by Shay Welch
So lately I’ve taken up a new sport—aerial arts. This is a much needed move beyond the weightlifting I was doing to train for fitness competitions; I am, or was, or who knows, a figure girl. And I’ve gotten bored. Again. But my entire life, all I’ve ever wanted to do was dance. I am an avid and fabulous dancer but there’s always been a catch. The same catch that kept me out of gymnastics, swimming, volleyball, cheerleading, pom pom, and bodybuilding—I have a disability. No one notices that I have it; it’s one of those invisible but painful and limiting conditions that tons of people slightly limp around with and adjust their life around.
Then one night, I was at the club. And this woman there…my goddess…she was doing this stuff in the air and it was dynamic and graceful and athletic and just looked like a whole lot of upside down fun that I could get down with. So I introduced myself to her and she gave me her card. One month later I scraped together the money and booked a private lesson with her. And now…now I do sling. Now…I am an aerial girl.
Not only is this particular version of aerial super conducive to my disability, I would say most people with disabilities could do one version or another. I’ve even seen photos of a pole person who only had one arm, which is pretty magnificent if you’ve ever seen pole competitions. There’s really nothing bad I can say about aerial except that it’s certainly pricey for a single assistant professor but it’s more than worth it. And given that I’ve spend my entire life being largely dependent on my upper body and that I’ve spent that last (almost) decade of my life as a hardcore weightlifter who loves to break it down at the club, I seem to be both a natural and at an advantage since I know my body, know how to use it, and can lift it repeatedly.
I’ve only been at this a month and I’m already working my way into level 3 classes, which takes most beginners a VERY long time to achieve. So I take this moment to preen like a peacock *PREEN*…done. This stuff is magic. Every time I complete a new trick I can’t wait to learn a new one so I can combine them. It’s also given me new motivation to keep my shit together. I’m back to my good nutrition; I know I have to eat lots of food to keep my strength but I can’t eat bad food or I’ll lose my energy. I’m practicing more than I thought I would but that’s mostly because, as it unsurprisingly turns out, I seem to belong with the circus folk. That gym already feels like home.
Now for the not-so-gravy part. This is a sport and a damned hard one. And for me, it is a new sport. Anyone who is athletic knows that endurance or strength in one area of sport means squat (see what I did there) in another sport. So it hurts. Bad. I’m covered in bruises and burns and I’m convinced I’ve pulled everything down to my little toe. It’s not as obvious or natural as I thought it would be. As a dancer and a lifter, I have excellent mind-body-space orientation and manipulation ability.
But when you’re leg only gets up in the air by a pulley system that requires one arm behind you while tugging on your ear and flexing your knuckles (you see where I’m going with the drama), things don’t quite…fall into place (I’m full of jokes tonight)…as instantaneously as anticipated. Thus, I’m exhibiting a lot of narcissistic disappointment that all my skillz haven’t made me an instantaneous pro on day one. But like all fitness related stuff, it hurts, it sucks, and I can’t imagine I’ll be able to live without it anytime soon. If you like to hang upside down, I suggest you start right now.
Special thanks to the awesome trainers at Sky Gym Atlanta!
Shay Welch is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Spelman College who doubles as a rock star of all trades. In her free time she likes to ride her motorcycle, see live bands and DJs, and reads more Urban Fantasy than a pre-tenure professor ought.