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Triple Trap

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Apr. 1st, 2016 | 02:49 pm

“Miss Allison?” Shelly asks, because we are in Memphis and thus I cannot break 83 teenagers of calling me “miss” no matter how many times I say “Just Allison is fine.” Instead I say, “Yes?”

“I heard you need someone for triple trap?”

The triple trap is a long trapeze, basically a bar with four ropes dividing it into three sections. Three, four or five performers work in unison, balancing and holding each other while perched on the bar, lifting their own weight in the ropes or clinging below the bar. At the audition everyone tucked up, curling into a ball and hooking their knees, just like on the monkey bars not too many years ago. Then reached up, grabbed the ropes and pulled to sitting. “Pose like a circus princess or a handsome circus prince!” I called, enjoying their fabulous arms. But all I was really looking for was hover—can they reach up from sitting, grab the ropes, and pull their body off the bar, floating in a seated position a few inches above the trapeze.

Every coach has one thing they need to cast a kid in their act. In aerial silks, can you hang from your hands and turn upside down without jumping? In poi-spinning (glowing balls strung on cords that whip through the air in patterns) do you love the act, because it’s boring to practice without wanting to do it? We only have two weeks to train the show. A kid who doesn’t meet “that one thing” is going to be miserable, the only one in their act who can’t get up, the one doomed to “keep trying!” while everyone else succeeds.

Shelly cannot hover. Or rather, with brute force, Shelly can haul her body off the bar briefly, landing hard when her arms quit. Shelly is otherwise amazing. This is her fourth year in Starfish Circus, her senior year in high school. Three times she has been in partner acrobatics, where she is a powerful base. If a kid is floppy or doesn’t feel like trying, Shelly will lift them and make them try. Shelly and her partner—any partner—will get the move every time. In the “comedy squad” (don’t get me started on clowns) Shelly was hilarious in both line-writing and delivery. She dives into any skill we teach, whether the risk is to her dignity or her person, and has never asked “You want me to do what?” She is generally the biggest smile in rehearsal, and we’re a pretty smiley bunch.

When Shelly asks me, “Miss Allison, I hear you need someone for triple trap?” I assume she’s heard that Corrine realized today her church trip is the same weekend as the show, that I’ve tapped Jessica to replace Corrine and Jessica’s not here tonight. We’re four days in and anyone new is going to have a hard time, the girls have already bonded and the choreography is taking shape.

“I sure do,” I say, thinking Shelly probably has a great idea, someone I haven’t thought of.

“Can I try?”

I hadn’t thought of Shelly. Because she’s not strong enough, she doesn’t have a full split, she’s substantially larger than the other two girls and it’s not the good kind of funny when one end of the trapeze hangs lower than the other.

But I love her, and I’m caught by surprise, so I say, “Train with us tonight and see how it goes.”

It goes poorly. She falls off the trapeze twice from under the bar, once from on the bar and once from the ropes. Yes, of course we have a mat, but it’s not a crash pad, it’s not meant to catch her from six feet.

She gets up every time. Smiling, making fun of herself, wanting it bad.

I think about my time this week, about how extra hours will have to be spent and I don’t have extra hours unless I shoehorn them in, unless writing or calling my husband or sleeping takes last place. I think about explaining to Shelly I don’t want her. I think about being one more person telling this beautiful girl she’s not strong enough or not skinny enough or just plain not enough.

“Let’s try basing.” The girls rotate through, two sitting and sticking out a flexed foot, one in the middle below the trapeze, doing the splits on the bases’ feet. It takes a hard pop to raise the girl in the middle back to the bar, and with Shelly’s powerful legs the girl in the middle flies up like a rocket, the move is a moment of radiance and joy.

That I can work with.

At the end of rehearsal I call her over. “Tomorrow I need you to stay on the trapeze. Improve your grip, OK?”

Shelly beams a million watts, for one moment in the world she is enough, for right now that is enough. “Yes, Miss Allison,” she says, and maybe someday I can fix that, too.



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I love teaching circus to kids almost as much as I love retiring from it. This is my second-to-last Starfish Circus!




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Comments {25}

gratefuladdict

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from: gratefuladdict
date: Apr. 2nd, 2016 06:07 am (UTC)
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Every Shelly deserves a teacher like you. :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:08 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) it's hard to wrestle my ego sometimes and kids like her are worth it!

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Murielle

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from: murielle
date: Apr. 2nd, 2016 01:28 pm (UTC)
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I have tears in my eyes and a big silly sentimental grin on my face. This is a beautiful story beautifully written. I wish there was a book of just wonderfully uplifting stories like this. I would totally buy it.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
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Lol thank you! Maybe I should send it in to the chicken soup series!

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Murielle

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from: murielle
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC)
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Absolutely! What a great idea! Your story is perfect for them.

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rayaso

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from: rayaso
date: Apr. 2nd, 2016 03:27 pm (UTC)
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This was such a great story! You have a big heart, and I'm sure you made a difference to Shelly. It's too bad you won't be teaching Starfish Circus much longer, at least for the kids. They're clearly losing a compassionate teacher.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
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Thanks very much - I love the work, and the school I was at last week has had us for six years, so we've really seen the kids grow!

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kick_galvanic, zagzagael, skull_theatre

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from: bleodswean
date: Apr. 2nd, 2016 09:14 pm (UTC)
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You sound like the kind of teacher we call a Warrior of Light.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:10 pm (UTC)
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Thanks! That sounds very grand for someone in sweatpants and unwashed hair lol!

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The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

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from: halfshellvenus
date: Apr. 3rd, 2016 06:07 am (UTC)
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I was wondering whether you were still doing any circus-work, and if you're phasing it out, this is a nice way to do it.

I hope you have the chance to lift up a few more Shelleys before you're done, and help them achieve their own dreams.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:11 pm (UTC)
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I'm incredibly humbled by the kids who have benefitted from the program and taken the time to tell us so. I'll definitely miss the work, and I can't swear I'll never go back, but it's time to finish another book.

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dmousey

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from: dmousey
date: Apr. 3rd, 2016 02:52 pm (UTC)
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I love that you let her try- rather than tarnish her bright spirit. It is more satisfying that she succeeded in her want to be of service to you. hug and peace~~~D

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:11 pm (UTC)
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Best part was on the last day she got up without a boost! Such a great girl :)

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encrefloue

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from: encrefloue
date: Apr. 4th, 2016 01:19 am (UTC)
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What a joyous snapshot of circus life and meaningful education! Kudos for making a real difference :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - creating this program is probably the thing I'm proudest of doing in my life!

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millysdaughter

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from: millysdaughter
date: Apr. 4th, 2016 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I am glad you were able to find success for Shelly!

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
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I'm glad she was willing to hunt for it!

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lriG rorriM

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from: lrig_rorrim
date: Apr. 4th, 2016 05:55 pm (UTC)
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Finding that balance between "find the right person for the right job at the right time" and "find the person who actually wants to do it and CAN" must be incredibly tricky. You handled this with grace and style, and I bet Shelly is going to remember you for a long time, in a good way. :)

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
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Thanks - she's a great kid and I'll for sure remember her!

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drwex

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from: drwex
date: Apr. 4th, 2016 08:55 pm (UTC)
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Hooray! This feels good and it reads well. I'd love it if you could tighten it down a bit more and put some more words about Shelly in those spaces. Does that make sense?

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:13 pm (UTC)
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Yep! This draft I erred on the side of her privacy, but I think there's more to be written about wrestling with my ego about having a 'good' act vs taking the kids who need and want it and making them the best they can be.

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prog_schlock

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from: prog_schlock
date: Apr. 4th, 2016 09:39 pm (UTC)
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Oh, that's delightful.

I have taught acting at the high school level. This included directing productions from time to time. Now, acrobatics are different from theatre productions, of course. That said, my policy was always to try and cast students who'd not previously had a major challenge in the larger roles rather than the "best" students for the part. All of my kids knew this. My rationale was that the students who are offered bigger challenges grow more than if they're just given the same tiny parts again and again. I believe I was proven right over the years.

Shelly might not be the right person for the role now, but she might be now that she's been given the chance to try it. Its amazing how motivating a small opportunity can be for some kids. Excellent work there, teach!

I have no idea what The Decemberists are on about in this song, but the title reminds me of your entry:

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:14 pm (UTC)
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Love that philosophy! It's so important to get them to rise to the occasion, and they almost always surprise themselves, too. Great song, too :)

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alycewilson

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from: alycewilson
date: Apr. 5th, 2016 12:03 am (UTC)
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In this piece I can see how closely teaching resembles parenting. Both experience can be both exasperating and emotionally rewarding, and it sounds like you're making some real impacts in those girls' lives.

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whipchick

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from: whipchick
date: Apr. 12th, 2016 02:15 pm (UTC)
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I've often said that this is my version of being a parent :) thanks!

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