Monday through Saturday, I am on the floor, often clinging precariously to some contorted limb. The location of my practice varies, but the subject is the same: learn to be present in this body because it’s mine.
This week, practice went like this, on my living room floor:
Practice is how we learn. Here’s what I like. Here’s what I don’t like. Here’s what I need. Turns out, I like to look at the back of my calves, let the rest of the world lose focus for awhile. I need intense, but calm partnerships. I need trust and time. I like to take the time to get warm enough to slide smoothly into surprising places when I play.
My body needs to bend. I know this from time spent practicing in my particular body. If I don’t practice, I get grouchy and stiff.
The writer Kiese Laymon wrote an essay to this effect on practice recently, which I loved and my writing students found direct and true, “We’re not good enough to not practice.”
“You might want to read everything with an eye for ‘How in the fuck did they do that?’” Laymon writes, on why writers need to read.
There is a perception about the arts—writing and circus included—that some people are born gifted with extraordinary talent, a kind of magic that naturally knows how to make art that is both beautiful and impactful.
Being an acrobat, like being a writer, or being any other kind of artist for that matter, is not magic. It’s a practice.
I want to be careful here. It’s not: if people just practice, we will all reach the same imagined goal. I’m not talking about able-ness. I’m talking about finding a practice, about paying attention to craft.
I’m such a nerd for talk about craft. Because practice is magic. So are accountability partners and teachers. They reveal the pleasures of playing with others, or observing someone way more experienced.
I’ve been training contortion intensively for about 4 months, since Fortuna has been away. We were reunited at last in December, when I went to visit Chicago and take some private lessons at Aloft.
Practice is a process of unfurling. The way to re-write a body’s scripts can be to practice different patterns of movement. It’s emotionally hard to be apart after being together. I am learning to be open to new ways of moving, new spaces, relationships, experiences, teachers.
In Oyunchimeg Yadamjav’s (Oyuna's) Friday night Contortion class, we started warming up in the smaller space, padded with tumbling floor: 20 push-ups/20 roll jumps/20 handstands. By the end of warm-up, I was toasty.
We moved to the larger room to spread out. In the next hour + we kicked at least 1,000 kicks in all directions. We stacked our limbs on impossibly high mats. We uncomfortably embraced the wall in ways I will not soon forget.
In practice, or deep play, the moment narrows and what matters is the impulse to leave the uncomfortable place or to stay.
At one point, I looked over and Oyuna was sitting on Secret Bender, my traveling companion to Chicago, my enthusiastic student/teacher, and a secret, lifelong contortionist.
As we finished up the class, I got to watch Fortuna stand up from bridge, her goal since childhood. “Do it like her,” Oyuna pointed to Fortuna, and I smiled, knowing her story.
Duo trapeze with Char Numrych was rapid-fire dynamics. I kept messing up this ½ flip and it felt so good to land in a pile of mats laughing beneath Fortuna again.
“Thank your base!” Char said, so I did, clasping her sweaty, upside-down face in my hands.