Last night was the first day of ELEVATE – a circus ‘boot camp’ by WiseFool. I’ve written about WiseFool before (Courage on Stilts). The WiseFool motto is “Changing lives one circus at at time.” Boot camp is for two weeks and concludes with a public performance. The camp has a maximum of fifteen participants. I’m guessing the age range of participants this year is mid-twenties to mid-sixties. I’m forty-three. I’m doing this camp in part to help me get fit again, having lapsed in my commitment to fitness these last two years. I’m doing it in part to participate in the performing arts – unchartered territory for me. I’m doing it because I know it will be fun. I’m doing it because I’m eager to experience different ways of being in collective creativity.
We started out this first class with conditioning/warm ups. Then we went into paired exercises to lead us into mat acrobatics. One exercise involved facing your partner, clasping arms, straightening your arms while leaning back. The idea is that each of you is using the weight and pull of the other to be supported.
Since you are both leaning back at the same time, the trust is mutual – not like when one person is asked to stand and the other is asked to fall back into their arms. I got the sense that what was happening was that we were each trusting that the other was working with their own strength in the way that was needed in that moment. A teacher explained “People’s bodies are strong.”
As part of this practice, we went back-to-back. Backs pushing against each other, we moved as though we each were sitting down in a chair. This works well when both people move at the same pace and really press their backs together. When the connection is in a state of equilibrium, the pair can smoothly walk around like this.
Getting to equilibrium in fusing individual strength is an art, a practice. As I watched the teacher’s looking effortless as they demonstrated this, I thought of clowns and made a mental note: “Wow. Hats off to the art of collective clowning!”
Another exercise: one person is on the ground on all fours while the other person mirrors them (they called the person on top ‘dead bug’) by going back to back with them, arms and legs up in the air. Once balanced, the person on the bottom can start to move, one paw at a time. Ideally, the dead bug stays on their back rather than rolling off.
When we did this exercise, I welcome the spotting we had by teachers. I was nervous, to be lowering myself backwards onto someone else’s back.
Another exercise: one person on all fours, the other person sits on the edge of their back (facing, for example, north while the person on the ground is facing east), leans back and flips over. If done correctly, this movement does not involve a majorly-arched back (which due to an injury, I must avoid) or a lot of arm strength. Instead, you sort of are gently sliding into a slow back flip.
When a teacher explained this exercise, she emphasized the importance of the person on the bottom keeping their arms straight. What happens is that this creates a steady flow of strength or power that runs through the arm and into the ground. You support the weight of another person’s moving body without feeling strained.
In these exercises, I was conscious that we each had to pay equal attention to the other person’s body and to our own. Am I using my core muscles? Is my back straight? Are my arms straight? Can I do anything to give my partner more support – a shift here or a firmer stance in this way? The art seemed to be about using our bodies in ways that required least effort by utilizing our strengths appropriately. The art also required that we trust that the other person is doing the same.
Being me, I’m sitting here wondering: What if a group or an organization (in any sector) worked together in the same way as we were doing last night? How would this compare to how we normally tend to work together? How would it feel different? How might the outcomes be different? In what ways might we be raising our game?
By the way, last night, we also started working on the art of trapeze. Though I’ll leave that topic for a future post, I reckon this post nevertheless hits the theme of elevating our selves – don’t you?