You may remember my decisions to join a roller derby and learn to play ice hockey awhile back. While thrilling to think about, I never followed up – and unfortunately I used my lack of follow-through to beat myself up for being an unmotivated hot mess, especially since I haven’t really exercised on a regular basis since I broke my ankle three years ago. Then I tried pole dancing, and that was great but it made me nauseas and I never went back. Well, I’ve got a new obsession. And it’s the superest invention in all the world. (Superest should definitely be a word if it isn’t already.)
Wait for it: aerial dance. Aerial yoga. Aerial arts. We have an aerial arts studio here in Fort Collins and I’m going to do it. This time I really am. How do I know that this time I really am? Because I already have. Ha! Fooled you.
I joined for a one-week trial, have taken five classes already and am 100% obsessed and don’t want to do anything else with my time and every morning when I wake up, the first thing I think of is what time my class is and I’m excited before I get out of bed. And I haven’t felt that way in a VERY LONG TIME.
I’ve already asked Paul to rig an aerial silks set-up in the basement. He thought I was joking and I dropped the subject. Don’t worry, though. I’ll start nagging him more as Christmas gets closer.
I have a lot to share about this and I think it’s important stuff, so pay attention. Or don’t. It’s important to me, maybe not to you. You can just look at the pictures and then move on. Or don’t look at the pictures! What do I care? (Jeez, why am I getting defensive? I’ll tell you why: it’s because I said I have something important to say, so then I felt like I had to take it back because I was giving myself too much credit. Maybe you won’t think it’s important; you’ll roll your eyes and think, “What a crock of shit.” But that’s a topic for another day.)
Back to aerial dance. And menopause, which I haven’t mentioned yet but which I promise is tied in. I’ll actually start with menopause, which I appear to be nearing. It was killing me, emotionally and physically. And then all of a sudden, it wasn’t. I am an empowered super woman now.
Here’s how it happened.
- First, I felt physically horrible. Periods drained me of vitality. Weepiness ran my life. I spent chunks of time on the bed in my office looking out the window and crying. Or sleeping. Didn’t want to talk to anyone. Felt depressed. Felt like my life was about to change in some big way, and I was frustrated that the change wasn’t arriving faster.
- Then I read a book loaned to me by a wise friend and talked to my wise father about this time of life: it’s a time of inward focus. Meditation. Examination of soul and heart: where am I in life and where I want to be going. Suddenly, my depression shifted. It felt more like introspection. I still didn’t want to be with people much, but my focus was on dreaming and thoughtfulness instead of the blues. I gave myself permission to stare out the window, to nap, to write or think or space out. I still felt change looming, but stopped fighting it. I grew patient about it. I started to know deep down, intuitively, that change was coming – mostly, kids leaving home in a few years, which breaks my heart a little bit – but that I would be okay and maybe grow stronger as I move into a new stage of life.
- Peace descended. Note that this has all taken place in the last two weeks, so who knows if it’s a lasting thing.
- Suddenly I felt motivated, more than I have in years. Enter aerial dance.
First, you should know that while aerial dance is AWESOME, it is not all rainbows and daisies. Why?
- Upper body strength, anyone? Not me. Turns out, holding your entire body in the air, like you’re doing a pull-up (which I can’t do) by the strength of your hands, arms, back and shoulders would be so difficult? I figured it would be KIND of hard, but as with any good art, the people who do it make it look SO EFFORTLESS. Whereas I personally am grunting, yanking myself, cursing and sweating – and, mostly, failing. But failing a little less each time.
- Those silks hurt! First, they’re not actually silk. Second, while the fabric looks gentle and embracing, it actually digs into your skin (and, in my case, into the softer, thicker tissues of my thighs and butt). Here’s the crazy part: when you’re hanging upside down with the silk wrapped around your lower body and it’s killing you, and the instructor says to just breathe into it, and you want to punch her (or him), but then you do what they say, it actually works. The pain fades. And the cool thing is, after practicing each move a few times, the muscles and skin and fleshy parts no longer hurt. A position that used to be torture (hanging upside down in a straddle with the silk holding me up) is now actually my go-to position for comfort and resting when I’m pooped.
- Those silks also stink. They stink like workout shirts that haven’t been washed. It’s comforting though, because when the instructors are spotting me and standing directly under my armpits, they probably can’t distinguish my stink from the stink of the silks.
- Nausea: I still get sick but not as badly as before. One instructor, a 20-year-old contortionist named Drake, showed me that bouncing lightly on my toes seems to reset my brain and the nausea recedes.
- The yoga: okay, I think I’ll like the yoga part once I’m more comfortable with it. For now, I feel like a dork in the poses, and even more like a dork with the whole yoga philosophy and, like, rules. Can you talk during class, to ask instructors questions? Do I have to be spiritual and dreamy? What if I’m pissed off and want to say “motherfucker,” which I have to admit I said inadvertently several times today? And what the hell does namaste mean, and am I supposed to repeat it at the end after the instructor says it? But yoga does actually feel really, really good.
- Dance: when I first talked to Kate, owner and instructor superstar, I learned about the different classes. Thrilled, I asked what the whole thing was actually called. She told me, “Aerial dance.” WTF? I thought this was an exercise class. I’ve never taken a dance class in my life! Pure terror – I wanted to bolt. However, it doesn’t actually feel like dance and everyone is supportive – and by everyone, I mean the instructors, because until now I have been the ONLY student in the class almost every time. Kate told me small class sizes. She wasn’t kidding.
But the good things far, far outweigh the bad – and in fact the bad aren’t really bad at all, but they sounded like complaints when I reread this so I went ahead and put them in the “bad” category. Actually, it’s ALL good. Examples:
- The studio: It’s a tiny space and a close-knit “family.” The instructors are inspiring and fun, and are supportive of my lack of skills and appreciative of my motivation become the best aerial artist the world has ever seen (or at least to become, you know, kind of good) – and to do it all before I turn 50 next year. Also, they enjoy my goofiness and high five me when I actually manage to pull myself into some wacky contortion, throw my arms out and my head back, and say, “I’m so pretty.” (At least, they pretend to enjoy it, which I appreciate.)
- Inversions: Picture my instructor and me, hanging upside down, chatting. She may be explaining the next move, or telling me how to make something easier, or just digressing into other non-dance-related subjects. And we’re UPSIDE DOWN. I mean, how great is that?
- More inversions: when I’m able to flip myself around, climb up here, drop a leg there, twist my torso so I’m facing the right direction, and then LET GO and drop my arms and the silks support me, wow – what a great feeling. It’s like doing those death-defying feats on the jungle gym in grade school that I’ve never forgotten and always wished I could do again. Guess what? I’m doing them again.
- Strength and flexibility: this may be my imagination, people, but in six days of classes, I swear I am stronger and more flexible. My leg muscles feel harder, my shoulders feel stronger, my back bends are deeper, and my hands seem to be holding me up better than they did earlier in the week.
- Old Lady Circus Club: Apparently this is a thing. I guess a bunch of aerial dance women in Fort Collins have a club and I was told I could be one of them. Definition of old? 35. LOL. I don’t know what we actually do in this club except have lunch sometimes. But hey, there’s a Facebook page, which makes it official.
- Fun fun fun: Life can be boring, right? What’s the point if you’re not enjoying it. For me, a key to enjoying life is fun. As a kid, fun was a given. As an adult, I have been in continual search of fun. I’ve found it with friends, family, snowboarding, paddle boarding, games… But this circus stuff my turn out to be the best of all.
- Performing: Kate says the really good dancers at the studio get hired to perform at functions and parties and who-knows-what. So if I ever get that good, I could become a PROFESSIONAL CIRCUS PERFORMER. There is no describing the wonderfulness of that sentence.
Menopause doesn’t have to suck. Empowerment, wisdom, intuition, and new life comes from acceptance. Embrace it when you can. And when you can’t, let yourself look out that window and cry.
Finding something fun to do makes it easier to get up in the morning.
Pain is not necessarily a bad thing, both in life changes and in aerial dance classes. And I should know. Because I am a dancer now.
As always, have fun out there and talk to you soon.
PS: I forgot to mention two other great things: Kate says I have “nice, dance-y hands!” And bruises: I have a girdle of bruises around my hips and upper thighs. It’s awesome because, you know, you have to suffer for your art.