Two years ago, I was struggling. Sure, I had a job I enjoyed and a two bedroom home with my long-term boyfriend, but something was missing. And no, it wasn’t a baby. I had been out of college for two years and gradually all of my friends had moved out of town to pursue their job interests, leaving me behind with fewer and fewer social options. So I joined the local kickball league.
Surprisingly, I didn’t resort to hanging out with third-graders, and that there is actually an adult kickball league with a booming social culture founded primarily on heavy drinking and wild costumes. I met a few people on my team that turned into close friends (as Kristen puts it, “I joined kickball to meet a man, but I met Kaleena instead”) but even then, I felt like I needed something more out of life.
All of my life I’ve kept (overly) busy with hobbies like singing, dancing, music lessons, acting, etc. The performing arts are my passion, but when I transferred to UCSB my time became entirely consumed by school, work, and partying. When school and partying eventually faded out, I was left with only work–and boredom. I tried to find a local choir or a play to try out for, but I just couldn’t seem to find a good fit.
Then, one day, as I sat at my desk at work doing what every good employee does–stalking people on facebook–I came across this photo of a girl from my hometown.
The average person would probably see that photo and say, “Whoa, that’s crazy! I could never do that!” But what I found myself saying was, “Whoah, that’s crazy! I want to do that!” The next thing I knew, I was google searching “circus arts” and “aerial dance” and found a local studio offering classes.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, and I nervously entered the studio door to my first class. I had resurrected my old ballet leotard and stuffed myself into it, covering my sausage of a body with leggings and a ratty t-shirt. I watched as the class before me finished up; the lithe and limber girls tip-toed across a trapeze bar and spun in mesmerizing circles on the metal hoop, lyra. Butterflies danced in my stomach.
The night of my first class we were learning the aerial sling, a long piece of fabric hung in a loop from the ceiling. The teacher taught us the “fancy” and artistic way to pull ourselves up into a seated position in the sling; it was harder than it looked, and muscles I hadn’t known existed screamed at me.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about that first class–except for one particular moment. Toward the end, we each got up and performed to music, alone, whatever we had learned that night in class. I don’t remember what I did; I don’t recall how I pulled myself up into the moves I’d learned, although I’m sure it felt a lot more graceful than it looked. What I maintain, however, is a flash of a memory that is seared into the front of my brain forever, one that solidified this as a defining moment in my life.
The lights were dimmed, and a single spotlight shone up at me, blinding my eyes just a little, and lighting the room with a warm, fuzzy glow. I stood up in the sling and gingerly extended my right leg forward to rest on the opposite side of the fabrics. I leaned my neck back against the other side and slowly uncurled my fingers from their iron grip on the fabric. My arms lifted out to my sides and I stood there in a simple move called a neck balance; I’m certain it looked like nothing much, but in that moment, with the fabric gently spinning and the soft music swirling around me, my heart sang.
I was hooked. For weeks, my friends laughed and joked when I said I was “off to circus class”, figuring it was a silly little stint that would run its course. But over time, after hearing my incessant talk about class and seeing more and more of the bruises and rope burns I proudly displayed, the laughter subsided and was replaced with questions of when they could see me perform.
For the last year and a half I have trained in aerial dance on various apparatuses including fabrics, trapeze, corde lisse (the rope), sling, lyra (the hoop), and even a little tight wire. I was finally able to perform in a little studio show for friends and family and show off some of what I’ve been working on, and the support from my friends meant the world to me. I was later invited to perform at another studio’s show, and I’m looking forward to a studio performance this fall.
What has made the experience of training in aerial dance completely fulfilling is the friendships I’ve made in my “aerial sisters”. Some of the people I now call my best friends are fellow aerialists, and I love each and every person I have trained with over the years. Aerial arts seems to attract some really incredible, if quirky, spirits; maybe it’s our shared love of self-abuse that strengthens the bond, but whatever the case, I consider myself lucky to have entered into this world of amazing people.
Why do I share my personal hobby with you? Well, yes, I’ll admit, I’m bragging a little because I think what I do is totally awesome. But what’s more important is I took a risk to try something new, something people didn’t take seriously at first, something completely foreign and scary. And it was not something I was naturally good at in the beginning; while my years of ballet had given me a foundation of straight legs and pointed toes, I didn’t have the physical strength to do many of the moves, and for several months I was the one in class who struggled to do what everyone else already could. It was only with a lot of determination, sweat, tears, and blood that I turned into the decent aerialist I am today. But each small victory along the way made it all worth it and I finally felt empowered and fulfilled.
Am I saying everyone should go out and “join the circus”? Of course not! But perhaps take a moment to think of something you’ve always had an interest in doing, but never thought you could or should do. Take a risk and find your passion.
Maybe it’s not even something risky, but a hobby you have put off because you are too busy with work or family or other obligations. Make it a priority now. I was recently discussing the mid-life crisis with a man who declared he had already had his, and that the biggest part of it for him was wishing he had done the fun things, like pursue a passion, earlier in life. Help yourself avoid the midlife crisis, because life doesn’t start in retirement–it’s happening right now. So avoid regrets, find out what you love to do, and do it. You never know what could happen. Aerial dance will never be a profession for me, but it has empowered me so much that perhaps it is what gave me the courage to start this blog and pursue my passion of writing. Imagine the possibilities if you follow your heart and do what you love! Even if it amounts to nothing tangible, your life will be richer for it.
As Chris Brogan says, “The opposite of fear is not courage. Fear is part of courage. They are the mac and cheese of the world.” So embrace your fears and hug them close to your chest as you run; run as fast as you can and then throw them up into the air as your parachute, using them to fly as you jump off the edge of a mountain.
Take risk. Be bold. Find your passion.