Let’s Talk About Pain

When is pain worth pushing through?

Well, it happened. I moved up from Beginner Silks to Advanced Beginner Silks classes at Aerial Arts NYC. I just got home from my first Advanced Beginner class and, given that I am unable to hold objects out at arm’s length with my left arm, I would like to devote this post to an inconvenient truth about aerial: it’s painful.

A Catalog of Molly’s Current Pains:

  • Fingers: A quick Google search has indicated that I have probably developed arthritis in my fingers, which can happen to aerial beginners before their hand muscles strengthen. My knuckles have swollen to the point that I have trouble taking my rings off. My finger joints crackle every time I stretch them out, which both hurts and feels amazing. The pain in my fingers is ever present as a dull, constant ache.
  • Tops of feet: To climb up the silks you have to use the tops of your feet as anchors for the silks and platforms for your other foot (unless you are strong enough to climb up the silks using only your arms -- YEAH RIGHT). Putting so much pressure and friction on the delicate skin on top of my feet, which aren’t used to much wear and tear, has left little sores and even one open laceration.
  • Back muscles: My lats are sore. Sore, sore, sore. So sore that I cannot hold things out at arm’s length without shaking. This weakness in a core area of my body has affected my entire system. I would describe myself as in a mild state of panicky shock, like when you come inside after being out in the freezing cold. Part of my body is sending a signal to my brain that something is really wrong. (Side note: I am roasting vegetables right now, and I just went to check if they are done, and I couldn’t tell when I tried to poke the cauliflower with a fork whether the cauliflower isn’t done yet or my muscles are too fatigued to spear it with a fork.)

Part of the reason that my lats are so sore is because we spent the first two-thirds of class today working on inverting. Inverting requires engaging the strong muscles across your upper-middle back and your lower abdominals. Inverting has been a huge challenge for me so far. I can only flip myself upside down when the silks are in a hammock, supporting part of my body weight. So the first part of class was both kind of humiliatingI was the only one who couldn’t invertand extremely taxing. 

Here is Lisa demonstrating what an invert is supposed to look like:

But, I do have some good news to report. I did one invert today from the ground without a hammock. On my left side, too. It required reaching my legs up and hooking the silks with my toes to help tip me over, but I don’t care. I was able to invert without the embarrassment of needing my teacher to push my butt over my head. And, even though I could only do it once, that was all I needed. It showed me that little chunk of light at the end of the tunnel, the light that signifies: progress! 

Progress is a powerful and intoxicating sensation. It reminds us that things are moving, changing, renewing all the time. And it gives us hope that change isn’t always scary and disorienting. Sometimes change takes us closer to places we would like to go. But it is always disruptive, and sometimes, necessarily, painful.

Last weekend my roommate Lisa (resident badass aerialist and creator of learnaerial.com, remember?) switched out the silks rigging in our apartment for the rope. She is practicing a ropes duet performance with her friend and classmate at ITP, Danielle Butler. As the two of them lithely, expertly, playfully trained on the rope, Danielle started reminiscing about her early days learning rope. Rope is tougher than the silks and harder on the body. Danielle got cuts on her hands and feet when she started out. And she remembers asking her instructor, “will this always be painful?” And he laughed at her and said, “Performance is pain!”

So there you have it. Performance is pain. At the end of today’s Advanced Beginner class, my wonderful teacher told me, “Don’t worry, you’re in the right place.” Even though I felt out of my league I’ll take her word for it. I guess I’ve graduated from Beginner Silks! Woot woot!