Lessons learned from twenty five years in the air
I used to love being up in the air, defying gravity, choosing to be there — the breeze in my hair when swinging on the trapeze. Knowing I had done the work, I made the effort required to get to where I was. I did that for 25 years. Many lessons were learned. So some may be worth sharing.
My whole life changed during those years. I became a trapeze artist, and this is still who I am in spirit. In life, now on the ground, I take risks, choose heights, and have that longing. I took some risks in my creative career, too. I love risk, working with fear to find the courage and thrive against all odds.
So here are some lessons learned, in no particular order:
They say we are a speck of dust in the universe, which certainly seems true when you’re in the air. However, it sounds counterintuitive for a trapeze artist to say so. We usually have all eyes on us, but that’s only in performance when the lights are on.
On normal days, being an aerialist demands regular daily training. Zoe, my trapeze teacher, used to say this is an ungrateful profession, you work so hard to get physically fit and ready, and the number of performances is out of proportion to the training invested.
Daily, you climb up the rope to your trapeze. Sitting there with your thoughts of what you will work on today, you try to focus, but the technicians are setting the lights off from the last day’s performance down on the ground. They don’t know you’re up there fighting your fear demons; always there, no matter how many years you’re already doing this.
Technicians make a lot of noise, and there’s nothing to do but find your concentration, breathe, focus and do your best, like every day. You take your swing, push and pull with your legs, and everything around you disappears. There’s only you and the trapeze as one. Getting into the rhythm you do your warm-up, assessing your “body weather” that day. You sit back down on the bar, breathe in deeply, and let out a sigh.
Breathe, Orit, I tell myself, it’s only you up here, take your time, you can do it, and on it goes to more complex figures and sequences that demand more and more concentration for a longer time. You may be doing extraordinary things up there, but no one knows what you’re up to and what it takes for you that day. So the world disappeared for the space of an hour or two.
Then you go back down, and everyday living resumes. No one knows you disappeared from the world for that space of time. You were not available but for the trapeze, your demons, and yourself. Those two hours held significance only for you. In the continuity of daily training, results will be seen possibly in weeks or months. Breathe, be patient. You are doing the work. That’s progress, even if you can’t see it now.
I love fear. It is my old friend; I have spent so many hours with my fears that I know them like the back of my hand 🙂 This is a lifelong relationship that took many twists and turns. I remember running from the children’s dormitory in the Kibbutz I was born in; to my parent’s room when I was five years old. Terrified, I ran from tree to tree, looking behind me to see if no one was following.
Still, the goal — my parents’ room, was more important than having to sleep in the children’s dormitory. That’s the beginning I remember of this vital relationship. I said to my fear then, listen you! If you let me do this, I’ll… I’m not sure exactly what I said, but we went on like this, my fear and me for a year. Undeterred.
At the end of that year, we left the Kibbutz my parents had established. Twenty-five years of my father’s communism came to an end. I did not realize it at the time, but I felt there was something to that collaboration with Mr. fear.
A friend once told me fear is an impulse. It stuck with me. Nevertheless, people tend to run away from what scares them, but every once in a while, something worth the effort of going through the fear comes along and then making fear a partner is the best plan you can have. To be able to collaborate with it, you have to get to know your fear first. Befriending your fears is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
A year later, my brother died. After that, life became a whole new ball game. I had to figure everything out on my own. It was hard because I was different than everyone else. My brother had just died. I will have remained different in that sense for the rest of my life. Little did I realize it at the time.
Fast forward to my trapeze years. I got to the trapeze because I was bored with dancing on the ground, horizontally like everyone else. I wanted to dance vertically. So I traded the ground with the trapeze bar and started exploring dancing upside down. It felt better that way — different the same way I have gotten used to being.
I know now that my trapeze career started at five years old when my brother died. My parents gave me a birthday party with friends and family, I am not sure now what the idea was, maybe for me to feel important after my brother’s death, but it felt out of place. So, in a desperate attempt to make things right, I stood on my head, turning the world upside down.
That was the beginning of my circus life. I chose a different path from my scientific parents, another way than what existed in Israel at the time. It felt like home to me, even though I had to learn to speak French to pursue it years later.
It took me many years, but I finally realized that too. You do not do circus on your own. It’s teamwork, like life. And whatever you do, you do it on the shoulders of those who came before you.
Zoe used to say, “you don’t learn trapeze by correspondence.” She was right, of course. Without her life lessons, I would never be able to do what I did on the trapeze. I grew up with her in the air and will be eternally grateful. Without Zoe, I would not be who I am today.
So, you don’t do circus alone, and inevitably, when I started doing circus, after some years of dancing in the air, I started working in teams of all sizes. With my company, it became the only way to go. You can do so much on your own, but when your creative projects become so much bigger than you, you need the help of other people.
Working with teams in the circus transformed me. I realized we were all different in so many ways from each other. But there is only one way to reach the higher goals we set for ourselves; together.
Working with other, very different people than I had me see things through their eyes and perspectives, and thus began a transformation. You can get better results when you can see through other people’s eyes and change your perspective.
We all are different, but there’s only one way to exceed ourselves: together