Archive for the “Trapeze” Category

Flying Out of Lines Again

October 11th, 2007

A while back I hurt my shoulder a bit falling off the flying trapeze. It wasn’t a bad injury, but it was noticeably uncomfortable for a few months. I knew I should take it easy. My compromise was to stop catching tricks out of lines. Catching them in safety lines, yes. The discomfort wasn’t enough to make me give that up. But catching things out of lines adds another level of risk.

If a catch is good then it doesn’t matter much if one is in lines or not, the stresses on the shoulder are about the same. But if the catch isn’t quite right then the flyer tends to drop down towards the net rather than swing through a nice arc. The drops can be tough on sore shoulders. Or if the trick involves spinning, it’s easy to spin a bit too far or not quite enough, and then there is some sideways stress as well at the moment of the catch. If the flyer is using safety lines the instructor “pulling” the lines can do a lot to take this unwanted energy out of the system.

So I threw everything to the catcher in safety lines for several months. Looking back I think it was the right decision. But one side effect is that the lack of regular practice allows the fear to creep back in. I knew this, I could feel it happening.

A few weeks ago as my shoulder got better I realized it was time to start working my way through the fear and start catching out of lines again. So the first week I started with the most basic trick that people do out of lines. It’s not hard, I first did it years ago, but still my heart was pounding. had to work hard to remember basic things like “breathe!” and “watch” and “wait for the catcher.”

A few nights ago I started with that same trick and went through 3 or 4 others. Four of the more simple tricks I know how to do, but out of lines to the catcher. Nothing fancy, but a lot of mental content.

I remembered the fear, and knew I would have to deal with that. But I had forgotten the *fun.* I had to stop for a while and then come back to flying to realize this. It’s not just adrenaline, or overcoming fear, of accomplishing something that makes flying great. It’s all of that. But it’s also just fun. Moving through the air, being high above the ground, the solidity of the catcher’s arms at the moment of a good catch, hanging comfortably in space as the trapeze bar swings back to me, knowing that the end-game is perfectly set up. It’s a great feeling. And one that just isn’t the same in safety lines. The sense of being tied to something through the safety lines is unconscious for me but it’s there. I notice it when the lines come off: once I stop being so afraid, the experience is much better.

I happened to be flying to a catcher who is really good at helping flyers get lift as they leave the catcher. Lift is important because one needs to be high enough to get the trapeze bar on its return swing and then high enough to return to the starting platform. So even though I was out of practice, I was still really high leaving the catcher, maybe higher in the air than I’ve ever been at that point. Did I have fun. I can hardly wait for more. And mostly, I’m trying to keep the sensation of that much fun in my mind so that I don’t forget it’s out there waiting, if only I push myself to go find it.

Falling Again

September 6th, 2007

(I started writing this to write about the return to flying well rather than the fall. But this part came out long enough as is, and I’ll put the rest into another post.)

I few months ago I hurt my shoulder on the trapeze. Well, falling off the trapeze, actually. And it’s probably more like 4 months ago, but who’s counting? It wasn’t a bad fall or a bad injury. My rotator cuff muscles complained and my arm ached for weeks. But still it counted as an irritating setback rather than a scary or serious injury.

In hindsight, I can see that this fall was exactly like the last time I did something scary and fell to the net. In both cases the underlying problem had been identified by the instructors repeatedly. In both cases I understood I should fix the problem. But in neither case did I understand that fixing the problem was a safety issue.

In this case the manoeuver is known as an “uprise.” it’s a move where one starts out hanging on to and below the trapeze bar and ends up with one’s hips resting on top of the bar. The clearest video of an uprise I found of an uprise is actually a woman I fly with, although this video was taken in sunny outdoor southern California and not in the old warehouse where I fly. Here’s a dark, harder to see video of an uprise by a classmate of mine in the facility where I fly. In both these videos the flyer is wearing safety lines; these allow the instructor to help the flyer if something goes wrong.

I’ve done many uprises without any problem and stopped using safety lines for this trick a while back. Recently my instructor has been telling me that I’ve been too upright on the bar. The correct position has one’s shoulders in front of the trapeze bar, and one’s feet behind. It’s obvious to me now — the correct posture distributes the weight so that the flyer stays put on the bar as the trapeze moves through the arc of its swing. But since I had never had problems with the uprise I had never really understood the mechanics of what can go wrong.

Then one evening I do an uprise. I feel the lift I’m accustomed to as one floats up over the bar and I think to myself “great.” Then suddenly, unexpected, I am falling off the back of the bar. I’m still holding on with my hands. But I’m no longer a fulcrum balanced on the bar — I’m a weight still attached by my hands but otherwise sliding off the back of the bar. I don’t think even the strongest person can hold on in this setting. The physics make it tough. I’ve never done this before though, so I don’t realize this. My left hand slides off the bar. The right hand holds on for a while longer, still hoping to recover my grip. There’s a lot of stress on the right shoulder and rotator cuff muscles at this point. Lots of forces, pulling in different directions. The force of coming off the back of trapeze bar badly, the force of swinging through the air with my body out of position, the twisting forces from one hand sliding off first. Eventually the right hand peels off near the bottom of the swing and I careen downwards into the net.

I land fine in the net. This is nice and a bit surprising. My first reaction is shock — what happened? The next is fear, and the knowledge I have to get back up and do it again. Then the realization that my shoulder isn’t quite right. I ignore that long enough to do another uprise or two that night. Then I have to admit it, especially when I need both ice and ibuprofen to be able to sleep.

Then I had to admit that the warning signs had been there. My instructor had told me more than once to fix my upright posture. I had not understood the importance of this, but I hadn’t asked her to explain it either. She’s a great instructor. She doesn’t say things without a reason. I simply didn’t ask why being upright mattered. All the clues were there. I just didn’t focus enough to put them together.

It’s really a blessing in life to get warning signals. It’s really dumb to ignore them. Now I’m paying very focused attention to anything that sounds like it’s a safety warning. And looking at other aspects of life to see what signals I see there as well!

Flying Trapeze Double Excitement

December 1st, 2006

2006 has not been a great year for flying trapeze. The pain in my arm which started last December has taken a long time to heal. The combination of the arm and the pull of work, life and family made this year an inconsistent year: learning some new things, losing the ability to do others, never quite able to put the pieces together the way I wanted.

I still haven’t put the pieces together, but tonight I did something maybe even more fun: I caught the “double.” Twice!

A double is a double back tuck somersault. Really, it’s more like one and a half rotations in the air, but it’s known as the double. I only started working on it because one of my instructors was adamant and I’ve learned to do what she says.

The double takes a lot of energy. One starts higher up than usual. It turns out that good flyers don’t start from the platform you see when you go into a circus. Instead, they stand on a small elevated step about 3 inches wide known in this gym as a “riser.” In our gym we set the riser at the fourth level for the double, which is about three feet, or a meter, above the platform.

This makes many things different. There’s no comfortable place to hold on to the support bars. The cables on the trapeze bar are pretty much at a 90 degree angle from the mounting point, so it’s hard to raise the bar up as one should as one leaves the platform. It’s hard to have a good takeoff in general; there is often a sense of falling into the trapeze bar.

Assuming one manages all this well enough, you are really high in the air. And if you’re not quite high enough, our mighty instructor will often give a tug on the safety lines to pull you a foot or so higher. That means one gets a much closer view of the ceiling of the gym than normal — it’s a little freaky. On the back end of the swing one is much closer to the giant overhead light than one might want to be.

The flier has to put more energy into every part of the trick. The kicks, the tuck, the speed of the rotation, the sharpness of opening out of the tuck to stop the rotation — it’s all about cranking as much power into each element as possible.

And after all this, it’s easy to be “close” to catching a double for a long, long, long time. Many different things can be slightly off so that the trick is close but there is no catch.

I’ve come close to catching the double five or six times. I’m sure I’ll come close to catching it another 50 or 100 times before it becomes consistent, if it ever does. But for today, I opened out of the tuck and the next thing I knew I was looking up into the catcher’s face as we swung together after the catch. Astonishing. I never would have thought it. Now I’m really glad I listened to my instructor. 🙂

Learning from Falling

March 17th, 2006

This weekend I had a bad fall to the trapeze net during my flying trapeze class. I was lucky and didn’t get hurt, only scraped a bit. (A half inch cut starting at my eyebrow and a friction burn on my forehead). But it was the kind of fall where one could get hurt, and no good instructor would let a student continue to make the mistake that lead to that fall.

The root cause was a mistake many people make quite often with this motion, which is called a “layout.” Basically one does a backward head over heels rotation with a straight rather than a tucked position. During the first half one holds on to the trapeze bar. Then one lets go, rises above the trapeze bar, completes the rest of the rotation and is caught. The common mistake is to rush at the last minute, particularly when the catcher is there. One learns a flying trick first to the net before the catcher is there. In these cases, there is no possibility of a catch, the flyer knows she is going to the net. The layout is one of the hardest tricks to make the transition to having the catcher in the air. For me that’s because the layout it feels like the flyer is going to kick the catcher in the head. For others it’s a fear of actually knocking heads with the catcher. And for many of us it’s the feeling that the catcher is *right there* (!!!###) and so we need to complete the rotation quickly.

Like many others, I do nice layouts to the net and poor layouts to the catcher. I’ve probably caught 50 of these, and catch them regularly. But they are never good catches. They’re OK, or poor, or maybe better, but they are never good. I’ve heard the mistake described in many different ways and understand it intellectually, but have never been able to translate that into action. Over the weekend I rushed a lot. I also made an earlier timing mistake and the catcher was over-eager and tried to make the catch even though he should have let it go so I could land in the net safely. So I landed badly, banged my face up, and was lucky I didn’t break my nose or foot or pull a hamstring, etc.

This caused some suddenly clear thinking. I had to sit out a few turns to recover my balance and wait for the cuts to stop bleeding. During this time I had a revelation. My husband, in a comment breathtakingly like something my Dad would have said, noted that the fall had “knocked some sense into me.” Suddenly I put it all together.

I could feel the position of my body at the moment I made the mistake. I could see in my mind’s eye the visual cue at the moment I make the mistake. I could hear the instructor’s verbal command at the moment I make the mistake, and, most amazingly of all, I could suddenly feel *both* what I do next when the catcher is there AND what I do correctly when the catcher is not there. Suddenly I am holding in my mind both alternatives. The moment is frozen — the kinesiology, the visual, the audio — and I feel the two alternatives. One is panicky, rushed for time, racing for the catch. The verbal command to let go of the trapeze bar is translated into a rush to get to the end of the rotation, not enough height, too much spin, and ultimately the dangerous trip to the net of a few minutes before. The other alternative is free, open, floaty. The verbal command to let go of the trapeze bar is now the signal to *begin* the floaty second half of the trick.

Now I’ll have to wait for my next class to see if all this intellectual activity actually results in a change of behavior!

Fun and Fear

March 3rd, 2006

I learned another lesson about fear in my flying trapeze class last night. I’ve been doing flying trapeze for about 5 years now, and a lot of it is overcoming fear. Last night’s lesson was small, but struck me.

To do anything on the flying trapeze, you first climb up to the platform (about 22 feet off the ground in the gym I go to), grab hold of the trapeze bar with one hand, jump off the platform and put your other hand on the trapeze bar. Then you kick backward as hard as you can, so the body is in a giant arch. (Here’s a video of a nice warm-up swing). I kick back late. I’ve been told repeatedly, but something kept me from fixing the timing. That something was a fear of bashing my feet into the platform. Not the biggest thing I’ve been afraid of with the flying trapeze, but it’s been enough fear to stop me from fixing this problem. I’ve worked on plenty of other things to make the swing stronger and higher but conveniently ignored this.

Last night the timing got so bad it started messing up all the things that come afterward. So I had to address it. Sometimes the best approach is to be absolutely determined and force one’s body to react despite the fear as an act of willpower. Sometimes the alternative approach of relaxing and trying to “let go” of the fear is best. Often nothing works for a while 🙂

Last night the results of not fixing the problem were too clear to ignore, and after a false start or two I finally managed to push aside the hesitation and put all the energy into the kickback when I was told to. The result was instantaneous — power. More power in the swing, more height, more time. And unexpectedly, the moment of full extension brought not only power but also an moment of lightness, of complete freedom. And with it, an instant of exhilaration. I’ve known for a while that when my actual position lines up with what the physics of a good swing call for, a moment of “float-i-ness” or seeming lack of gravity appears. At these times it feels like one has all the time in the world.

Last night I learned again how a small amount of fear, seemingly too small to matter much, has far greater impact than one might imagine. That’s what I love about trapeze — these lessons are combined with a level of fun that seems too good to be true.

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