What I Learned from Joining the Circus…

It had been years since I stepped into a church. It all felt familiar but totally new. The afternoon light beamed through the old stained glass and flecks of color reflected onto the dusty hardwood floors. I was nervous and not quite sure what signed up for. In the corner, two people sat at little tables chatting. To the left, a few young ladies stretched gracefully on a large floor mat. I walked closer to the center of the room. I was in awe of the 4 silky fabrics hanging down from 20 the foot ceilings and puddling into the floor. My heart beat a bit faster with excitement. This wasn’t an ordinary church…

I grew up Catholic but lost my faith long ago. Going back to church was the last place I thought I would go to revive my spirit, slowly mending all the broken parts of myself that I avoided for years. I didn’t know that I would find my tribe. An intersection of dreamers, creators and imperfect people who were looking to laugh, learn and most of all who were not afraid to try.

I was overweight, burnt out and frustrated with the lack of upward mobility at my job. I was also a newlywed but apart from my husband while he was abroad for 8 months finishing his dissertation. I felt lonely, depressed and in a deep funk unsure of how I was going to dig myself out. One day while pondering my life choices and scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, I saw a video of a friend climbing a beautiful silky navy fabric. She looked fit, confident and like she was having fun. I stalked her Facebook for weeks hoping she would post a new video. I told myself, “I could never do that!” but soon found myself Googling “aerial fabric classes” in Baltimore. To my surprise, there was a class at In the Dark Circus Arts. Within a week, I found myself stepping into a converted church staring up 20 feet at the silky fabrics.

Performing during my 1st show case. Photo: Devon Rowland Photography

On the first day of class our instructor, Kelly Jo, taught us a few simple moves and climbs. It felt impossible! I spent 90 minutes flailing about wrestling the fabrics. I was barely 6 inches off the ground and fell repeatedly on the blue mats. My forearms were sore for days after class. But, I kept coming back and as the weeks passed I bonded with my fellow circus classmates. We encouraged each other and cheered when one of us completed a new move. We helped each other up when we fell and laughed when one of us (usually me) was impossibly tangled in the fabrics.

I continued to take more sessions and Kelly Jo, our ringleader, guided us to trust each other and most importantly ourselves. I laughed, grew physically stronger, climbed higher and learned new death defying moves. But, with each new move, the fear would rush back.

There were so many times I was high up in the air, paralyzed with fear. I just needed to let go. But I held myself back. The voices in my mind would whisper “What if I fall?”, “What if everyone sees me botch this move?”, “ What if…what if…what if…”

“You got this!” my friends would say from below.

After hesitating I’d let go and seconds later I’m at the bottom hanging by my waist. My friends erupted in cheers around me. It was at that moment that I realized that I was the only person holding myself back. My hesitation due to my fear kept me from moving forward. I finally understood that holding on to the fear became less important than flying.

It’s been four years since my first class. I’ve worked hard and learned enough drops and rolls to perform in 3 sold out shows. I learned to trust I wouldn’t let myself fall. Joining the circus taught me to laugh through the pain, that courage can be learned (over and over again) and that I could learn to love myself if I just let go.

Practicing on a new apparatus, Cyr wheel, for the winter 2016 showcase. Photo: Wandering & Pondering JSAlmonte