She’s not quite a funambulist — yet — but the balance of strength, challenge and concentration has her hooked.
A MONTH HAD passed since my first walk on a wire, clutching my teacher’s hand for dear life. I was relieved I hadn’t fallen off. My ambition ended there.
It turns out, though, my first walk was a precursor to an hour of the real deal — the wire and I were destined to become more than passing acquaintances.
I met Alicia Graf, a funambulist (I was delighted to learn the name for wirewalkers), at Emerald City Trapeze Arts for a private session with my new friend, a 12-millimeter wire.
Emerald City Trapeze Arts
Graf shared the challenges of wirewalking. First off, while it might not look like much, wirewalking engages your entire core, from your pelvic floor to your throat, while also working tiny stabilizer muscles in your legs and strengthening your feet. The keys to staying upright are a soft and strong standing leg; an engaged core; and centered, straight hips.
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I walked on a 21-foot-long professional wire, and it felt like the longest walk of my life. Graf held my hand and prodded my belly several times, reminding me to keep my core tight.
It felt slightly easier this time. When I went backward, she told me to find the wire behind me with my toe, then step back. Moving slowly was key; there is no rushing on a wire.
Next, we worked on slides, taking one foot in front of the other, sliding my big toe forward, then shifting my weight. I’m pretty sure I leaned heavily on Graf’s hand for this entire section.
We added crouches, stepping both feet onto the wire, lowering to the balls of my feet and trying to balance there. It’s the most stable position on the wire, she told me. I had to trust her on that one.
Wirewalking is a huge challenge for your feet. Up until crouches, my feet, which I stretch and strengthen regularly, felt fine despite the intense pressure from the wire. The crouches, however, pressed right into the ball of my foot. Ouch. I stood up quickly.
The most challenging skill was a one-foot balance. I stood on one leg, extended the other, toe pointed, arms out. Whenever I started to tip either direction, I had to practice bending my standing leg, extending my free leg, to turn my hips back to face the wire and wave my arms from the elbows to regain balance. You work in adjustments of millimeters, Graf said.
Yes; it’s as hard as it sounds.
Much of wirewalking is retraining your body’s understanding of “safe.” A crouch is more stable than standing up. Turning your hips to face the end of the wire is more stable than waving your arms wildly. One foot is more stable than two.
My brain absorbed this in theory; in practice, it wanted both feet on the wire.
Graf had me combine the techniques, walking across the wire and seeing whether I could sweep my free leg out and do a one-foot balance.
While it was easier to walk, and I caught my balance more frequently, I often found myself with two feet on the wire, and leaning heavily into Graf’s hand.
Graf suggested we do one more walk. What time was it? I had been concentrating so hard, I lost track of time. My hour was up.
I loved every element of wirewalking: the strength, balance and concentration required. The idea of doing jumps or lunges on a wire is nerve-wracking, yet I want to be a funambulist. Wirewalking, can we be real-life friends?