There's a frequently repeated anecdote about 20th century ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky from one of his early shows in Paris. Someone asked him if it was hard to perform one of his celebrated leaps—to stay suspended in the air in a way that appeared...
Photo by Nate "Igor" Smith
Vaslav Nijinsky was one of the 20th century's greatest dancers. His parents were Polish, but he was born in Kiev, Ukraine's capital. He trained in St. Petersburg at the Imperial Theatrical School, the same academy that produced Anna Pavlova, Michel Fokine, George Balanchine, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Nijinsky changed the aesthetic of ballet. He choreographed new ways of movement that arguably paved the way for modern dance. Then, in his late 20s, he went completely nuts. In Joan Acocella's introduction to a 1999 English translation of Nijinsky's diaries, she describes two early relationships that look very much like the modern sugar daddy arrangement. The first was with Prince Pavel Lvov and the second with Sergei Diaghilev—the man who would make him as a star and introduce him to the western world.
There's a frequently repeated anecdote about Nijinsky from one of his early shows in Paris. Someone asked him if it was hard to perform one of his celebrated leaps—to stay suspended in the air in a way that appeared superhuman. His reply was "No! Not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there." I've been seeing and hearing this anecdote since I started dancing, approximately 23 years ago. Most recently it appeared in an article on the Ballets Russes in Vogue. Perhaps Nijinsky was being coy, but I think of his quote every time someone asks me how I do what I do on the lyra, how I hold my body in various contortions on a spinning hoop suspended from the ceiling. If pressed by a reporter, I can pick apart some of the physics of aerial acrobatics, but I'm not actually explaining the process of performing the tricks—I'm intellectualizing them in retrospect. I'm digging up basic knowledge of things like gravity and momentum in the attempt to provide an answer other than, "I just do it. It just works." I know that when I flip from one side of the hoop to the other and fold my body around one arm in a pose called the "meathook" (seriously) I must be turning with the spin, but I can't actually say whether that turn is left or right. I just know that inertia exists and most movements would be much more difficult if I were fighting it
I dodge these questions if an interview is right before a show. I'm convinced that overthinking the details of something that my body has been trained to do on it's own will interfere with my ability to do them. Even something as simple as walking is said to involve 200 muscles. We aren't generally conscious of the process of taking a step. The next time you stand up, give walking while thinking about it a try. Personally, I can only think about pushing off with the back foot and using the thigh of the back leg to then move it forward. There's no way I could separate the motions of 198 other parts. If I could, I'd be so fascinated by this new awareness of one little toe or some part under my kneecap that I'd never make it to the next step. Fortunately most people who ask about the hows of aerial work are easily placated by a brief discussion on the years of training I've had, or are amused when I make a joke about how the rhinestones make me float.
Last Saturday night I performed at an adult-industry awards show called the Fannys. Being onstage at a venue full of other entertainers is different than performing for an audience of people who are less familiar with the inner workings of some aspect of show business. The razzle dazzle and glitter still have to be there, but fellow porn performers will be less distracted by it. Burlesque is not titillating to a room of folks who perform or record sexual acts for a living. An audience that has athletes or former dancers in it can more easily tell what is actually a difficult maneuver, and they all notice if you neglect to point a toe. You can't fool them into thinking a split is some great feat of physical accomplishment. Their applause is the sound of people who have judged with a critical eye and found you acceptable, or the sound of people who are merely being polite to a peer. It is not the sound of blind, unconditional love from an audience that is purely there to be entertained. For different reasons, both sorts of crowds are wonderful to perform for.
The Fannys took place during a convention called Exxxotica. All day Friday and Saturday, people came to take pictures, buy pornographic DVDs, and ask questions. A lot of their questions were about how we (the performers) do what we do (perform sexual acts on camera). They want to know how male performers keep their erections and ejaculate on cue. I want to know why people ask me this question as I quite obviously do not have a penis. Especially when we're standing in a room that contains at least two well-known male performers. I've never heard a male performer respond to this with anything other than, "It just does what I tell it to," or something similar. People also ask how we (the female performers) have anal sex. They want to know the secret to enjoying having a dick in their butt. Aside from the basic concept of relaxing and maybe a recommendation of Tristan Taormino's Ultimate Guide To Anal Sex for Women, I once again have no answers. Either your body enjoys being anally penetrated or it doesn't. If your butthole likes having things in it, go forth and enjoy. If it doesn't, then you should probably listen to your body and leave your anus to its main purpose of excreting waste. If you're trying to placate a boyfriend who won't stop nagging you about fucking you in the ass, then he himself is an asshole, and I'd suggest he go fuck himself.
As we were leaving the hotel on Sunday, one of the other girls's roadies asked me how I did a maneuver on the lyra where I hang upside down from the tops of my feet. I said it was the combined fear of injury and embarrassment. I've never fallen out of that trick in a show (knock on wood) because there's no graceful way to bail out of it early and falling in front of an audience is simply not an option. While there definitely is value in studying the science behind the physical abilities of performers and athletes, there's a certain beautiful magic in the idea that something about all those lights and eyeballs pushes us to just make it work.
Stoya on the Metaphysics of Cocksucking (NSFW)