In my last post about the Kreativ Blogger Award, I listed seven random facts about me. One of them happened to be about my former aerial acrobat days. It seemed to spark a few questions…namely: How did you get into THAT?
Remember Sex and the City? In one of the episodes, Carrie tried flying trapeze. I remember watching and immediately adding the activity to my bucket list. Since I’d grown up seeing Cirque Du Soleil, it didn’t seem like a big stretch of my imagination. Of course, based on the fact that I’d hardly done anything but run off and on my whole life, it also didn’t seem all that likely in the near future.
About three weeks later, a course catalog came in the mail for the local community college. They were offering a “Low-Flying Aerial Trapeze Dance” class. Fate had spoken! I gave the teacher a call and asked if this might by chance be the trapeze where you “fly haphazardly through the air over a very big net.” (Yes, I really said that.) It wasn’t, but she gave me the name of a school that offered such a thing. I promptly called them and booked a class, and two weeks later found myself standing thirty feet in the air on a platform in a warehouse, overlooking one very big net.
And then I jumped!
Of course, I was harnessed in with wires and there were instructors barking procedures so I wouldn’t break my neck, but it was a good first attempt. With a few grunts and shouts of the word “hep!” (that’s circus speak for “go”), I unhooked and even managed to catch onto the other trapeze artist! Nonetheless, it wasn’t quite my thing. Something about the jumping didn’t fit me. (I also hated bungee jumping for this same reason. Why would you willingly jump toward the ground?)
So, a few weeks after that, my best friend and I attended the Exotic Erotic Ball—and yes, that is a story and a half, but I’ll save it for later—where a semi-nude aerialist twisted around on silk strands of fabric. It was beautiful, sexy, strong, and awesome to watch. I looked at my friend and gasped.
“That,” I said. “That is what I want to do with my life!”
“You want to contort naked in the air?” she asked, raising her eyebrow as she took a swig of her drink. We’d been friends for 11 years at this point, so my Gemini need for challenges didn’t really surprise her anymore.
“Sans the naked.”
“Okay,” she said, nodding. “I support this.”
That’s when my next flying trapeze class happened. I climbed up the terrifying, narrow ladder, once again strapped into my harness, and as I stood on the platform I looked out to the side. A teenager was climbing, wrapping, and dropping on the silks at the other end of the building.
I looked at the instructor. “What is that called?”
“That’s tissue. Or silks.”
“Cool. Can I do that instead?”
“Book a class. Now jump.”
Teaching a summer camp for children. Circa 2008
And then I went flying through the air again, only half as into it this time and quite content to fall into the net, because I’d found my next big hobby.
Two weeks later I booked a class with Rachel Stegman. She was the sweetest, nicest teacher I’d ever met. And when I proved rather quickly to her that I had zero strength in my body except a fierce determination and a good attitude, she took me under her wing. When I left my tenth or twentieth class with a quivering lip because I couldn’t believe I still didn’t have the strength to do most everything, she called me at home and told me she was proud of me for being so positive and for trying so hard. She also told me that she would root me on, because she knew I had a sassy personality that was going to get me in the air one day, and that I was going to be great.
Me at my first show, with my incredibly supportive best friend. Circa 2007
She taught me initially on static trapeze, rope (aka corde lisse), and tissue. When I asked her the benefits of each, she said, “Everyone is familiar with trapeze and it’s been around a long time. Everyone loves to watch tissue because the fabric is so pretty. But rope is hard. It’s not as popular, but it will work your body the hardest. It is just you and a rope. That’s it.”
So I chose rope.
After the first year I started going two or three times a week instead of one. I figured out that I didn’t mind tying myself up at twenty feet and dropping down—because I wasn’t jumping (that was for weirdos). I did nothing but talk about aerial work. I dropped three pant sizes. I called myself a circus freak. I grew bigger biceps than half the men I knew. I started feeling talented. I performed in my first demo to Michael Buble’s version of “Fever,” complete with top-hat and sequined leotard.
Over the next few years, I honed my skills. I had a day job, so I was by no means going to be a professional. Those folks are amazing. They train eight hours a day and suffer for their art. Or, they start the madness as toddlers. That was not me.
I had some form, I had some strength, but what I really had was determination and a stage presence.
Rachel loved, encouraged, and supported me. She included me in shows and invited me to co-teach a few summer camps with her for children aged 3 to 7 (the second year I even broke my nose…or rather, the foot of a six year old on a trapeze broke my nose). We worked together for about three years before she moved to Arizona to start her own school. She said, “Eva, you have the personality. You just have to train more on your own and you’ll be there.”
Just hanging around and practicing. Circa 2009
So I did. I practiced and practiced, and eventually I stumbled into someone connected to a San Francisco burlesque show. I performed a couple times as the aerial act. I was also the one act with my clothes still on (rope + skin = pain and no more skin, so there you have it). My stage name was Deva Darling. My act was the triple S—sassy, sexy, and silly. Basically, I was a giant, smiling flirt in the air. I had a great time until one day I got hurt, and then after a long recovery I had a new take on the matter. I was over 30, my body didn’t like the intense training for shows anymore, and I really wanted to write again. I missed it. A lot.
I found a happy medium: I still practice once or twice a week (though I’ve moved into trying other apparatuses more often) and I stay healthy. Sometimes I just do pullups and smile at the memory of the former performer in me who climbed on a rope and dropped 20 feet to the squeals of a captive audience.
Meanwhile, I have way more time to write—which makes giving up performing one of the best decisions I ever made.
I’m sure there’s a moral in here somewhere.
Always try something new.
Do what you love, even if it takes you time to remember that’s what you truly love.
And most importantly, whether it be sports, circus, performing, training, or writing…
follow your heart
…and live your fantasy.