I pike up and put the tops of my feet on the middle of the bar, let go, and hang straight down. Twenty feet above the ground, I am suspended on a trapeze with no net. When I was eleven years old, I ran away to the circus. I was enticed by the showmanship, athleticism, daring, and storytelling that took place twenty feet above the ground. The first time I touched the spiral taped, rough surface of a trapeze bar, I felt like I had come home. I joined the Great All American Youth Circus, the longest running community circus in the country, and by the time I was in high school, my trainers were from Cirque du Soleil.
Oberlin has helped my dream of becoming a circus artist—so apparent to my 11-year-old self—stay alive. While I chose Oberlin for the strength and opportunities of its science programs, I was overjoyed to find that Oberlin not only had a circus, but it had the facilities and equipment for aerial work. I have had the opportunity to co-run the Oberlin College Aerialists Club: directing, managing, and performing. On average, the club produces three shows per year, drawing audiences upwards of 300 people, as well as special performances at school functions such as Solarity and Commencement.
Last spring, I taught an ExCo class, Introduction to Aerial Circus Skills, which was geared to students who had over thirty hours of aerial experience, but not much more. It served as a foundations course, teaching not only tricks but also how to choreograph, interact with different aerial apparatus, and deepen one’s understanding of their body in motion. We even had a faculty member from the mathematics department as a student! The class became a real community, a testament to the supportive relationships between faculty and students possible at Oberlin.
While I was teaching the ExCo class, I aggravated an old circus injury during my personal aerial training. The pain in my right shoulder increased to a point where the simple act of reaching for a pencil was excruciating. What unfolded was a year of doctor’s appointments, tests, physical therapy, and finally surgery, followed by more physical therapy and recovery, much of which took place while I continued my studies at Oberlin. Faculty, students, and administrators all helped carry me through one of the most difficult times in my life. Going into my senior year, I am happy to say that I have made a full recovery and I look forward to performing at Oberlin again!
When I reach for the trapeze, I pull myself up, stand on the bar, invert on the ropes, drop, straddle my legs behind me, flex my feet, and let go. All the hours of training, pain, and repetition are now coded into my muscles; the belief, support, and demands of my trainers carrying me through the proper form. I am in free fall, dropping farther than my body length, depending on the integrity of my strength, the air around me, and the constant presence of the bar. At the last possible moment, I catch myself by my ankles. And the trapeze bar is there. The trapeze bar is home.