I came into the main gym to find the usual suspects of the Pole II class getting ready. Across the mats, smiling and pointing a finger fun at me, is Master Lu Yi. “I’m here before you.” How fitting for the man who as a child refused to rest, first in and last one out. He brought me two more pictures of his family and friends.
Acrobatic Pole is probably the hardest apparatus I’ve ever tried. It requires immense control over all areas of the body (shoulders, core, legs) and the ability to use them all in sync with one another. You’d be surprised how hard climbing an 18-foot steel pole can be, let alone three sets (up and down) without putting your feet on the ground. And that’s just the warm up!
After three sets (of three up-and-downs) of “Monkey-climbing” and “Butterfly-climbing,” we move onto the some of the static tricks. This includes “sitting fish,” “star,” and a handful of other moves. Initially they’re very difficult, but the tricks begin to develop and your muscles start to shake and shiver less. My muscles still shake on most of my tricks, the only one that’s solid is my right-side handstand. (It’s probably my sweetest party trick to date.)
Later comes the shoulder work, including the “shoulder press” and “shooting” up the pole. These are pretty difficult and often times very painful on my shoulders and collarbones. Slamming into the pole over and over has left bumps and bruises around my neck. Sure, there are pads you can wear, and I’ll admit I have, but in the eternal words of my wise teacher, “training is bitter.”
Lu Yi says that I have an “American state of mind,” meaning I am always looking onto the next thing, and the next trick. I want to learn to jump from pole to pole. He wants me to slow down, refine my technique. He wants me to go “back to basics.” Lu Yi set a goal for me: 5 straight climbs to the top of the 18 foot pole. A straight climb is climbing the pole, only using your hands. You let your feet drag, keeping your body parallel to the pole. They weren’t pretty, but at the end of the class, I did my straight climbs. I have a feeling this will be working it’s way into my routine.
Lu Yi and I spoke about his time touring, in the beginning through Europe and later through Africa.
Lu Yi and the other acrobats were part of a “cultural exchange” with other countries. They would go to foreign countries representing China, most of the time for a month or so, and they would perform for the community. Politicians and celebrities would always come to the shows and Lu Yi would get to meet them, shake their hand, the whole nine yards. Lu Yi was not only an artist, he was in some ways, a politician. When asked about that, Lu Yi smiles and waves me off, “So many presidents.”
Lu Yi believes that traveling outside of China “opened his eyes.” He was inspired by Europe with all of it’s art, culture, and architecture. Because the troupe was traveling on behalf of the Chinese government, they were treated very well. They were put up in the nicest hotels, they ate delicious food, they had lavish parties and celebrations. This was a far cry from Lu Yi’s early days in Shanghai… but had he really made it yet?
A few years later, he was touring again. This time in Africa. Although touring under the same “cultural exchange” program, Lu Yi’s experience in Africa was very different from his experience in Europe. The places he went, and the people he met, were closer to his life in Shanghai. People living with barely anything, happy to be entertained. A simple, bitter life.
This was a lot for the 18 year old Lu Yi. When he finally got back to Beijing after the African tour, he was motivated more than ever to create.