A Tale of Two Splits

One day I hope that I will find the energy and drive to write regularly again. I have a few ideas on how to achieve that, but I don’t want to say too much lest it not pan out – so in the meantime, I will merely apologize once again for the months-long absence. And because this blog is now Sex and Silks, I can’t even reward your patience by guaranteeing a triumphant return that is super steamy. Ah well.

Last week, a photo appeared in my Facebook memories, dated two years previously. It was me in an aerial silks class, sweaty-faced and in a baggy t-shirt, posing in a basic split with each leg in a foot lock (a foundational skill where, as the name suggests, the fabric is wrapped in a certain way around one’s foot in order to create a tension lock). I had only been doing silks once a week for a few months at that point, and you can tell. My back leg was bent, the splits were nowhere near flat, and I was clearly putting forth considerable effort to hold the pose, as it was the end of a class and I was exhausted. But at the time, I was so proud of even that minor accomplishment.

Recently, I took a video of myself during a class where we were practicing a specific sequence. It’s the longest sequence I’ve learned thus far, and I like to record them so I can review the footage later, figuring out where I can improve. Within the sequence is a double foot lock split, just like the photo from two years ago. I pulled a still from the video, noting how there was still a microbend in the back leg but my splits looked almost flat, wishing I’d spent another second or two sinking just a little bit deeper into them before continuing on to the next move in the sequence.

When the aforementioned old picture resurfaced, I decided to do a side-by-side comparison, purely out of curiosity. The result was staggering.

Front splits in double foot locks, August 2019 ➡ August 2021

Of course I knew that I had improved in two years, even with covid-related stops and starts, particularly since I bumped up my weekly classes from one to three several months ago. But even I was shocked at the stark differences between the two photos, and not just in my split flexibility. In the current photo, my toe points were better, my foot locks were much cleaner and more even, I was higher off the ground (partially due to the height required for the sequence I was performing, but still), and I just looked so much more comfortable and at ease in the air.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised, not really. If you’ve followed me on any social media platform at all, you are probably aware that I have really thrown myself into aerial lately. As I said, I increased the number of classes I was taking in late spring, and I’ve been much more intentional about refining my technique and increasing my stamina. But the shift really began last August, when I found myself taking classes somewhere new. My original studio wasn’t taking the necessary precautions I needed to feel safe regarding covid, and after several months of no classes at all and feeling my mental health slip because of it, I was able to find a place in the area with far more stringent pandemic protocols. It was extremely discouraging at first, feeling as though I was starting back at square one, but I slowly gained back the strength I’d lost and settled into a new aerial groove.

But after the holidays concluded and we slid into 2021, I was starting to find myself growing frustrated with my silks progress. I was plateauing, and while I never contemplated quitting, I lost a bit of the joy I’d once had for the hobby. I contemplated trying another apparatus – maybe silks wasn’t for me, after all? So I signed up for the studio’s “beginner aerial” course, where students learned the basics of silks, but also static/dance trapeze.

Trapeze…well, it isn’t the love of my life, that’s for sure. I’m still taking it, because I need to test out of it before I can try lyra (aerial hoop), which was really my goal in branching into other apparatuses. But trapeze and I have come to some sort of uneasy understanding, a begrudging mutual truce. I don’t hate it as I once did, and it doesn’t make me bleed from my blistered hands anymore.

There’s a saying around the studio: “Twice a week, three times as strong.” Well, I apparently decided that wasn’t enough, because once I was fully vaccinated, I returned to my original studio, while also continuing to attend the newer one. They have very different vibes – as may be evident in the photos above – but wonderful people at both, and I hated the idea of having to choose one over the other.

And that’s been my routine ever since. Silks Monday, silks or trapeze Thursday, silks Friday. Maybe even a one-off weekend class on a whim here and there, if I’m really ambitious. Rinse, repeat. (My forearms have never been so jacked.)

But back to the photo, to the visual tale of two splits.

It seems silly, I suppose, to be so taken aback by something so obvious. If you keep practicing at something, you’ll improve – not exactly life-altering information. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I live in this body of mine every second of every day; I have to endure every moment of its aches and pains and missteps and failures. I look at it in the mirror and see all the things I’ve been taught to see as flaws. The only changes I seem to be able to clock are the ones I perceive as negative. I don’t feel like I’m better at aerial, even when I objectively know that it is true, because things are still hard and I still constantly compare myself to classmates with different body types and I still can’t get my body to do things in the way that my brain pictures them.

But it’s pretty hard to deny comparative photographic evidence, this hard proof that my body can do amazing, difficult things. Beautiful, painful, complicated things. Things that most laypeople look at and say, “Wow, that’s incredible!” And not only can I do them, but I can do them better, more gracefully than I could before.

I can do hard things.

And so can you.

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