Half of my decade as a professional dancer was spent with an aerial dance company. Setting my body into a trapeze and
dancing with other bodies, balancing, catching, holding each others weight, I’ve learned a lot about relationships.
Dancing in a trapeze takes a lot of work. As part of my choreography, I sat, nestled into the trap, sitting on the bar with my back on the rope, eyes closed, rocking to and forth in a performance. To the audience, I exhibited the image of a sleepy “lady in the moon,” who appeared to have not a care in the world. In reality, I was using only my shoulder blade to “grasp” the rope of the trapeze, breathing and balancing my own fear of falling at any part of the swing, with the absolute confidence in my present-moment embodied capability, as I let my hands languish beside me.
I had to trust myself that the strength that I had already cultivated over several years dancing could sustain the movement of my body in the trapeze. I had to also trust that my dance partner, Janet, who was choreographed to climb up into the trap with me, could be aware enough of my body’s placement that she would not send me spiraling toward the ground. I had no choice but to trust or ruin the choreography. Using my feet as steps, She climbed into the trap with me and together we continued the dance in the air. Our awareness of each other was so keen, so respectful and present with each other that I could stretch myself out across the bar, legs extended, with only one hand holding the rope, and she, the tiny, 85 pound dancer could walk out onto my legs like a diving board without a hitch. Our energy and connection could maintain and fulfill not only our audience’s expectations, but also our own, as we performed our daring dance.
Like an emotional relationship, trust is the bottom line of the dance. Without it, one or both partners may go plummeting into a devastating disaster, landing in a pile of pain and confusion at the bottom. How does one trust, you ask? I suggest that it happens the same way that my dancing with Janet did: we practiced.
Practicing trust in a trapeze does not necessarily mean that I could simply place my physical well-being into Janet’s hands and simply “try it out.” Trust in a trapeze meant that I had to first cultivate trust in myself, know my own strength and resources so that I didn’t put too much pressure on her right away, and could ‘catch’ myself if I found that she was not strong enough at the moment, or not quick enough to intuit my movements to save me from a fall. If she missed, I didn’t scream at her or become angry because I was able to catch myself. In doing that, I was also able to give her a bit of leeway to “make mistakes.” By the way- this practice went both ways: I sometimes missed, and although I felt terrible about it, I also trusted that she could take care of herself.
This led to more daring pursuits, like the one I previously described. We didn’t just jump into the trap and she walking on my legs; we had to build to it. The practice took time, patience, mistakes, and sometimes some bruises. Some days we were miraculously attuned to each others’ movements. Some days we didn’t match. With persistence, however, we succeeded, and even surprised ourselves at what we could do. In the end, I know that only our two bodies could achieve the types of dances that we made. This is what made our work together all the more special.