Small World

The circus is a particularly small world.  Today I went to a show (more on that later).  Before even showing up I already knew one of the performers, the person selling T-shirts, and the follow-spot operator as well as several of the audience members.  I also knew one of the teachers for the newest performer there as well as the person who had gotten that teacher to America in the first place as well as someone else who had trained under him.  Now, mind you, this was a company that I had never seen perform before.  In fact, I had never even seen any of these people on a stage.

There are many communities that are smaller and more confined than the circus.  Circus transcends oceans and exists in some form or another in almost every country in the world.  There is no single circus pope, nor is there any overarching organization.  Many have tried, and while some may have succeeded to an extent on a national level, no one has succeeded in making circus a unipolar world.  While there are definitely certain groups with more pull than others, there is no single one with all of the strings in their hand.

Despite this, we all still seem to no each other.  I cannot remember the last time I added a circus person on Facebook with whom I did not share at least one mutual friend.  I’ve been at this game for a few years now and have traveled across the country and this still holds true.  At this point I have circus connection from Mexico to Ethiopia (and even those two know each other).

I ended up taking the subway back with someone I had just met and we talked the entire time about jugglers we each knew and the crazy things they had done.  This between two people who had never met face to face at any point previously.

One of the upsides to having such a small community is that everyone behaves, because word will sure travel fast if they don’t.  I have a friend who had to move from one coast to the other after he messed up.  Now, several years later, he is just starting to get back to where he was.

It definitely keeps you on your toes.  However, in a world with no governing body, it is good to see that there are still mechanisms for enforcement.  If a venue underpays performers or a director puts them in danger, within the week the whole world will know.

Fear

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Intense fear is not an emotion I often experience any more.  I know I did when I was younger and was afraid of the dark.  Then, when I was a little bit older, the same happened with asking girls out.

I do not have an intense fear of airplanes, fire, swords, objects being hurled through the air, being in the water, getting lost, or even the vast majority of people.  At this point in my life I thought that I had conquered pretty much everything there was to be afraid of.  Now, this does not mean to say that I do not have respect for things that are dangerous.  With both power tools and fire, it is important never to get cocky.  Always have respect for what you are wielding, because otherwise it will rear up like a horse and hit you where it hurts.  I have come to understand this, albeit largely the easy way, and I acknowledge the risks that I take when I use either one.

Last week I took a flying trapeze class.  I had thought that I had conquered my fear of heights, which had occasionally crippled me as a child.  I’m a pretty decent climber, I walk on stilts, I do tricks in the air, I even hang lights of the edge of catwalks.  None of that had prepared me for this though.

The shaky ladder going up was bad, but nothing that worried me too much. I’ve dealt with worse.  One of the people who went before me had said that the ladder was the worst part and that everything would be fine after that.  They were wrong.  Grabbing onto the bars of the platform was terrifying, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was visibly shaking.  Then I had to reach out for the trapeze as one of the instructors held onto the harness I was strapped in to.

I knew I was safe.  I saw the net, I new that I was attached to a rope being held by a world renowned trapeze artist.  Yet none of that made jumping off the platform any easier.  I think I tried to jump three times before I actually got off the ground.  Then, all of a sudden, I was swinging rapidly through the air.  My already tired shoulders were having to support me as I rushed through the air until the man on the ground said it was okay and I dropped to the net.

You likely expect me now to say how everything was fine once I started swinging, or that the second time was exponentially easier.  This may have been the case for some people, but unfortunately I am not among them.  I went another three or four times, and although the jump got a bit easier, not much else did.

I have decided that I will at least give flying trapeze one more go to see if anything improves.  Every time it was my turn I went up that ladder and jumped off that platform, so I know I can push through it.  We’ll see though how much I really want to.

Schadenfreude as a Tool for Healing

Juggling is hard.  I don’t just mean hard in that it requires some effort and you don’t get it right away, unlike most things, but that it takes a lot of time and painstaking determination to get.  Thankfully, I have both of those.  As of a few weeks ago, I finally got down the three ball cascade, which is the basic pattern for three balls for those of you who don’t speak circus.

I’ll tell me story of how I learned how to juggle, but for now I want to address  a different lesson.  After learning how to juggle, I almost immediately started working on new patterns.  There’s one that I’ve spent the last few days working on and that I can only do a few times back and forth without dropping.  At a certain point during circus practice last night I was down about the fact that I couldn’t do anything past cascade and here were these people balancing two clubs on their chin and passing balls.

Eventually I found something.  Something that made me feel better about myself.  I tried teaching one of the jugglers some more poi tricks.  He had already learned a handful and had even been on stage doing poi once.  When I tried to teach him a few moves that I thought were pretty basic and effortless, he could barely wrap his mind around most of them.  This little incident served to remind me that so much of it is just about time.  I’ve easily logged over a hundred of hours of poi.  At most I’ve put fifteen into juggling.

On a completely separate note:  I do not speak German.  I’m not entirely sure why such a high number of my posts have had German in the title, but I don’t actually speak it.  It’s made sense for each individual post, but looking back it seems like an awfully high amount.  Maye it’s all part of an international conspiracy to make me learn German.  More on that later.

Panzer Rad

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The other day I got in a German wheel for the first time.  Fore those unfamiliar with the German wheel, please look here:

The first time you get in the German wheel, you get the same speech as you do getting on a roller coaster, “Keep all hands and feet inside the ride at all times.”  Although you may be tempted to shrug off the automated voice at the amusement park, this one comes with some pretty compelling reasons.  If your hands and feet go outside of the wheel, or you grab the outside of one of the bars, you lose.  This isn’t just same game you lose, you lose that hand.  German wheels are monstrous, heavy, pieces of steel.  They will crush your hand if you roll over it.

That being said, as long as you listen to the directions, you’re safe.  If you’re feet are in the straps your hands are holding the inside hands, and your body is straight; you are the tank of the circus wheel.  The word “panzer” in German, literally translates to armor.  In WWII, the German mentality wasn’t that this was the next installment of the cavalry, in the way Americans do.  No, their tanks worked the same way their knights had hundreds of years earlier.  For awhile, it was dishonorable in European martial culture for men in armor to engage in battle with one another.  Instead, those with steel exoskeletons and years of training were set against those who had neither. 

Joachim Meyer, a German fight master, gives as a drill a series of eight consecutive cuts.  With each of these cuts, you take a step forward.  Now imagine that you’re standing out on the battlefield, sword in hand, coated in armor.  In front of you is a group of peasants armed with clubs and pitchforks.  At most, they have a thin layer of leather protecting them against your hardened steel.  All you have to do now is to walk forward and continuously do these eight simple cuts until there are no more peasants in front of your.  That is the meaning of “panzer”.

The same goes for German wheel.  If you are about to hit someone, you hit them.  If you try and get out, your suddenly move, you will both be crushed.  Better one of you gets injured as opposed to both.  Even if you are about to hit a wall, the wheel will come out looking the same.  The only question is, will you?

New Dreams

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Dreams aren’t supposed to be something rational.  You don’t think out what your dreams are going to be and do a cost-benefit analysis of them.  Dreams are something that drive you, they’re something that provide meaning.  Kierkegaard critiques modernism by explaining how its drive have more of anything and for it all to go faster.  What he suggests instead is to follow your one true calling.  Now, I don’t think I’m the kind of person to have but one calling in life, but still I see myself largely agreeing with Kierkegaard here.  Although rational thought is useful and I like to think of it as my default setting, meaning comes from something else.

One of the dreams I’ve had for awhile now is to join a Scottish circus.  I can’t really explain why, but this is just something I feel called to.  I have a friend studying in Scotland at the moment who is involved in a circus group at a university there and has been getting more gigs than I have of late (maybe it helps that she can actually juggle), so I know there’s a good scene there, but that’s not the reason why.  I’ve also been to Scotland before, so maybe that’s why I felt pulled to it of all countries.  Who knows?

A couple days ago I had a new dream, something new compelling me, to start a historical European martial arts (HEMA) school in Israel.  I have a friend there who I worked with over the summer and taught how to fence.  He picked up most of what I learned these past few years in only a couple months (if that).  We only had some sticks and goggles, but I think that if he got his hands on a real sword, he could hold his own against most SCAdians.  Maybe it’s a little selfish of me, but I’m a bit proud of the fact that I can still beat him most of the time.  He really does need to stop just giving me his sword, last time we fought I just kept beating in fourth and riposting.  He’ll probably be pulling contracavazziones on me next time we meet.

He also just picked up a crossbow (you’ll have to ask him the story about getting that through customs) and will probably have it down in no time.  Hey, maybe he could teach archery at my school cause god knows I can’t.  I’ve played with recurves a bit, but it was more because that’s what my rapier buddies were doing.  I wouldn’t trust myself with a bow for anything important if it ever came down to it.  I can choose which eye to stab you in with a rapier, but you’d have a pretty good chance at survival at thirty yards if I had a bow.

So, maybe someday I’ll start up that HEMA school in Israel.  I know there’s a SCA group in Jerusalem, but I don’t know what else is going on HEMA wise.  I don’t know all that much about Krav Maga, but most of it looks like it’s straight out of Fiore, except with guns added in, so I guess it could be considered a modern Western martial art (WMA).  Maybe some of you who know more about either Krav Maga or what the going definition of WMA is, could help clear this up

Auf Wiedersehen

Cabaret MC

I just got back from another gig with the marching circus band I had mentioned in a previous post.  After the show I was hanging out with a few of the band members in the hall and one lady who had just seen us perform was complimenting our costuming.  One of the comments she made was that we looked very “20’s Germany”.  If found this to be a very interesting comment.

Now, I do not plan to defend Weimar Germany as a time that was on the whole pleasant, and in fact it was in all likelihood a terrible place for most of the people at the time.  There is something to be said about the underground culture that developed in places like cabarets during this period.  Now, before you go any further I implore you to go out and watch Bob Fosse’s “Cabaret” with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli.

Back?  Okay, good.

Now, I openly admit I have a fascination with the image portrayed of that time.  The thrill of being on the edge, not knowing whether what you’re saying will get you shut down or not.  I love the music, the clothing, the feel of it all.  Being able to form critiques of the world around you through song and dance.  What more could you ask for?

The fact that I was able to bring forth that imagery through my circusing lends me great hope as to what more I can do with it.

I Can’t Juggle

seven-ways-to-effectively-juggle-business-and-school    One of the first things you always get asked as a circus performer is, “Can you juggle?”  For me the answer is always no.  I’ve tried to learn on multiple occasions and have have even gotten up to three throws, but alas, I still can’t juggle.

Being a juggler would make explaining myself so much easier.  Whenever I say I’m an object manipulator, there’s always a paragraph of explanation that comes with it.  Almost no one knows what poi are, contact juggling and buugeng are unheard of, and staff and double staff requires a surprising amount of explanation.

Recently I’ve begun to describe myself as a fire spinner, but that’s really only out of convenience.  People have generally seen fire spinning of some sort.  Most won’t know whether it was poi or staff or rope dart, but they get the idea.  I actually have a real problem with this though.  I am very much of the opinion that poi, as an example, is only legitimate when on fire.  This extends to most other circus/ flow arts, except those that are entirely about the fire (such as fire eating/breathing/transfers).  If the fire is what catches your attention, that’s great, but there’s more to it.  Fire is just on expression of poi, but it is also limiting.  Fire can only be done in certain places under certain conditions, glow or regular poi though can be done almost anywhere (as long as it’s not raining).   I’d also never dream of doing contact poi on fire, nor would it be easy to convince myself to do any throws.  Fire also has a certain quality to it that you don’t always want, occasionally it’s time just to take out those old sock poi you started with and spin them around for awhile.