As an adult that didn’t “plan” to become a circus artist, its fun to look at all the big firsts in this career. Some of my beginning aerial students will meet a barrier in their training and blame it on the fact that they are in their 20’s, 30’s 40’s and didn’t grow up in the circus. I like to remind them that many of the instructors who inspire them didn’t start until they were adults, myself included. Granted, I did take ballet, tap, jazz, theater, choir, piano, trumpet and a whole lot of other things that prime one for a life as a performer, nothing is quite like a circus performance and I see my circus life rooted in my early adult years.
I first saw an grown woman hooping in June of 2006. I was at Bonaroo in Tennessee with the man that has become my life partner. We were teenagers and in a frenzy of freedom, staying up all night watching amazing bands, dancing until our feet couldn’t hold us anymore. Here’s a photo of us that ended up in a newspaper in Alabama.
We were woefully underprepared. I think we ended up bringing about $100, a kid-size tent and a jumbo bag or two of potato chips for a 5 day camp-out festival. We didn’t even have a sleeping bag or blankets. As I recall we had planned on buying some on the drive from Texas but the excitement took us all the way to the festival. We were so hyped we didn’t realize until the first night when all we could do was make a little palette out of our clothes.
This scenario would drive me completely insane now. At this point in my life, running a business, and freelancing in the film industry and nonprofit realms, the most frequent compliment I earn is “Your so organized!” But at the time I hardly noticed. I had just met the love of my life. It’s hard to focus on deficits in material comfort in the face of blinding affection.
Luckily we camped next to some actual grown-ups who offered us hot dogs which we gratefully accepted. By day three of hot dogs and potato chips we badly, badly needed some produce and as we searched the stands for something that hadn’t been processed beyond measure I saw a hooper. She was hooping on one leg and it blew my mind. I had to try it. She graciously let me and within 1 minute I was hooked. I spent $40 of my limited funds on a hula hoop. It was one of the best purchases I have ever made.
I started performing in Seattle while going to Cornish College of the Arts. I busked at the space needle to make some extra cash and found that it was a terrific way to practice my hoop skills and gage my impact with a crowd. I often set up next to this fellow who played a butterfly-shaped guitar and wore pajamas all day. I found that just showing up and jamming continued to build my comfort, skills and showed me that people were excited about what I was doing, enough so to choose to pay me, even when it wasn’t mandatory.
In March 2008 I saw an aerialist perform live for the first time. A friend who was connected to the Little Red Studio thought I should see what they were working on. When I saw Zita the Aerialist climb those silks I felt the same inspiration that I had when I first saw an adult hula hooper, sheer amazement and the immediate drive to learn. I told myself that night: In 3 months I will be doing that.
Actually, I started the next week. I started performing my hula hoop act with the troupe. We collaborated on a performance that we called The Psychedelic Show which looked into the many elements psychedelic experience. We played with the themes of the 60’s, transcendental meditation, the mind-body balance, spiritual trances, hallucinatory experiences, euphoria, and spiritual transformations. I performed a hoop act that took its inspiration from shamanic ritual.
I don’t know how it worked out but I ended up training 8 hours a week with Beverly Sobelman, an incredibly strong and talented aerialist who opened and runs Versatile Arts. To this day I look back at those hours I spent there flabbergasted that I found that place at that time. Every moment that could be spent on the silks was spent on the silks. I had found a third love. Three months after my first lesson I performed my first aerial silk act.
I was so nervous that I pulled a ligament dropping into my splits. Over the next few years I learned about how to really take care of my body and support my training through healthy eating and lots and lots of stretching.
When I did my first corporate gig, it was a Carnival theme. As a person who has never worn pink or sparkles without mountains of irony, I was very out of my comfort zone when I wore the tiny thing to the left.
But at the end of the night I felt great about my performance, I had a wonderful experience working with Champagne Creative Group and 3 weeks later they booked me again. That second booking brought another series of firsts; my fist time performing in Las Vegas and my first time to be flown in to perform at an event. Again, I had to compromise my loathing for all things sparkly….Thats me in the middle. The one in head to toe sparkles.
There have been many other milestones in in this path and I certainly would love to document this journey further. But, for this post I will end with the moment that proved to me that I could make a living doing what I loved.
Being an independent circus artist has meant that I must also be my own accountant, administrator, costume designer, make-up artist, web designer, marketer, choreographer and personal trainer. I do spend more time on a computer than I ever expected a circus artist would, but at least I can finally veto the sequins.