For a few years in my late twenties, I took trapeze lessons. The class met weekly in a rustic loft space. The dozen or so students were taught by a member of the studio’s performance company. The class consisted of some moderate strength training and general technique, but most of our hour-long lesson focused on earning and practicing “tricks” the trapeze equivalent of yoga poses. A few of the tricks included a series of moments necessary to get your body into the correct position, but most of them were stationary, a pose more than a movement. It wasn’t until we started training for our first performance that I realized perfecting the tricks wasn’t enough, that what made a series of poses into aerial dance was transitions, the way you moved from one pose to the next. Transitions were the space in trapeze for creativity. Aerialists were protective of their invented transitions, to copy someone else’s progression from one move to the next was considered a faux pas.
In other artistic medium, copying is considered essential to an artist’s development. Painters copy the works of great masters, chefs learn to precisely follow their mentor’s recipes, but fairy tales, like aerial dance, is a medium that combines structure with space and encourages embellishment. There are countless versions of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, but the core story—the series of tricks—remains the same. Each teller moves from moment to moment in a slightly different way, fill in the framework with their own flourishes.
I found myself thinking about transitions last night in a yoga class. My regular instructor just moved away and I was trying someone new, a young inexperienced teacher who provided a challenging sequence of poses with very little instruction about moving from one to the next. Finding my own way, remembering the correct form for each pose and finding a fluid movement to get from one to the next was challenging in a way I found frustrating. By the end of the class I was agitated instead of relaxed. I was used to instructors who detail every aspect of movement and found myself uncomfortable with a style that should have provided more freedom.
This realization got me thinking about the insistent association of fairy tales with children, something that many admirers of wonder tales find condescending. But perhaps fairy tales are connected to youth not because they demonstrate a lack of sophistication, but because they demand creativity. Children love to fill in the gaps that adults find frustrating.