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Apr. 28th, 2014 | 03:28 am

We walk into the gym and scan for mat space, Kim’s aerial hoop over her shoulder, my aerial silk in my arms.

Aerialists hang from the peg wall, doing pike-ups and hoping the Cirque coaches will notice them. Big-bodied catchers wear tank tops and striped toe-socks. Short, muscled flyers with linebacker shoulders and gnarled ankles look at us, Visitors. We look up. A solo trapeze girl twists like a salmon in her lines, barely making it to the bar. She lets go on the forward swing, her coach slowly releasing the lines and flying her to the mats.

She unclips. Her coach says, “C’etait de la merde.”

The aerialist nods and shrugs one shoulder forward, the direction she should have rotated faster. The coach repeats, “Merde.”

The aerialist walks stiffly to the water fountain and back, re-clips her belt to the lines, a little cowboy ready to ride again. Nobody here wants to hear they did real good. You know you’re shit when your coach stops saying so. When they say “Fine,” the next step is ignoring you until you quit.

Kim and I occupy a corner of the tumbling floor. There are Mystic Pixies in the next quadrant, working on splits. Their front feet are lined up and elevated on a four-foot pile of mats. Their coach pushes their hips to the floor. She started with eleven pre-teen girls and cut the ones who cried. Now there are four Mystic Pixies. Now they are twelve, thirteen, thirteen and ten. They do not cry or eat in public. They square their hips and press their crotches to the floor, their oversplits still not good enough. In the third corner, slightly older contortionists eye the Pixies sidelong, praying one will grow breasts and need to be replaced.

Kim stretches her splits, front foot on a bench. My crotch hovers 6 inches from the floor, even with my back knee bent. I do some lunges instead.

Real aerialists have splits. Real aerialists stretch their splits every day, not just on a training residency, the trip to the San Francisco Circus Center too expensive to waste on sending emails all day or doing phone bookings. So I stretch. I pretend I am a real aerialist.

Kim does backbends. I realize I should do backbends. I hate my sloppy, labored pelvic lifts, elbows bent, knees pointing out. It’s even worse next to Kim, who bends her elbows on purpose and sets her upper chest on the floor, looking out from between her feet. A Mystic Pixie moves into our line of sight, bends backward from standing and clasps her own ankles. The Pixie puts her hands on the floor, shifts her weight through a backbend, lifts her hips into a backbend handstand, feet off the floor and pointing at the wall. She does a reverse push-up, lowering her chest to the mat and her butt to her head, where it squashes her ponytail. The way she doesn’t look at us tells me she’s peeing in her corners—So what if I’m ten, I own this mat and my coach’s full attention.

I wonder if Kim feels as fake as I do. We cross the mat to a rigging point, put up Kim’s hoop. She starts working back elbow circles, not even warming them up, six in a row and I realize she’s peeing right back. Fuck you, skinny bendy kid.

I do not have even one back elbow circle. I do not have a triple (for non-aerialists, “The one where you wrap up in the drapes and roll down really fast”). I don’t even have Star Fall (one forward and one lateral rotation, belly-up landing, or “That thing where you whip around and fall down”).

I am a four-trick aerialist. I am here for trick number five.

Sarah shows up. Between lessons, we’re spending an hour skill-sharing. Or rather, Kim and Sarah will share skills, and I will take good notes and sequential photos and hope there is one trick easy enough for me to learn.

Sarah has doubles and triples and sparkle legs and flair. She’s trying to build a transition between two complicated wraps, and with Sarah’s arm strength, Kim’s flexibility and my eyes, the three of us make a new move. I dutifully document it.

Sarah asks, “Where’re you guys from?”

Kim says, “I’m from Chicago and she’s from Michigan, but we flew in from a gig in Singapore.”

Sarah asks, “Where do you guys go next?”

I say, “We have a corporate in DC and then a festival in Ohio. What about you?”

“Oh I live here. But I wanna start performing.”

“I thought there was a lot of work here,” says Kim.

“Yeah, but my coach doesn’t think I’m ready.”

Kim and I exchange a look. Sarah’s coach is an ex-communist Ukranian. We have trained with that coach, with Chinese coaches and Soviets and Mongolians, always as guests training a specific skill. Sarah will never be “ready,” because her coach has seen better and will not settle for less. Circus school can become a training vortex, high level skills executed mechanically, never smiling, never being good enough.

Sarah gives me a drop and now I am a five-trick aerialist. A fake. An entertainer. But I performed last week and I’ll perform next week, the easy part in a trio routine. We could replace me with a real aerialist, but no-one books work like I do. No-one else wants to send emails, hear a hundred no’s to get to yes, smile at clients with petty demands and big checks.

Real aerialists do splits and backbends and triples and complicated wraps. I am a fake, but fake is cashing checks. Fake is performing full-time instead of waiting for permission.




_______________________________________________________________
whipchick met (well, worked on the same mat as) the Mystic Pixies in 2008, about when this video was filmed. The move described is at 1:06.





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Comments {60}

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Ink Well

(no subject)

from: penpusher
date: Apr. 27th, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC)
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A really great and telling look at the process. And of course that's right, there are people with skills who will never perform and people who just know what to do that are booking work. Sometimes it's really more about knowing how to fake it!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:12 am (UTC)
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Ever since, I've characterized myself as an entertainer, rather than as an aerialist, and it's really worked for me!

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(no subject)

from: solstice_singer
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 12:51 am (UTC)
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I thought yoga was hard. Reading this makes what I do look super easy. I can't imagine getting my body to do some of those things.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:13 am (UTC)
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Seriously! I watch it up close and do the initial stages, and it still looks insane!

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C.S. Inkheart

(no subject)

from: frecklestars
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
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Non-circus comment: this whole thing resonated with me so hard. It's the reason I quit: knowing that everyone would always be better than me. But I'm glad to know that even you (who I think of as one of my circus idols) feel like you're a fake. Even though you are clearly not. :p <3

Circus comment: holy shit that child has incredible control! *after watching the video*

Edited at 2014-04-28 01:08 am (UTC)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:15 am (UTC)
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Yeah, it can be so daunting. And I'm sorry to hear you stopped! But hey, if it calls you, you can always go back.

I found myself really motivated to make a new routine earlier this year. Started learning new moves, commissioned music, the whole deal. Then after about two weeks of working every day I realized I'd rather have the time for writing :)

The Pixies are incredible - they're in Kooza now. I always wonder about the tradeoff in gymnastics, ice skating and contortion - is it worth trading your childhood to be incredible at a skill? (I think yes, but I don't know if very many people would agree).

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similiesslip

(no subject)

from: similiesslip
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
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It's a big part of growing up, realizing you are "not the best." What you do after can really shape your life.

You handled this wonderfully. Part of this kind of realization that decides whether you grow or get bitter is being honest with yourself. You obviously did/do that.

This reminded me of one of my sisters. She is a good ballet dancer/teacher. However, when she went to college, she tried out and didn't make it as part of the performing group (though she could have taken lessons.) This upset her a lot. She told everyone they "refused" to take her because of her stand against immodest clothes..and then quit college after a year and hasn't returned yet.

It made me sad. I guess it wasn't meant to be. She claims to be happy now and that she hated college. I just, I ...hope she grew as much as she could. Some lessons, if you don't learn them the first time, you have to see them again. However, she is young.

My sweet sister. I am going to miss her so much (she's moving to China.)

I admire how, in this memory, you knew your limits, but still pushed yourself. That is a lesson I need to learn/work on!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 05:38 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - it's been a good journey for me to discover that my strengths are more in managing, scripting, and verbal performing, and I can do a bit of physical circus and hire people to do the rest :)

I hope your sister finds what she needs - you're a great example for her.

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witchwife

(no subject)

from: witchwife
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 04:10 am (UTC)
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Oh, I'm glad you put that note in at the end! Kept wondering how you had such an intimate knowledge of such an interesting topic. Very well written.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:17 am (UTC)
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Thanks! Yeah, I've spent the past ten years bossing a small aerial company - we do mostly festivals and corporate events. (www.angelsintheair.com) I'm making the change to write full-time this year, but I do love performing.

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i_17bingo

(no subject)

from: i_17bingo
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:48 am (UTC)
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I really enjoyed watching this piece as it evolved from a simple "Imposter Syndrome" piece in the beginning to the revelation that you know what you're doing--but just knowing doesn't qualify you as Real, and closing with an evaluation of the strength and importance of the Real label. Well done!

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i_17bingo

(no subject)

from: i_17bingo
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 09:50 am (UTC)
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* Lost control of my italicization, and lack the ability to correct it from my Kindle. Rest assured, I am not shouting that bit at the end.

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drwex

I wanted to like this a lot

from: drwex
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
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I knew it was non-fiction from early on, and there are bits I think are great, but it feels to me like it needs a polish. F'rex "peeing" versus "pissing." People don't have peeing contests; they have pissing contests. People piss to mark territory. It feels like there are word-level polish things like that which snagged my eyes from time to time. Like, why is "no-one" hyphenated? No one, or nobody. "Nos" is also probably not apostrophized; I'd have to look that up to be sure, but it jarred me. You could say "a hundred times no" or similar.

I also have an old-timer's disdain for italics. Your writing should tell the reader where the emphases are; you don't need graphical tricks.

Stepping back from the little polish stuff... yes, the piece generally works. As I said, I wanted to like it a lot.

By the way, the contortionists freak me RIGHT THE HELL OUT. I can't watch people putting their buttocks on their own heads - my back screams.

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whipchick

Re: I wanted to like this a lot

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the feedback!

I think dudes piss - animals and girls pee. I'd always say, "the cat peed over there" or "I'm heading off to pee." I hear men say "The dog pissed against the tree," but I'm more likely to hear a woman say "pee" or use a euphemism. Gym-wise, it's a pretty common saying "Look at her pee in the corners," and we do use "piss" for guys talking about guys. But that's an in-group thing that may not translate. For me, voice-wise, "piss" just isn't a word I enjoy using - not so much the connotation, but I don't like the sound. Though I do say "pissed off" - for some reason the -ed redeems it for me.

Hyphenated no-one is common outside North America, and I'm working with a magazine's style guide right now that's got some variations that have clearly rubbed off.

Chicago Manual of Style says "yesses and noes" or "yes's and no's" (7.14). I tend to use apostrophes incorrectly for pluralizing nouns that my eyes get confused reading without apostrophes (DVD's).

I ended up italicizing "real" and "entertainer" because the amount of derision I wanted to convey needed that or another 100 words :) I'm assuming you're not referring to the thinking italics and the foreign language ones, but if you are, let me know!

Thanks - I always appreciate you taking the time to poke at the finer points. You've got a good eye for it, and I love getting to look things up and learn!

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swirlsofblue

(no subject)

from: swirlsofblue
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 05:23 pm (UTC)
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Love the descriptive detail here, and love the concept, brilliant last line :)

(And I was unreasonably happy that I read the French correctly).

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! It took a few tries to get the French right, so I'm glad it translates!

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Didn't want to be

(no subject)

from: anyonesghost
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
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I enjoyed this a lot. It captured the spirit of that skillset-based aristocracy that seems to infect so many other professions (artistic or otherwise). Of course, I might just be a sucker for anything that includes the phrase "C'etait de la merde."

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! Yeah, it's interesting how sometimes being really good at a technical skill is either not enough, or there are other things that are also valid ways to succeed.

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

(no subject)

from: halfshellvenus
date: Apr. 28th, 2014 08:17 pm (UTC)
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Love the conclusion to this, and I had no idea that your primary skill was managing (though I should not have been surprised). But flexibility, agility... sometimes, no amount of forcing will make that come. It might get better, but splits-to-the-ground were something I couldn't even do at age 8.

Loved the conclusion to this. You are as 'real' as you decide to be. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) I like being reasonably strong and decently flexible, but yeah, my split is never going to hit the floor! But I can boss like there's not tomorrow :)

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rayaso

(no subject)

from: rayaso
date: Apr. 29th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
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I loved this! I really enjoyed reading about the process and the one-up-manship. Is "peeing" performer vernacular, or did you make it up? It is very expressive. I also love the name "Mystic Pixies" as well as the video. I can barely touch my toes, so I am beyond envy at what you do. For every limber person like you, the universe demands a counterbalancing rigid person. While you are out there performing, remember those of us who keep the cosmos from spinning out of control.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:27 pm (UTC)
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I say the "peeing" thing a lot, but I've heard it from other performers, too. We're all a bunch of egomaniacs! Thanks for being a grounding force :)

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Patricia

(no subject)

from: kotenok_angel
date: Apr. 29th, 2014 02:43 am (UTC)
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This is fantastic. I really love it. I experience this feeling of being a part of a group but not "real" a lot. The detail and descriptive language were wonderful.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! And yeah, I think we can empathize with each other on that one :)

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mistearyusdiva2

(no subject)

from: mistearyusdiva2
date: Apr. 29th, 2014 03:03 am (UTC)
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I like this... gives great insights about you as an aerialist and as a person. I resonate someone's thought above when they said about how sometimes really talented people have to struggle to get noticed while the maybe not so talented sometime rake in all the cash.

Well its all about destiny and being at the right place at the right time among the right people even. Not very encouraging that. But then again .... at the end of it doesn't it come down to enjoying what you do rather than worry about anything else.

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blahblahblah, whatever

(no subject)

from: kathrynrose
date: Apr. 29th, 2014 05:17 am (UTC)
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When they say “Fine,” the next step is ignoring you until you quit.

I need to tattoo this somewhere and remember it when receiving concrit. :)

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:28 pm (UTC)
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Your thing about the Project Runway "safe" group has stayed with me :)

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blink

(no subject)

from: yachiru
date: Apr. 29th, 2014 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Gah every time you post I think I must grow up to be like her. But then I remember I'm 30 and I am filled with sadness. Also popcorn.

I like the sort of languid "fuck it all" vibe in this piece. It's lethargic but also moves really well.

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: May. 1st, 2014 06:29 pm (UTC)
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You make me squee with happiness and popcorn :) And for the record, I didn't start training aerial skills until my late 20s, so if something like that ever appeals to you, go for it!

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