten your core, legs and butt while pushing through your hands. Handstand doen't just come from your ability to pile all the weight of your  body on your arms. The more support you supply from your abs the more controlled your handstand will be

4. Slowly with one foot push away from the wall. Tentitively find your balance and then push the other foot off to. If you have to let your feet drop or lean back against the wall that is okay.

5. Once you feel comfortable try going into a handstand in one fluid motion from a standing postition and not touching the wall before finding your balance.

Remember handstands require you to support from the arms and core. Both are neccessary to maintain control. Your balance will come with practice and time. Even if you are only able to hold an unsupported handstand for just a second  it still counts as a win. Celebrate all your milestones and love the process.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The One About Globe Trotting

I travel a fair amount for both business and pleasure. Last year alone I trekked across much of the US, Canada and Mexico. Keeping up with your current hobbies can be difficult when you are on the road but with a little careful planning it is not impossible. Last week I spent a week in Berlin for work which meant long days in the office without much time for clowning around. On top of the limited free time a fellow international air travel passenger decided to gift me with the plague before arriving at my final destination. Despite these hardships I was determined to make the most of my time in another country. I had come armed with my travel hoop, leggings and a camera so I was ready for all opportunities.
Poster for a silent circus film displayed at the Berlin Film Museum
During February Berlin is chilly at all hours and has limited amount of daylight. By the middle of the week I considered a forecast of 4 C positively balmy. Since there was really no light to film after work and I was recouping from a cold I spent the first couple of evenings indoors. My room had a rooftop view of a building in the process of being renovated so on a snowy evening I decided to do some moonlit tumbling inside the hotel.
Hotel room tumbling
Probably my favorite part of the trip was the amazing playground equipment. There was a huge rope tower on the way to work that just needed to be climbed. I could only imagine how delightful this structure must be for the local children during the summer months. It definitely brought back fond memories of my youthful summers in Brussles Belgium where the playgrounds elicited squeals of pure joy as we clung to, scrambled over and scaled potentially dangerous equipment. With some of my new found comfort in heights I scaled the tower as well as inverted from some of the interior cross sections.
Enjoying the local attractions

I was completely taken with the graffiti that covers much of the city and decided to capture some of the more eye catching pieces in my immediate neighborhood. Much of the city center is under construction leaving many older buildings abandoned awaiting repair like beautiful mossy industrial playgrounds. On the first walk to the office I started scouting potential locations for the end of the week. I only had a few hours of day light on the last day for a hooping session so I tried to quickly film in a few spots that were representative of where I had spent my week.
For those who have not traveled with hoops before it’s actually quite easy and I highly encourage it. You never know when you are going to find a scenic location. At the very least it provides a chance to de-stress and get some physical activity outside of hauling your carcass to the office each morning and then back to the hotel. There are 3 standard styles of travel hoop you can invest in
Left to Right Segmented, Infinity Fold, Coil Down
  1. Segmented – This hoop travels quite well inside luggage or a backpack and usually come in about 7 crescent pieces that can be snapped together. Since there are several connections the tubing is quite heavy to provide durability. Many users report some give at the joints and a creaking sound while hooping. Due to the weight this may be a great option for beginners but not my preferred travel hoop.
  2. Infinity Fold – This hoop does not come apart but rather has two pivoting joints that the user twists in order to fold the hoop down. The hoop is twisted to look life a figure 8 and then folded in half. The risk of kinking your tubing is low because bend pressure is always equally distributed. You can also order many sizes and weights of tubing in this style. It takes a little practice to learn how to fold the hoop with confidence but is a very popular option. This design will server you very well until you make the jump to polypro and the weight of the connections become a concern.
  3. Coil Down – This hoop has one snap connection and the traveler coils the hoop on itself at least twice  and reinserts the connection ends into each other. This effectively halves the size of the hoop for travel. Users should take their time when coiling down the hoop to ensure strain is evenly distributed. It is very easy to kink and ruin your tubing using this technique The connections used for coil down are the lightest and most often used for fast performance hoops and Poly Pro.
All types of travel hoops are well suited for the different modes of transportation. They take up very little space in a car and can easily be strapped to a backpack for walking or bicycling. The mode of travel that probably gets the most concern from hoopers is air because of the ever changing restrictions. I am happy to report I have traveled with my hoops both domestically and internationally without even a raised eyebrow at security. Many travel hoops will fit inside your checked luggage but you can also strap it on your carry on and it will generally fit in the overhead compartments. I have occasionally stored some of the smaller hoops under the seat and in a really desperate situation the stewardess can be asked for extra room in the coat closet.
Your next trip does not have to bring a halt to your practice. You might even be able to expand your hobby in new and unanticipated ways if you keep an open mind. After all this is about loving the process and enjoying the journey. Happy travels!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The One With Legs

I have a confession to make…
I am addicted to leggings

Not long ago I was annoyed with the popularity of this garment. They seemed to sever no identifiable purpose other than as a way for hipsters to stratify themselves by dropping a wade of cash on some brand name leggings. Since taking up silks I found I could not do without them and they are even becoming useful in my other circus disciplines like hooping and acrobatics.

For activities like silks, trapeze and lyra the leggings are not only decorative but also serve to protect the aerialist’s legs. You would think that a soft fabric would not pose a large risk to the user but when coupled with your full weight the silk can deliver one hell of a friction burn. The leggings will protect your extremities without getting tangled or hindering your range of motion. For hooping they provide eye catching color and don’t interfere with tricks at the knees. The leggings are also surprisingly good at capturing body heat so even on cold days you should be able to hoop outdoors without hindering your ability to do tricks with bulky thermal clothing.

Snow?...No problem with leggings!
Unfortunately some of the most popular brands are quite expensive and for my uses they would be getting a significant amount of wear and tear. Despite all the up side I found to leggings I was not prepared to almost $90 on each pair. I decided to explore what colorful options were open to me without breaking my bank. I am glad to report that the demand from our hipster pals has created quite an excellent market for those us searching for everyday use leggings.

Some of my favorite vendors for leggings are below

Left to Right : Hot Topic, Romwe, Think Geek, Drop Dead
Through careful searching you can also find leggings in your local retailers. Two of my friends Mia Moore and Dani Bliss have had luck finding leggings at Forever 21. Hot Topic has carried various leggings in store as well.

There are several popular styles of leggings that can be considered for the acrobatic endeavors. Spandex blend is what you will most commonly find for bright patterned leggings. These are great choices for the silks but due to the thin nature of the fabric when doing drops or working on other apparatus like lyra some performers prefer a cotton blend. The cotton blend does not slide along fabric as smoothly as the spandex but it provides a little more cushion. The cotton blends are most commonly solid color or woven patterns. You will want to steer clear of anything with stirrups or closed feet. You will typically use your feet to grip at some point in all of the circus arts and putting a barrier between you and the apparatus is going to make the task more difficult.

Since my conversion the only problem I have found with leggings is it is very hard to just buy one pair. Once you find how useful and adaptable they are you will be filling your closet with every color and pattern.

Leggings are compact for travel and double for accessories or exercise

Friday, February 8, 2013

The One With A Twist

I have never been a bendy person. As a child I was a  disappointment to my gymnastics teachers. I was a consummate failure at basic moves like the splits or back bends. So when I started aerial silks in January I knew that something was going to either have to bend or I was going to risk breaking myself in the process.

My first silks class resulted in a struggle as all my fellow student gracefully went through their warm up stretches. While the teacher was encouraging them to touch heads to knees and hands to ankles I was left feeling grossly disproportioned as I groped desperately after my feet like a t-rex trying to tie a shoe. When it came time to straddle I was acutely aware of how little my legs would spread. To an outsider it probably didn’t look like I was even trying.

I did discover while the stubbornness of age has not improved my physical flexibility it has given me the fortitude to follow through and improve. Each session I committed to the fullest extent of my puny stretch and remembered given time even the most ridged tree can learn to bend. Before exiting each position I take one final exhale and try to reach just a bit further than I think I can. After a month I am just now starting to give my knees a kiss during warm ups.

The nice think about stretching is you can do it anywhere, it’s good for you and it doesn’t require equipment. For this blog I have included some of my favorite stretches that have helped to increase my flexibility over the last month. When I am not in class I do not like to feel like I am “working out” so these are things I can do while I am surfing the net or lounging around the house.

Shoulder Stretches
This is probably the first stretch I do each session. Even if you are stiff it should not be uncomfortable and warms up the muscles for some of the tougher stretches.

1. Spread your feet about shoulder width apart and make your back and arms as flat as possible and lean into the wall. If you have silk to grip that is another fine option.
2. After a few deep breaths move your hands down your support about 4 inches. Remember to keep your back as flat as possible. As you roll down try to point your tailbone up. This helps to keep you from slouching
3. Continue Step 2 a couple more time until your hands are on the floor

Ankle & Wrist Stretches
This stretch is easy to do directly after your shoulders because you are already down on the floor. Your hands and feet are important tools for silks and acrobatics so it is good to make sure they are ready for use.

1. With your legs and hands about shoulder width apart walk your hands up over your head. Splay your fingers and try to put your weight evenly into your hands and press the floor down. As you walk up roll up on your toes and flex the ankles.
2. Roll down off  your toes and walk your hands back between your legs. Palms should be on the floor with fingers pointed between your legs. Remember to keep your tailbone pointed towards the ceiling to keep your position as straight as possible. If you need to widen your stance to touch the floor go ahead
3. Repeat Steps 1 & 2 several times.

Your ability to split is going to almost always improve the ascetics of your routine as well as make reaching different positions easier. If you only work on one thing a day I recommend the straddle. It's not an easy move but persistence will pay off. There are many positions you can do from a basic straddle I have just included the one I use most frequently.

1. Spread your legs as far apart as comfortable. If that is only a small V fine go for it. Proper position is far more important than the width of the straddle.
2. Sit straight up with a flat back and point your hips to the floor. This should help give you a flat back. If you are arching your back it is not going to improve your straddle. Sitting correctly should feel like a slight tension where your inner thigh meets your hip
3. Lay your left elbow on the ground inside your left leg and reach your right arm over head toward your left foot.
4. Make sure your torso is pointed forward and your back is straight. For a better stretch try pointing your toes too.
5. Remember proper position is more important than how deep your stretch is. Time and persistence will improve the rest. 
6. When you bring your legs back together remember to do it slowly and shake them out as you go. Be nice to your muscles!

This is a simple stretch for your hamstring. I also feel like I can track my overall flexibility.

1. Sit with your legs together and toes pointed
2. Reach towards your toes while keeping your back as flat as possible
3. If you can't reach do not give up! Breath in exhale and try to reach a little further.
4. Once you can reach your toes you can further improve the stretch by trying to touch your belly and torso to your knees.

Roll Down
This borders on being conditioning vs a stretch but due to how simple and important it is I decided to include it. Your ability to be flexibility does not just depend on how much you stretch but also your core strength and ability to hold positions. The roll down is an low impact way to quickly improve some of your core

1. From a seated position with back straight tuck your butt under and suck your stomach in towards your spine.
2. Hold your hands either out at your sides or in front of you.
3. SLOWLY begin to lay back starting from your hips to your shoulders.
4. If you are doing it correct it should take an agonizing amount of time to actually lay down. You are supporting yourself with your abs and core only.
5. Once you are all the way down stretch your hands over your head and enjoy an leisurely stretch from head to toe.

Congratulations, you are on your way to becoming a more flexible person!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The One With The Origin Story

“Why circus”

It’s a question I have been asked many times this year but one I have trouble answering. I began examining all the times circus has crossed a path across my life. Going through a closet at my parent’s house I unearthed what was probably the first piece of art I could remember wanting to hang on my wall. It was a print of the unfinished circus painting by Georges Seurat. I obviously identified with the impish woman in a tutu parading around the circus ring on a spirited mount. I would go on to spend many summers of my youth on a ranch attempting to vault from galloping horses or riding backwards to the amusement of anyone who might be watching.

I'm pretty sure the likeness is uncanny
Maybe my taste for absurdest comedy and white face paint was solidified by my youth theater group when I was cast to play Pickles the clown. To this day I can clearly remember my mentor attempting to explain the mechanics of slapstick comedy to me.

But it was so obvious...I should have seen it coming

Scully after her first performance

But all these experiences were in my past. In my adult life traditional circus was almost a thing of the past. Elephants and tigers were retired for extravagant stage shows show casing human talent. But as the circus change though so did I. I traded in my childish whimsy for an industrial attitude and there was no time for clowning around.

Scully in the office
I enrolled in the Arizona State University and earned a degree in Supply Chain management. It was all strictly business when I accepted a job at a corporation and relocated to Texas to begin my life as an “Adult”.  However, it took me several years to learn that the most important part of being an adult is staying true to yourself and in my case that means being just a little bit silly. Slowing my quirkiness started leaking into the office and when the right door was opened…

Dark circus?...Yes Please!
I took the opportunity! What I was surprised to find on the other side was a flourishing circus community. I was completely engrossed by the vibrant, dynamic and truly amazing people that make up circus. It’s not all silliness, face paint and balloon animals…okay there is a lot of that…but there is also skill, beauty and tradition that permeates this culture.

So when people ask me “Why Circus?” the only response I can muster is “Why not…”. Why not this colorful and challenging discipline? Why not learn a new skill? Why not make someone smile? And so in probably the least traditional fashion possible I have run away to join the circus.

I invite you to join me!