Aging Acrobats

by Juliana Frick

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we are making a new show! A lot is different this time around. From an ensemble of eight we have become three. Our last show we were a mixed-gendered group, in this iteration we are all female-bodied. We are all roughly the same size, meaning there is not as clear a distinction between the classic base and flyer roles (not that we have ever been interested in adhering to that formality). We are giving ourselves longer than two-weeks to make a show.

And finally, the difference that I am most interested in:

We are building a show with acrobats who are all in their thirties.

My sister, 13 years my senior, would laugh at me for making a big deal about being thirty. Yes, yes, yes, we are still young and all that blahblahblah etc. etc. BUT in the lifespan of an acrobat, we are entering into a different phase which more acutely begs the question:

How do we continue to gain highly-physical acrobatic skill while also gaining years (and all the wear and tear that comes with it) in our bodies?

Some of us began training our various physical disciplines when we were young. I started on the trapeze at age five, acrobatics at age nine and partner hand-to-hand at age ten. I had a beautiful short-lived career touring with youth-circus Circus Smirkus until I got kicked out for shoplifting when I was 14 (seriously). I stopped doing acrobatics at that point, picking it up again in my twenties where I promptly learned my first lesson of post-adolescent partner acrobatics: I can not simply rely on being smaller than everyone else. In my adult-body, I have to be smart. I have to think about form and efficiency and working with my partner to find the place of ease between us.

Now, a decade later, I’m undergoing a similar process. My primary mode of play is to SMASH. I love throwing myself into things, gaining power from high-velocity impact. For the last ten years my body could do this with little warm-up and recovery time. Lately though, it takes longer to get my wrists ready for weight-bearing. Impact with the ground echoes through my joints. I have to be more proactive in reminding my spine it is more related to a snake than a stick.

What I am discovering is that, once again, I have to be smarter in how I train. As Director of Training (capitalized to represent how ridiculously pleased I feel about this title), I’m undertaking a research project that looks closely at all the joints in our bodies. I’m trying to define in very specific terms what we are asking those joints to do in our work and then creating a training program to facilitate that.

UpLift is not interested in creating a spectacle of impressive physical feats. We are interested in using a highly-physical vocabulary to tell human stories. We are both acrobats and actors, athletes and poets. As I embark on this little research project, I will look at the physical forces acting on our bodies but I will also look at the stories we are telling, what qualities those stories require us to step into. To that end, my job in UpLift is to liberate us from anything holding us back from the full spectrum of physical expression.

I’ll let you know how the research goes.