The method behind the madness, part 8

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t. –Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

First and foremost, to all who have followed this feature thus far, thank you! The inspiration behind it has been a desire to share with you, our dear flyers, the not-always-obvious rationale for the various parts and pieces that make up the TSNY Flying Trapeze Curriculum. We ask you to do all sorts of things that might not always make sense right away, but rest assured: there is indeed method to the madness and we would like very much to share it with you. Together, we’ve explored the “why” behind your progression from the knee hang all the way through to your first return. We’ve looked ever-so-briefly at flying out of lines (and you can be sure we’ll come back to that topic another time). In this month’s installment, we’re going to look at some of the “bigger” and “fancier” tricks and talk about what it takes to make them work.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree: flying trapeze is fun. Not only is it fun, but it’s challenging—and for some (or many?) that’s a big part of what makes it fun. By now your swing is maintaining height and you’ve learned a couple of the early backend tricks; you’ve learned to turnaround and your Half-Turn helped you to make your first returns. It’s not unusual at this point to start looking excitedly at the challenge presented by those “bigger” and “fancier-looking” tricks. (Ok, let’s be honest: you’ve probably been eyeing one or two of those tricks right from the start!) You know the tricks we’re talking about: for the most part, they’re anything in the Level 4, 5 or 6 circles of the Tricks Chart.  Each one of these tricks comes with increasing demands for physical fitness (strength, conditioning), technical mastery and aerial awareness.  Since you’ve proven to us that you’re up for a challenge, let’s talk about how to get you there.

For Level 4 tricks and above, you need a combination of sufficient height in your swing and solid movement mechanics in order to make these tricks work. We’re going to take a close look at height because it is so often misunderstood and it actually plays a rather critical role in the performance of these sorts of tricks.

To explain, consider your swing. If we were to simplify the swing, we could say that the lower the swing, the more it looks like this:

Notice that at this height, the swing is mostly back and forth. By that, I mean you are generally either swinging forward or you’re swinging backward. There tends not to be much, if any, “float” time at either peak of the swing.

As the swing gets higher, it tends to look like this:

Now the swing has not only some “back and forth” motion, but as you approach the front and back peak it has some “up and down”. The tighter, more fluid and well-timed your swing is, the more likely you are to feel this energy as you perform your forceout and seven. It is the upward motion in particular that I’m going to explore here because it plays a significant role in facilitating the performance of higher level tricks. (This, for the record, is why we spend so much time saying things like “legs together” and “legs straight”, not to mention “stay tight”.

As an example, let’s use the Hocks Salto. This trick has you going into a straddle position as you enter the back peak of your swing. From there you perform the legs to the bar –> hands off the bar (reach for the sky!)–> release your legs –> tuck –> open and present (catch hands!) sequence. This whole sequence can seem to happen very quickly and for many flyers the challenging part comes in figuring out how to release the bar with their hands and drive their torso upward in order to create “lift” off the bar when you release your legs. The goal is for your tucked rotation to happen with your body still moving upward, above the front peak of your swing. Ideally, your “open” will happen right as you stop moving upward. The higher your swing is, the more your torso (and whole body) will already be moving upward as you drive up and off the bar. The “upward” energy at the front of your swing actually facilitates you adding to the drive with the movement of your torso.

A similar principle applies to the Layout (and all of the breaking tricks that follow). With a higher swing, you’ll feel like you have more time to “set” smoothly. As you “break” (assuming you break fully) and then “drive”, the more “upward” energy your swing has as you drive off the bar, the easier it is to feel and understand the movement. Without the upward energy of the swing, the layout very often feels like a mystery. The same can be said for the Cutaway Half (and all of the turnaround breaking tricks that follow), the Pirouette, the Uprise Shoot (and the tricks that follow from that), the Shooting Star…. The energy of the swing contributes to and facilitates effective performance of the trick.

So how do we do this? There are two basic ways you can get the height you need: you can start higher by taking off from a rise (or two) or you can build that height with your swing. Really, as soon as your takeoff is unassisted, most flyers should take most of their tricks—even the tricks like a split or planche—off at least one rise. Talk with your instructors about the best plan for you to get there because for most of the tricks we’re considering here, it’s exceedingly difficult to get the height you need from your swing alone. That being said, there is no getting around the fact that if you want to perform higher level tricks, your swing needs to be solidly building height.

It is worthwhile noting that the factors that contribute to building height in your swing—strong and tight body control, awareness of your position and orientation in the air, fluid and well-timed movements—are the same factors that contribute to effective performance of a trick. The movements required for many of these tricks are nuanced and demanding. The beauty of it all is that we have created a way of training your body to do all of these things. We have Strength & Conditioning classes that will help you to build the fitness you need. Cross-training in other Aerial Arts classes can help build not only fitness, but expand your movement repertoire. Our entire Trampoline Curriculum is designed to help you build a broad range of movement skills and awareness in the air. And, of course, we have Intensive Flying Workshops that provide an opportunity for you to work with our talented Instructors to create a plan for reaching your goals! It’s all waiting for you; let’s see how high you can go!

Go crazy. Punch a higher floor! -Prince