As far as I can recall, I’ve always been a tomboy. I don’t think I really had much of a princess phase, except for Princess Leia and Wonder Woman. I was also a short Asian-Canadian teenager in the 90’s, where pale skin and waiflike looks were in. So I’ve never really thought of myself as one of the pretty girls, which is fine (ok, so my teenage Ani DiFranco soundtrack is also coming out here). It means I don’t worry much about my clothes, hair, or eyebrows, and the only makeup I own is probably expired (does makeup expire?). Cool, less effort.
When it comes to sport, it also means that most of what I do hasn’t asked too much of my appearance. Sport taekwondo has me covered up in a loose white uniform and padded up with protective gear. And rock climbing, well, I don’t know how good anyone looks in a climbing harness, much less when you’ve been living out of your car camping out at the crags.
Still, I’ve always loved Cirque du Soleil, and the awesome athleticism of aerialists. I took the odd drop-in class in things like aerial yoga and hoop, but most of the places I found that offer those kinds of things are places primarily for pole, burlesque, and other types of sexy fitness. Which I certainly have no problem with in their own right, but they are really really not for me. I did wushu for a few years in school, and loved the acrobatics and aesthetic – but even if there was a school I could find to train at, I don’t know if these 38 year old tendons would take it well any more.
But here’s the good news. A circus school, just 10 minutes from home, opened in December, offering classes on aerial apparatus for all ages. I talked a friend into doing a drop in introductory class with me, and was hooked. The instructor at The Rising is an aerialist and former gymnast, and doesn’t seem to care if I’m a scruffy dog-hair-covered tomboy who probably couldn’t do a sexy hip thrust if my life depended on it. In fact, my general willingness to hang upside down like a monkey from things has turned out to be an asset after all. It also turns out that many many years of a sport where I get kicked by people has helped to desensitize my legs so they don’t get bruises from the apparatus.
But most of all, what I’ve found interesting is that it’s helped me find a little sense of femininity through strength. A lot of really pretty poses are things that require non-trivial arm and core strength to do gracefully. And while I’ve always found muscles attractive on other women (I know, I know), this is one of the first times that I’ve started to approve of the way they look on me too, and of the cool tricks they can let me do.
Obviously I’ve only just started, and who knows where I’m going to run up against the limits of my gendered comfort zone. But so far I’m loving doing something that I’ve always admired, and finding that these muscles let me do pretty things after all.