The Tortoise Beats the Hare
We’ve all heard the story of the tortoise and the hare, right? The hare makes fun of the tortoise for being slow so the tortoise challenges him to a race. The hare takes off, leaving the tortoise in the dust. Feeling pretty good about himself, he decides to stop and take a nap because, hey, he clearly has all day to win this race. When he wakes up, he is surprised to find that the tortoise has won the race, slow and steady.
This story is a pretty good representation of the battle I’ve had with myself across my five years as an aerial dancer. When I discovered pole in 2016, I was quickly hooked. I bought a pole, went to as many classes I could, and practiced in the basement. I was determined to advance and learn new moves as quickly as possible, and when I would catch myself slowing down or wanting to rest, I would berate myself and push myself to get back on the pole.
My instructors warned me that doing pole every day is a recipe for injury and that learning and patiently practicing proper technique was far more important than progressing quickly. They suggested I cross-train and work on strengthening opposing muscle groups so I don’t overtax myself. Did I listen? I tried. But I was too excited to slow down and pace myself.
I was lucky that I never experienced any serious injuries. I did start having severe back pain, however, after about three years of pole and had to slow way down, take breaks for months at a time, and start back at the beginning to get my technique right. I haven’t yet built my strength and ability back to where it was at three years. However, I did pick up aerial hoop as a cross-training exercise and started weight lifting, both of which have become staples in my life over the past two years.
I still pole dance, but I’ve come to love aerial hoop even more. Maybe because I started it with a healthier relationship and a slow and steady mindset. I now dance two or three days a week, four max. And if I do four, I make sure I’m doing at least one of those on low hoop without any inverts (the source of previous pain). I still love pursuing exciting new tricks but I do it with patience - no more killing myself until I get it. I also mix in weight training one or two days a week to make sure my lower body and “pushing” muscles get worked.
More than anything, I rest. I let myself be “lazy.“ I do a short session when I don’t have the energy for a long one. I relax outside and listen to the sounds of the birds. I remember that my hoop will be there tomorrow and that there’s no rush to learn new things. It will all come with time. Sometimes I don’t do any aerial dance for a week or two.
I think my fear in the past has been that if I slowed down, I would lose my motivation and stop dancing altogether. It took stopping and starting several times - for months at a time in some cases - for me to trust myself and listen to my body.
Everyone has their own journey and has to learn these lessons on their own time. But if I could suggest anything to a budding aerialist, I would say: slow down, take your time, enjoy the moments when you get to dance, and savor the rest and relaxation in between. If you have gratitude and respect for what the aerial arts have brought to your life - and the challenges that come with it - they will deliver physical and mental rewards even as you age (I plan to keep going until I’m 70!).