Last weekend at Circus class:
Rachel (officially circusy owner/instructor) – Hey guys, the circus school is going to be out at The Tempe Festival of Arts next weekend and will have a rig set up for student demos. Instead of next weekend’s class, do you maybe want to come down and do a little informal student performing?
Me and Rebekah (the other newish, unperformance-seasoned chick in our class) – PERFORMING???!!! LIKE WE’RE SORT OF REALLY IN THE CIRCUS??!! Are you being serious right now or just kidding? Because if this is a joke, it’s not funny.
Rachel – Um, I’m not kidding.
Me and Rebekah – Just tell us where to be. We’ll go ahead and sleep there, in costumes and makeup until it’s time.
Rachel – But that’s probably not necessary. Or legal. And these are just super casual student-demos.
Me and Rebekah – We don’t care what’s legal, we’re circus folk!!!
Rachel – …Ok, then.
Thursday night Rebekah and I met at the school to practice some of the basic routines we know to be ready to perform. We’ve learned a bunch of tricks, but we haven’t done any kind of perfecting or really much in the way of sequencing them together. We started with the silks, and by the time we’d gone through our repertoire, we were too exhausted to do much of anything on the trapeze.
I thought it would probably be ok because um, hello, I was born to be in the circus. Clearly I would get up in front of the crowd and a giant ray of sunlight would appear from heaven like a spotlight. I would step up to the apparatus and instantly become light as air and able to touch my foot to my head again like when I was 12. My teeth would reflect like diamonds and I would sweat glitter. If I had to fart, it would be soundless, odorless and appear as a rainbow. Because it was meant to be.
Apparently, though, I am not the (magical, glowing, rainbow-farting) Chosen One of circusing, even though I really thought it was going to be me. *sad face*
Also, I forgot to take into account I am inflicted with the particular brand of stage-fright that means my mind goes blank when I’m in front of a crowd and I’m unable to think or feel anything except my own terror and the growing discomfort on the faces of each of the individual audience members in response to my obvious terror. If I haven’t practiced whatever I’m doing in front of the crowd so many times my body can take over on auto-pilot while my mind freaks THE FUCK out, I just stand there, a sweating, shaking shell of a person, while everyone feels sorry for me and I feel sorry for myself. It’s not that circusy. I’m pretty sure this specific form also comes with a weird amnesia that makes me completely forget it’s going to happen until the second I’m in front of the crowd. Every. Time.
Friday at the festival, things were not awesome, but they weren’t terrible, either. The crowd watching was pretty small and it was really just me, and a few other people demoing, so I felt, at the very least, useful. I did the few tricks I had completely memorized several times as the crowd rotated through. No one I knew showed up, so I was only humiliating myself in front of strangers. Plus, Rebekah took some cool pictures of me and since they were still, you couldn’t even see the shaking, sweating and general lack of confidence I really exuded in person.
Saturday I brought my husband, children and mother with me so they could witness the spectacle. One of my oldest and dearest and her hubby showed up. Of course this ratcheted up the pressure and my nervousness, but to be fair, most of those people had watched me give birth or emerged from my body, and those who hadn’t (minus my BFF’s husband) had attended high school dances with me and still love me despite my ensemble choices, so it felt like sort of a Safe Place.
I managed a few tricks without crying and received the obligatory familial praise (Well, honestly I probably would have been more impressed if you hadn’t already made me watch like 30 video clips of you doing this stuff.*).
Sunday morning I was a mess. My arms ached from too many consecutive days of aerial and I was moderately belligerent at the idea of returning to the scene of my torture, and paying $10 to park AGAIN. But I’d told my classmates I’d be there, so I choked down a handful of Aleve and bucket of caffeine and shuffled back to Tempe.
Things started downhill as soon as I arrived:
1. The crowd watching had tripled.
2. All of the really bendy, young, fantastic students had arrived to demo (making me wish I’d worn a shirt that said, “I’m a 35 year old mother of 3, please don’t measure me in comparison to HER ->”).
3. Several of my sweet and supportive friends had showed up to watch me (humiliate and potentially injure myself).
I shakily struggled through a demo of the Fly routine and slid too far down the silks to finish with the Rain trick (sliding south is a symptom of sucking on the silks). By that point my ego was so crumpled and bruised I could do nothing but disentangle myself from the silks and run back under the tent. I didn’t even bow (which was possibly my worst error. At least if you act like you’re doing it right the people who aren’t paying too close attention won’t realize you fucked it all up).
I was ready to give up, go home and drink until I couldn’t see the sympathetic looks on the faces of the crowd in my head anymore, when my 3 year old nephew, Colby, tapped me on the arm and said, “Aunt Mini, where are my cousins?” Because, of course, my sister and brother-in-law had taken their only days off insanely busy work week schedules, packed their young sons into the car and paid $10 to park to come out and support me.
I probably should have lied and told them I was sorry, but I’d used up all of my demoing time and they’d have to just imagine my head on someone else’s body. I could have said I’d broken my arm on the last trick. I might have yelled, “Oh my god, a guy over there is being captured by pterodactyl!” and run away when they turned to look.
But I didn’t.
Instead, even though the silks had been traded out for the trapeze, and I actually don’t know any cohesive routines on trapeze, even though a 22 year old who weighs 98 pounds and can twist herself into a pretzel had just performed before me, and even though I had mindfucked myself into an almost epileptic state of nervousness over the whole thing, I tackled one more demo on the trapeze.
This is really all you need to know about that performance:
I attempted the Level One sequence, which I haven’t done in a few months. When it came to doing the fourth trick in the sequence, the Half Angel (which I always have trouble remembering just how to do even when I’m low to the ground in the gym and not in front of anyone) my mind went absolutely blank with respect to which foot was supposed to go where and which hand was supposed to let go. So instead of stopping and asking for help, or doing something I did know how to complete, I took a guess and ended up hanging from my ankle and the wrong hand, swinging around haphazardly in a trick that IS NOT A TRICK.
I’m sure it would have actually been more humiliating if I’d lost my grip right there (because what I was doing was completely unsafe) and gone crashing to the mat, but all I could think was that all of the other students and teachers watching were distinctly aware what I was doing was not a real thing. It was kind of like if Will Ferrell had been allowed to pretend he was a circus aerialist. If you can imagine Blades of Glory, but with aerialists, that’s what I was doing right there.
Luckily, there’s no video or photographic evidence of this incident that I know of. I made it to the ground without grievously injuring myself and immediately hightailed it to the bar where I drank enough margaritas I only sort of hated myself.
So… none of the Cirque talent scouts have called me yet. I haven’t been whisked off to Vegas to live out my dreams of sparkly costumes and fame. I’m still just a 35 year old mother of three with performance anxiety. But I’m not giving up. I need to work harder at being less of a spaz, for sure, but it was a learning experience. Also, even though I love (LOVE) those of you who showed up, next time I’m not announcing my performance on Facebook. Ya’ll don’t need to be put through that.
*He’s going to be super pissy that I quoted him, so I’m not even going to tell you who said that.