27 January 2012

German Wheel

Last night I did this:

Okay, well, not exactly that. (Fewer strobe lights, though I did work bare-chested and in tasseled leggings.) But I attended my first class in German wheel, with Chris Delgado, who is a very good teacher. He's also, as it turns out, a clown whose sentiments aren't too dissimilar from my own:

If that seemed slightly reminiscent of this (2/10/11) to you, well, we agree. If it didn't, you're paying attention to the wrong stuffs and you're wrong, and I hate you.

I've been interested in German wheel (OR wheel gymnastics OR Rhönrad; not to be confused with the Cyr wheel) for some time now, and fortuitous it was that classes began being offered at Streb Lab, where Wife Megan and I attend aerial silks classes. My interest stems from pure physical curiosity to aesthetic sensibilities. I love contraptions, and circus skills that make use of them - hence my affection for stilt-walking - love climbing, and the German wheel turns climbing into perambulating, and makes surprises out of seemingly predictable movement. In that sense, it's pure physical comedy: Using an apparent and predictable mechanic to create moments of elation. Plus the thing just conjures up useful imagery - from the Vitruvian Man to Prometheus bound to Lloyd's clock or the steam engine of Melodrama or anything round of which you can think.

The experience of trying it out was at once affirming and surprising, which leads me to think I'll be back for a class or two. It's a bit frustrating to imagine making a commitment to the skill, simply because it's inconceivable to imagine storing the equipment it requires. (My stilts alone are far less obtrusive, and still a blight on efficient apartment living.) Still, that's a reasoning in favor of giving it a few more gos. Who knows when I'll have another opportunity?

Every circus skill, I've found thus far, features some incredible physical torment that you might not have guessed from watching it. In silks it's friction burns, in my opinion. Stilt-walking, it begins as quadriceps torture, then settles into chafing and occasional calf/ankle stiffness. For German wheel, though it's intensely physical in many unexpected ways, the hidden torment is in the feet. We were asked to wear :"thin" shoes, like classic Converse, and the reason for this is that you need to be able to fit them snugly under straps and then point your toes around the edge of the foot platforms.

Now, maybe I'm different than you (perish the thought), but the first time one of these rigs takes you upside-down I'm willing to bet your instinct will not be to point your feet. Rather, I imagine, you'll be kind-of sort-of interested in flexing your basal digits. There're straps, right? That's what they're there for, right? Nope. All wrong. The straps are there for tension, tension created by pushing hard against them as you essentially fight to shove your toes off the edge of wood and around the other side.

So: My feet hurt. Also, my butt, but I expect that lessens the better one gets at this skill set.

It's very very cool. I mean: Very cool. I expected it to have a lot in common with stilt-walking in terms of momentum-based tricks and using one's center-of-gravity. What I didn't anticipate is how fully it feels as though the wheel breaks free that balance awareness as though going from two-dimensional to three. Ironically, I think German wheel accomplishes this in part by its rigidity, which gives us limitations that help us develop a very precise vocabulary of movement. A jungle-gym on which to play, if you will (if you won't, see note above regarding wrong stuffs and hate).

That is definitely not to say one can just jump on the thing and have at it. The German wheel courts danger as much as any circus feat. See, for example, Chris' video at 3:12. He does a little look-through that - if followed through - could easily result on a broken neck or cracked skull via being run over by a metal bar plus your own body weight. I took to a trick last night that I observed, but hadn't yet been taught, and about midway through had this thought: "Ah. I see. At minimum five reasons I should've sought advice on this one." Plus I could never get the notion of crushing my fingers out of my brain completely . . . but then again not an ice rink goes by without me wondering if they'll be severed there, so that might be a personal fixation.

The entire device has to do with weight distribution - specifically one's pelvis - and leverage. Many of the moves I learned last night had something in common with momentum-based partner acrobatics, in that straightening and bending limbs and torso were used to create that precious leverage and overcome inertia. The entire experience is surreal in all the most circus-y, delighting ways. You roll and flip and are lifted and set down again, all while moving yourself around a defined center, a sweet-spot of a solar system of yourself. Great, great fun.

Found here.

2 comments:

Prof. Jenn said...

I saw this on Quidam, and it was one of the few (at that time) things I could not do. Also, the dude doing it was all full of joy and glee and happiness so it was addictive to see as well.
~jenn

Jeff Wills said...

This is a good one for inciting glee, for sure. Interesting to think of it that way. Maybe it fulfills some sort of impossible human urge, similar to how we all wish we could fly at some point.