Upside-Down Joy: The Woman on the Flying Trapeze

Yesterday I had the opportunity to fully invert my summer doldrums. Debra Landau was kind enough to give me a low flying trapeze lesson and let me try swinging, spinning, mounting, and getting upside-down in the AirDance Studio. I needed this. Last time I was upside-down was when I flipped my wheelchair, which I wrote about this lesson in the low flying trapeze--full of intentional flipping and spinning--was a lovely contrast.

The low flying trapeze is actually not a trapezoidal shape as other static and high flying trapezes, but rather a bar suspended from two ropes that come together at the ceiling. The low flying trapeze, which was developed by Terry Sendgraff, resembles a triangle... and because of the individual pivot at the top, the trapeze has a great capacity to spin and swing and move in very fluid ways, responding to every nuance of touch and each shift of balance.

Debra (pictured in all these images) is teaching a class in Low Flying Trapeze for teens and adults on Saturday July 24th, from 2-4pm at the Air Dance Art Space. The cost is a very low $30 per person for what I'm sure will be an exciting, invigorating, and surprising use of the body. What I got was just a sneak preview, so I've no doubt the class (which will also include partner work) will be truly outrageous and enlightening. For more info or to reserve a spot, email or call 842-9418.

For my session, first I tried a crouch mount. I started by hanging from the bar with both hands, brought my knees to my chest and then wrested my feet over my head and over the bar until I ended up hanging by my knees, head and hands and torso fully draped towards earth, eyes greedily surveying the hardwood floor with a keen new appreciation.

From there, it was less difficult than I imagined to pull myself up to sitting on the bar--which was suspended about five feet off the ground--legs dangling as if fear didn't exist. The lack of fear surprised me. I expected to be shaking and struggling with my equilibrium, which is a bit impaired by the neurological disorder multiple sclerosis (though my walking has recovered from the last flare). Because I can get dizzy and suffer vertigo pretty quickly, even just looking up, yes, up at a cliff face like the stunning El Morro where I recently went camping, I didn't figure I would be able to do much with the trapeze. Debra, however, worked with me and helped empower me to try things that admittedly looked a bit daunting.

Debra actually has a background both as a dancer and a movement therapist, so I trusted her to prevent me from falling despite my disability. I still, however, expected fear, but after watching her demonstrations, I was so enthralled--and she made it look so easy--that I forgot to be afraid. And better, the low flying trapeze is fun. Sheer simple fun. I ran big broad circles and "lifted off" the earth, flew sweeping arcs, landing gently a few loops around the room. I would say pleasure is so inherent in the motions that fear is overwritten with joy.

That initial pleasurable delirium was followed by a corner mount where I crossed legs over one end of the bar and intertwined my feet around the rope and--with Debra's encouragement--let my hands off and my body come into this new experience of gravity. The trapeze is in many ways an art about connections, connections to the body, connections to your own energetics, connections to the trapeze--which Debra considers akin to a collaborator--and even connections to childhood.

In our interview, Debra talked about the way children have great freedom of movement before school begins to tell all of us to sit still, look forward, pay attention. Gradually we tend to succumb to what's socially acceptable, and for an adult, usually that means being right-side-up. What the low flying trapeze offers is a return to freedom, to flexibility, to move in ways that simply feel good, to try things that we are curious about, to test ourselves, to rekindle pleasure in movement---to reconnect with the aspects of our being that in many ways are primal.

Think starfish. Think turtle. Think orangutan. Think chimpanzee. Think ape. Think humans drawing inspiration from all animals and you might have a sense of the kind of guidance Debra is going to offer. She might even reference a particular show-off from DC's National Zoo. All this metaphor simply heightens the experience of our connections to the natural world, our connection to ourselves as more than work-a-day bodies.

Debra believes that the ways you move can enhance the ways you think and even how you interact in the world. She cites studies where learning can happen at greater levels when movement is incorporated. And even if she wouldn't recommend "square dance during a history lesson," there's something interesting that happens to the mind and body when engaged with the trapeze. This is the kind of work that builds confidence and empowers anyone willing to try it to take on even greater creative risks in their life. (Personally, I bet I get two new poems off this experience.)

Take it from a biochemist. Or take it from a woman who left the hard and fast and secure life of biochemistry to pursue her passion, air dancing: "The trapeze is a great natural tool which integrates the whole body while doing something our evolutionary ancestors were built for." What's Debra is advocating is simple: joy in movement, fun. And a good work-out as bonus!

Don't forget to check out her upcoming class and see if you're ready to take on the trapeze. I'd advocate for Debra's teaching abilities any day.

All photos of Debra Landau provided by Jeff Hartzer.

In our interview, the song "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" came up and then I found this Popeye video--which has such lovely trapeze technique that I couldn't resist including it...

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Comment by cc on July 17, 2010 at 2:11pm
Thanks Lisa. I love hearing how Debra Landau thinks about movement. And glad you shared how 'fear [can be] overwritten with joy ..." cause that would certainly be my experience.
Comment by Debra Landau on July 18, 2010 at 2:02pm
Thanks for the many compliments, Lisa! Some of those Popeye moves are a bit, well, cartoonish. But the outfit is spot on. Jules Léotard, the Frenchman who invented flying trapeze, also invented the leotard and was quite the risqué hit, flying solo without a net (really!), muscles-a-flexing in his revealing outfit. Don't worry folks, some of those moves are a bit advanced for Saturday's workshop, which is now almost, I say almost, at capacity.
Comment by lisa gill on July 18, 2010 at 9:42pm
Debra, I'm certain your class will be a blast... hope everyone enjoys thoroughly!


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