Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cheer Machine

It's impossible for me to write a wrap-up post for this cheer show process without myopically expressing my piece of this experience as though it represent the whole. I worry that this isn't quite the right kind of piece to write for a promotional blog on the day when the show should be most aggressively promoted. But, of course, the only truth I can speak is my own.

When I look back at my blog posts throughout this cheer show process, they all have a theme of body image and navigating my relationship with it by doing this work. It is embarrassing to admit, but I pinned a lot of hopes on this show. I thought by the end of the cheer training, I would have some "ideal" body that would look and perform exactly as my brain wanted it to. I still look very much like I did before. I did not gain some sort of super split or jump or dance powers. But change doesn't happen like that. Change is just a slow series of accumulating new habits. We grow accustomed to the new things we learn; they are old news and no longer titillating and impressive.

And so I  have to keep reminding myself that the dance and cheer routines we perform are impressive. To quote Woody Allen quoting Groucho Marx: I don't want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member. As in ... it's easy for me to write off the physical accomplishments I've made in this process by the virtue that if my body can do these routines, they must never have been that challenging to begin with.

But what we've done these past few months is hard. And these past few months have been valuable. And not because we made a play and we're putting it on a stage and asking people to come see it. I believe the five of us, Kaci, Karen, Halyn, Courtney and myself, have experienced something really unique throughout this training process. We mashed together physicality and creativity and female camaraderie and vulnerability and commitment and hard work into this strange-ass metamorphic process. I've certainly been changed by this experience. One piece of art hasn't magically resolved more than a decade of a fucked up body image, but although I can't erase my history, I can write more compassionate pages in each present volume. I've learned it's a lot easier to love your body when you train it and have fun with it and enjoy the rush of the exhilarating things it can do. ... such as this dandy ol' cheer play that opens tonight.

Maybe that's why we've done this whole she-bang: waking up far too early for the past dozens of Saturdays and stretching at home on our kitchen floors and listening to far too much Ke$ha* -- it's because we were putting on a show, right?

Well, maybe. I already feel fulfilled and satisfied from this process. For me, the product is just icing on the cake. Perhaps I'll feel differently after our two weekends of performances, but I hypothesize that it's not the shows that will stick around in my memory as much as the workouts and the choreography sessions that it took to get there. It feels good to create a sisterhood on the foundation of hard work, and it feels even better to work so hard you eclipse your own limits and foreshortened possibilities.

As for a final word on my Blood, Sweat and Cheers experiece, I believe that my character, Chrissy, says it best: "I didn't pass out! I didn't trip! I smiled the whole time! I am a cheer machine!" 

* for the record, "far too much" is a low threshold to cross when measuring units of Ke$ha.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

From T-Kicks to Kempo Kickboxing

It's May! I'm finally done with school, and I will be graduating next week! With my newly abundant free time, I'm excited to train for Blood, Sweat and Cheers and push myself farther than before. Today, I tried a new kind of work out to help me build strength and endurance for the show: Kempo Kickboxing.

I bought the set of ten classes on a whim from Groupon about a month ago, while trapped in my sedentary student lifestyle of paper-writing and shuttling my ass from school desk to school desk. I romanticized the idea of working up a sweat in a martial arts gym, heart pumping and music blaring. However, when the day of my first kickboxing class arrived, I felt completely intimidated. Everyone who entered the building was clothed in black muscle tees endowed with the gym's paradoxical logo -- an impressively muscular skeleton dude. Their rippling muscles canvassed with tattoos, this crowd looked like a motorcycle gang of Greek gods. I looked like I was dressed for a powderpuff football game or a Zumba class. I  sported a sea foam green t-shirt with a sweetly saccharine logo of an ice cream store on the front and the neckline cut to make a more flattering shape. I thought about turning around and going home, stopping at the thrift store on my way home to go dress shopping. 

Instead, I marched my heart-patterned socks and puffy white cheer shoes to the front door of the gym. Ralph at the desk was incredibly tall. And muscular. And handsome. He looked like Clark Kent with a CBGB makeover, his massive body coupled with a square jawline, a trim boyish haircut and dark, thick-rimmed glasses. He informed me that I might want to take it slow or follow the class at my own pace. Gauntlet thrown, Superman. 

I took off my shoes and joined the group, jogging in circles around the mat. The instructor called out different kinds of jogging, skipping, and shuffling. It reminded me of my old tennis drills. As we stretched, I felt proud of the flexibility I'd gained from the cheer workouts. But when we began learning the kempo punching techniques, I realized just how out of my element I really was. It's generous to say that I "wasn't very good". In fact, I was spectacularly horrible. I feebly jabbed and flopped my limbs around with the efficacy of wire hangers in a sword fight. The technique of kickboxing, routinized sequences of punches and kicks, felt like a dance that I had never even seen performed, much less tried to replicate in my bedroom while listening to the soundtrack from Girls.

You, too, can become a scientific anomaly. 

One of my favorite moments of the class occurred when the instructor gave me general tips about keeping your head up and retaining your fighting stance at all times while "on the mat". It was an instant mental callback to the same colloquial cheer-ism. It seems no matter what your athletic (or artistic or professional) discipline is, when you're "on the mat" you better take your dedication, focus and intensity to 11.

As the class progressed, I started to get a better feel for the kickboxing technique. Like choreography, I began to kinetically understand what my body was supposed to do. Even if I couldn't execute the punches and kicks powerfully or consistently, I started to commit the technique to muscle memory. The session ended with more cardio: an eternity of jump roping. A playful childhood activity corrupted and repurposed into single servings of self-imposed torture. But I was determined to keep participating until my instructor gave me permission to give myself permission to stop. 

By the end of the session, I was dripping in sweat. I was tired, and I worried that I'd embarrassed myself by being such a clumsy novice. But I also felt fierce and brave and powerful. I kept up with the group the whole time. I never stopped or slowed down. I didn't slink away during the water break and head home. The novelty of a new challenge was stimulating both physically, emotionally and intellectually. Kempo kickboxing was worth getting out of my car and following the fear. And although I'm probably not going to commit to training for a UFC championship any time soon, I'll definitely finish out the last 9 classes of my Groupon. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Y'all Ready For This?

This is not like that
THAT is school cheer. The pom-pons, the megaphones, the yelling. The cheering on of athletes. Mostly male athletes.
THIS is competitive cheer. It's that thing you see on ESPN at 2 in the morning that makes you go "THAT'S NUTS!"
The girls (and guys) who do THIS, they ARE the athletes. They have muscles in places you didn't know muscles could be. There are no instruments, no bats or balls or weights or pads or rackets, just the power of the body propelling itself up, around, across and through. THIS is a sport.
THIS is not cheering for anything but cheering itself.
Don't let the bows deceive you. Beneath the bow is an athlete that can out run, out lift and out smile you all at once.
THIS will be on full display during Blood, Sweat and Cheers. You'll get to see it live and you'll think to yourself "THIS. IS. NUTS. Is this really happening?"
Yes, this is.
Y'all ready for this?