Monday, 15 May 2017

Chapter 186: An Aerial Intensive Week with Freedom2FlyDA

"I don't get it Mum. Why are you doing this course if you're not going to become a professional?" My son's remark was closer to the bone than he realised as the aerial intensive programme I signed up for at Freedom2FlyDA is actually designed for professional dancers and performers (DA=Dancing Airborne). My answer was simple: "Because I love it." And if there is any lesson I wish my kids to take with them in life it is to stay curious, explore, and give the world all you've got. 

The other reason is that turning 40 I hear the tick-tock of my body clock. Doing aerial opens out my upper body, corrects my round shoulders and poor posture, potential harbingers of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis with my family history, and lifts my mood no end. Any form of exercise that gets the endorphins pumping is great, but gyms for me were (or used to be - see previous post!) intimidating, while circus skills classes have a more eclectic, community vibe. And as well as making my body stronger, it inspires me to flex my writing muscles too. The Freedom2Fly course was based at the warehouse space of The Hive in Hackney Wick. I have been going to classes there on and off for the past year and always look forward to my walks along the canal, energised by the colour, creativity and life of the graffiti & fly posters all around. I read messages everywhere. 

There is a children's book I'm reading to mine at the moment - Katherine Rundell's "Rooftoppers", that makes me think of that. It is the story of a young girl who befriends a tightrope walker in Paris and traverses the skyline in the hunt for her mother. In the opening chapters, the visionary "captain my captain" guardian and his ward write notes to each other all over the wallpaper at home because, as he explains, "the more words in a house the better".  I agree. Fill the world with words. Round the corner from The Hive is one of my favourite haunts, Stour Space, a cultural hub with a wonderful cafe that has a floating pontoon on the water. Excited then to realise that the course hours fit snugly into the school day and I could be there every day for a whole week, the luxury!, I hadn't quite registered when signing up that that Day 1 landed on Bank Holiday Monday. Oops. I broke the news to my husband when kitted out for a night at the Moulin Rouge*. Timing is everything.  

Back to reality with a bump on the first day when registering that I was the only one there unable to do the splits, which put paid to any fantasies of an alternative life as a CanCan dancer. Can't Can't though, is not an option at Freedom2Fly. Soon we were airborne, and any frustration or anxiety I felt with my own limitations were forgotten as following the instructions took all my concentration. Our teachers Jair Ramirez (see post on Sugarman - click here)  and dancer and aerialist Josie-Beth Davies, both have a wealth of experience, incredible patience and a great sense of humour. On the first day too we had the company, for a short time, of Jair's wife Jessica Ramirez, dancer, aerialist and source of inspiration, along with their little aerial ninja Gabriel, who would have scaled every piece of equipment there given half a chance. Jess's presence was felt very much for the rest of the week, especially in the increasingly innovative plank formations that she choreographed! 

We were split into two groups according to experience, and classes alternated between teachers Jair and Josie, but as any aerial novices in my group were dancers, progress was rapid. It's not many beginners courses where you will find the first day ends up with inversions on straps. I got such a head-rush from laughing upside down that afterwards I floated right up to Walthamstow Central by accident and it took me two hours to get home. Shattered when I got back, I worried I wouldn't have the strength to keep going for the whole week. Xav restored my spirits with a mug of builders' tea and the sound advice: "Lucy, just take it one day at a time." 

The next morning: "Josie, what's happened to the hoops?" I asked. "Have you rigged them differently or something because I can't seem to get up on any of them..."
"Er Lucy, they are just the same as yesterday. Welcome to Day 2 of the course!" 
I was certainly feeling it! Hoop is my nemesis. It has moves similar to a static trapeze, but rigged on one point not two, so it can spin, and with a wider reach for the arms, it feels that bit more unstable. It speaks volumes for Josie's teaching that by the end of the week I had a routine going on it. In fact, it's astonishing how quickly my feelings about hoop changed, as I experienced first-hand the fine line (fear!) between anger and love. As in: "I f***ing hate hoop! Oh, wait! That's not so bad. I can actually do that... Oh... I f***ing looooove hoop!" 

The rest of the week sped by in a flash as we worked on aerial hoop, silks, rope, dance trapeze, static trapeze, Spanish Web, handstands and flexibility. I had never been on Spanish Web before. I had no clue what it was. It involved scaling a rope, looping a wrist into the strap at the top, holding the rope with the other hand and being spun round (see video below). Like making pancakes, the first attempt was messy, the second was more evenly spread, and then by the third you're ready to flip... when the kids saw the video that night they nicknamed me SpiderMum. iOlé! 

The joy of Spanish Web in part was overcoming the sheer terror that I wouldn't have enough strength to hold on at the top, and in part the giddy feeling that is all the fun of the fair. Learning a doubles routine on spinning hoop was another first. Paired up with Anna, who is so, so graceful and experienced,  I felt uber-conscious the whole time that I was holding her back, yet thanks to her support was able to let go into knee hangs and I loved the dynamics at play in our symmetry.  I thought of Collective XY's philosophy (click here) - she may have been going slower for me, but together we did go further. 

The week left me with a clear idea of what was going in the right direction (building up my strength) and what needs more work (flexibility!). It was a week that turned my life around thanks to our fantastic teachers, Josie & Jair, and Jess, a huge support on-line, and to the camaraderie of my awesome classmates Anna, Rachel, Hannah, Cerys and Emme, and the flyers in the other group Jane, Eleanor and Sophia & co. Thank you all, it was such a privilege and I hope I get the opportunity to train with you again. A case of: ¡qué será!  and ¡Ojalá! 

So when Jair brought out a selection of silks that he got in Colombia I found myself buying a pair, teal in colour, imagining sea-green waves cascading down. The squeals of excitement from my 8 year old daughter, a regular at Flying Fantastic classes, the moment I got home, said it all. We set them up on the monkey bars and were hovering on there within seconds. The rigging isn't quite high enough to fly, or for anything other than a few conditioning moves (still, that's something!), but having the silks is a tangible reminder that when life isn't plain sailing, keep the dream going, and hold on tight.

Freedom2Fly are currently running a plank challenge for the month of May and have a number of courses coming up over summer, the next being another week long course at the end of May. Check out their website (click here) and contact at

For inspiration and motivation check out the following Instagram accounts:
@freedom2flyda; Jair; Josie @jobeejones
On the course: @miss_scaramouche; @emmehayward; @benjihanna91; @rachap314
@ellebelle_aerial; @janeedwardspage; @sassy_chai

*Secret Cinema's Moulin Rouge is running until 11 June:

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