SLAM (Streb Lab for Action Mechanics), to put it broadly, is a creative center in Williamsburg that hosts a variety of body-testing arts from dancing to gymnastics and trapeze. Last Wednesday, I went for a complimentary “open-level flip and tuck” class.
I had a vague sense that I might be doing forward rolls, backward rolls, and maybe a handstand up against the wall. I also had a vague sense that, it being open-level, the class would be jam-packed with bulls in a china shop who couldn’t even keep their balance on one foot without teetering over.
“Open level flip and tuck,” it turns out, isn’t synonymous to “beginners’ level” – it really means the “open level,” and should you happen to be an experienced dancer who’s interested in learning a bit of tumbling or a gymnast who needs to refine her backflip, this class would be for you. And as it turns out, as I discovered after we went around the circle saying our experience in “movement,” I happened to be the only person with barely enough dancing or gymnastics experience to fill my pinky.
We were on a mat, while a solo gymnast was dangling from some bars further along. Behind us, three trapeze artists swung from bars and flopped down on the safety float below them. We started with a warm-up which had me and some of the less “motionally”-experienced near-hyperventilating or losing balance. We did ankle-rolls, calf lunges, and downward dogs, push-ups, and back arches that left my wrists feeling like they would pop.
Then, headstands. You balance on the crown of of your head, not at the very top, I learned, and you position your elbows outwards to gain balance. Practice bending your legs and placing them on your jutting-out elbows—that is a beginners’ headstand, but it is a headstand nonetheless. Then, you had to tighten your stomach and straighten out your legs into the air: a full headstand.
I didn’t do it the first time, the second time, the third time, or the fourth time. The fifth time, I almost balanced my legs onto my elbows. The sixth time, I did it. By the tenth time, I stretched out my body fully until I slammed the mat 5 second later.
And then, handstands. Which with me meant kicking up into the air like a donkey because I couldn’t muster enough strength in my biceps to keep the rest of my body off the ground. But that wasn’t as embarrassing as when we had to do cartwheels and the instructor asked who had never done a cartwheel. Full disclosure: I had never done a cartwheel until this day. As a child who grew up dissuaded from exercise and athletics because of a four-year stint in a back brace, my body shied away from physical activity and to this day, I’m abnormally afraid of a bad blow to the spine.
But, it was easier than I expected, and the instructor insured that I, the noob, was directed properly in my attempts at aerobatics. Hand hand, foot foot, and a couple of butt-smacks on the mat, and I had done it.
If this all sounds painful let me also disclose that I’ve done close to 2 days of exercise this entire year—not to mention that, though my body felt like it’d been slammed against concrete, I left SLAM feeling I had accomplished. I did my first cartwheel and my first headstand: that was enough to check off my bucket list for the day. I thank the instructor for pulling me out in front of the rest and forcing me to face my shame, because when it comes to gymnastics, that is the first thing you have to put aside if you ever want to get those darn feet and legs off the ground.
On Thursday, and on Friday, the soreness hit. I couldn’t move By Saturday night, I was back to my Sourpatch Kid muscle tone. But now, I can sleep at night knowing that if I keep working my arm and thigh muscles and go back to that SLAM gymnastics mat, I will be able to do the handstand that’s been so elusive to me.
Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM), 51 North 1st Street, Brooklyn, L to Bedford Avenue, (718) 384-6491
- Andrea Garcia-Vargas