june 17 2021- stylish muscling

By benedict nguyen

Headshot of benedict nguyen taken at a beach

Photo by benedict nguyen
[ID: Benedict, tan-skinned Vietnamese person with Black wavy hair, wearing pink open shirt, eyeliner, and some glittery eyeshadow in the right half of the frame, some hair in front of their face, against an urban beach scene with two figures in the background]

dear reader,

welcome to a special edition of first quarter moon slush, a newsletter i started in 2018. in late-2020 editions, i wrote about dancing outside, running and biking, and floating atop snow. in 2021, i’ve been questioning my relationship to xtreme sports, including dancing in the wind, ice skating, and weight lifting. this recent slushee era has been definitively meta and self-indulgently self-referential. it’s also been curious to indicate, if vaguely Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, what other themes these modes of embodiment might suggest–from the urgency for enlivening sensation ~in these uncertain times~ to cycles of grief

today’s slushee is partly a memoriam for Julia Cziller Redick, my first dance teacher who passed away in april. from our first lesson, she instilled in me a spirit of creative play, the necessity of functional movement Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, and a sense of taste and style. more than what that taste or style is, it’s for protecting what i always already had that i celebrate her legacy in this slushee.

[Video description: me doing 10 pull ups Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji]

after getting my pull ups back on construction scaffolding last summer, one of my 2021 pet projects has been teaching my body to do a muscle up: a pull up that lifts the torso above the bar through fully extended arms.

my outdoor gym features three bars of varying heights (visual below!). i began using the lowest to train the distinguishing motion between pull up and muscle up: how to rotate my forearms, elbows, and shoulders from below to above the bar. when starting above, straightening my arms was easy. in lowering myself down (the negative motion), i taught my little neurons how to get in line Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji but getting them to reverse the negative and do the thing… unfathomable to february-me! but i would try!

when i first started lifting (i love how obnoxious this sounds tbh! more soon Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji ) six years ago, i was on the verge of so many injuries: reaggravated stress fractures in both legs (performing on a strip of marley atop a concrete stage for my first #freelanceflailing gig… sigh!) and very uncertain shoulder joint stability (which led to recurring trap/neck flare ups… yikes!) a free physical therapy session sent me off with a set of exercises to help me ~cross train~

and so i took those exercises to a gym that offered free personal training (no sponcon here, iykyk) and built myself new shoulders–ones whose range of motion expanded because they were supported by a better coordinated core, back, and chest Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji it was magical to feel the capacity of my body change. my traps and neck stopped twinging. my shoulders stopped clicking at the slightest rotation.

much of weightlifting machines are designed to isolate muscle groups. they seem to suggest one will optimize the body by dividing it into its component parts. and even after discovering the best of motion is actually circular via ice skating in march, i really thought i was going to teach myself a muscle up by isolating my lats–as if they have the range to propel me up there!! maybe someday Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji

it was raining one afternoon in april so lifting under scaffolding made it unsafe to work on the muscle up. but i dreamed about it that day, practicing partial motions til i (re)discovered a new trajectory of momentum–the circle, of course. the next day should be an off day for my back but it’s sunny and i feel alive so i swing by the outdoor gym and decide to ~manifest my dreams~ Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji

[Video description: me doing a muscle up Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji]

i clutch the bar, circle my torso opposite of where i’m trying to go and send my body around to do a muscle up on my first try. i scream with delight as i go from two feet below the bar to two feet over it in seconds. 0 to 60 within my own body. since then, i’ve been trying to do multiple in a row–i hit 5 once and not once since. maybe someday i’ll do 10 or i’ll do a buttery smooth linear one, hide the circle in my shoulder blades, and just shoot up like a rocket. yes, i am afraid of heights Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji

from my years of lifting Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, i’ve known my progress to be wildly chaotic Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, managing unimaginable feats on days i’m exhausted and on others, despite being rested, barely managing 60% of my usual capacity. linearity, functionality, optimization, etc. etc. are all tired falsehoods. as affects, they so often lack style, texture, or any interest at all. sure, i needed some base amount of strength to manage the feat, but ultimately, it was coordination and flow that vaulted me up. over this process, it was the friction of exertion that gives vitality and verve, rough edges making for a smooth flex.

and you could read this slushee as a weird flex, but okay. with other histories of my body not shared here, it’s a flex i’m shocked i can make at all.

you could read this slushee as a celebration of work–by which, i mean the physics kind and the self-help kind, but of course, the capitalism kind has an obvious investment in maximizing my capacity. the etymology of how they got called the same thing feels obvious and i’m not optimizing the body to do labor. among other concerns, i think often about self-defense, about being the brawn (no, i’m serious Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji) where such a capacity is useful. it will not always exist at this scale but while it’s here,

i invite you to read this slushee through this demonic emoji pairing that i selected just for y’all Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji the flex emoji as flashy brag; the halo emoji as a flex of such sweet innocence. the ironic distance required to use either of these symbols is long but to use them together requires great remove from the self as well as an earnest self-embrace to employ it with cheek, all without possibly provoking disdain from you, sweet reader Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji

but self-awareness should be the lowest bar to clear at this stage of the panorama, this stage of the US settler-colonial state’s worst imperialist violences being made so plain every day. there’s nothing new about irony discourse, and yet… i’m curious about how the past year has revitalized horrified sarcasm as a kind of sincerity. this may not be a novel form of relating but it’s not lacking in affective potential

the false dichotomy (happy gemini szn!) of intimacy and ironic distance interests me on this june 17th first quarter moon in virgo (the most self-critical of the moons) for much more than self-crit but rather, what it might suggest about the group workout Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, about the mediations possible in a complex arena, about exercises and circles and disparate flows that can be accrete new capacities and better directions, always, of course, with style Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji

and while some artists obfuscate their intentions through abstraction, there’s little abstract about a muscle up. regarding gymnastics, Lizzie Feidelson writes, “Bodies in a state of exertion are only ever earnest.” the sport’s physical feats are so literal and yet Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji, it’s the choreographed and codified wristy flourishes–so campy, so borderline ironic–that epitomize the sport’s movement vocabulary for me.

like art, sports may be pay to play, and it’s still a kind of job. there are laborers, their labor, and an office. but it’s the seemingly small gestures, the signature moves that reveal a sector’s people and the work that can happen in an environment. sure, you can watch my muscle up on loop but what a wholly different treat it would be to experience how i dance between sets, my flitting, fleeting little flourishes whose sparkle dissolves any office Flexed bicep emoji and smiling face with halo emoji!

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of In Dance.

benedict nguyen is a dancer, writer, and curator based on occupied Lenape and Wappinger lands (South Bronx, NY). Their criticism has appeared in Vanity Fair, Into, Brooklyn Rail, Shondaland, and the Establishment, among others; their poetry, in AAWW’s the Margins, Flypaper, and PANK. They’ve performed in DapperQ Fashion week and in recent works by Sally Silvers, José Rivera, Jr., Monstah Black, and more. As the 2019 Suzanne Fiol Curatorial Fellow at ISSUE Project Room, they created the multidisciplinary performance platform “soft bodies in hard places.” They publish the newsletter “first quarter moon slush” (https://buttondown.email/benedict), and when not online @xbennyboo (http://instagram.com/xbennyboo/), are working on their second novel. benedict-nguyen.com