Student Spotlight: Chris Humphrey
At Sky Candy, we are proud to be an all-inclusive studio- this means that we believe that everyone, no matter your age, body type or fitness level, can succeed in the aerial and circus arts. We are lucky enough to have a bunch of amazing students who prove us right every time they come to the studio, one of whom is 64 year-old aerialist and actress Chris Humphrey. Chris was kind enough to sit down with us recently to discuss her aerial journey.
Sky Candy: How did you come to be an aerialist?
Chris: I probably would never have even attempted this if I had not been cast as an actor in Cosmicomics. When Rudy, our director, said that we’d all be getting off the ground, I immediately made two assumptions. The first assumption, which was false, was that at most I would be sitting in an apparatus, (I could see myself in a lyra, holding on for dear life), and so I needed to learn to enter and exit the apparatus safely and gracefully. In truth, I actually graduated from sitting in an apparatus to “having a moment” to doing a tiny little “happy dance” in the show, which was about 200% more than I ever imagined. The second assumption, which was correct, was that as a significantly older actor (I’m 64) who has never been athletic, I would need more than the “couple of workshops” Rudy had mentioned. So I signed up for Intro to Horizontals two months before we even started developing Cosmicomics.
SC: What were your thoughts after your first lesson?
C: Well, there were a lot of expletives which I’ll omit. I had zero upper body strength and zero strength in my hands. Chelsea, the teacher for that class, helped me get up into the apparatus and helped me down again, but my hands were such pansies that I was afraid they would fail me at any moment and I would plummet the three feet down to the crash mat in a fiery death. It was scary. On a more positive note, she was calm and encouraging, and I was sort of perversely pleased with myself for being smart enough to get such a head start because it was even harder than I expected it to be. Every part of my body hurt by the end of that first lesson. My arms felt like they weighed a ton each and I could barely move for a week; but I’m hard headed enough to not let it defeat me, so I went back for the second lesson.
SC: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced as an aerialist?
C: Overcoming my own vanity and being willing to fail — that’s always hard. Every class I enrolled in would consist of, oh, say two modern dancers in their 20s, a yoga instructor in her 30s, a home-schooled high school kid with boundless strength, energy and grace, and… me — the overweight grandmother. Inevitably the youngsters would progress immediately to the next level and I would be repeating Intro again (and Joanna was gracious enough to welcome me back). But I’m learning that I can’t judge myself by someone else’s abilities. Am I making progress? Yes, absolutely. And I have to be content with that, even though I want to be a quick study like the 20-somethings.
SC: What are your favorite things about being an aerialist?
C: I love, love, love seeing progress every single time I go to class or open studio. I love the fact that my body is responding in ways I never knew it could. I’m still not as strong as I’m going to be, but I’m so much stronger than I was! Mentally, too, things are starting to click and I’m learning skills more easily now than I could six months ago. My mind has switched from full-on survival mode to learning mode and is now working together with my body, and that’s totally cool. I love the fact that by the time Cosmicomics opened, my goal of simply getting into and out of the apparatus safely and gracefully had grown into a short routine and I was able to surprise — and delight — our audience. And I absolutely must say that one of the very best things of all is the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made doing this. I will never forget the moment when I went to a class one night and there was a shift from ‘student’ to ‘colleague’ between me and the instructor. Wow.
SC: Where do you see yourself going from here?
C: I met my immediate goal of preparing for a specific show and now I’m taking classes for the sheer joy of learning. Also, and this is important for older students, I have already seen health benefits from doing this. Thanks to my increased upper body strength, I have been able to discontinue (with my doctor’s blessing) the medication I was taking for bone loss; so I don’t see myself stopping any time soon! I will continue to perform as opportunities arise and — who knows? — maybe some day I’ll teach a class for students-older-than-average. The sky’s the limit, right? Look for me on YouTube in about 20 years as that amazing old lady who does death defying aerials.
SC: Do you have any recommendations for folks who are thinking about starting aerial lessons?
C: Just gut it up and do it. And make sure you find a place like Sky Candy where the environment is inclusive, encouraging and positive. It doesn’t matter if you feel you’re less than you ought to be. Too fat? Too old? Too (fill in the blank)? You can do it. I have never once left the studio without feeling I’ve accomplished something, even if it’s small. It’s that feeling of accomplishment and surprising myself (I can do THAT??????) that brings me back time after time.