Tag Archives: aerial

Learning To Spin On Aerial Equipment Without Losing Your Lunch

31 Mar

ImaginAerial Duo Lyra

ImaginAerial Duo Lyra

I’ve done my fair share of spinny acts, most often with a bucket offstage in case of “too much of a good thing”. Love web, lyra, single point trapeze and other spinning apparatus but afraid of the throwing-up factor?

You should be, it’s very real. Here’s how to get off to a good start and keep your cookies where they ought to be!

First, some fun info about why we throw up when we get too dizzy. A doctor I met a few years ago in a trapeze workshop had an interesting answer: poison. Apparently, a number of poisons make your head spin and disrupt your orientation, so your body’s natural response is “Aw, hell no! Get that OUT of here!!!” And there you have it – you cast up your accounts and live to see another day.

Whether that’s true or not, it can be a real drag to have to sit out half your aerial class with your head between your knees. So here are some things that may help:

  • Ginger (my personal fave is the Trader Joe’s crystalized stuff). Eat a bit before class and see what happens!
  • Experiment with closing your eyes. This makes me more nauseated, but I know some aerialists who swear by it!
  • Fix your eyes on your apparatus. Don’t try to spot the way you would in dance, you’ll look like you’re having a seizure. Just focus on your hoop or rope.
  • If focusing doesn’t help, try this! Blur your focus as much as you can (this one works well for me).
  • Start slow and keep at it. The more you spin, the greater your body’s ability to acclimate – don’t give up! Be persistant and think of the pounds you will have lost in a few weeks!

Bottom line? Rome wasn’t built in a day. Spinning the way we do simply isn’t natural, and your body will let you know in a dramatic fashion! You can and will get used to it – just keep a bag handy while you learn. If you’re a spinning apparatus enthusiast, what works for you?

Written by Laura Witwer (http://www.laurawitwer.com)

Advertisements

Heroines of the Circus – The Iron Jaw Acrobat

22 Feb

paintings-by-hilaire-germain-edgar-degas-8

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas’s Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando is an oil on canvas (46 x 30-1/2 inches), which belongs to The National Gallery, London

Circus performer Miss Lala was born Anna Olga Albertina Brown to Wilhelm Brown and Marie Christine Borchardt, on April 21 1858 in the former German (but now Polish) city of Stettin (Szczecin).

Lala who was of mixed race, was also known as, Olga Kaira or Kaire, “Olga the Mulatto”, “Olga the Negress”, “The Venus of the Tropics”, “The Cannon Woman” and “The African Princess.” Olga was the name of Lala’s sister, Olga Marie Brown, who had died at five months old, almost three years before she was born.

Although she was small of stature, Lala possessed incredible strength. She was an all-round circus artist and she worked at various times as a trapeze artist, a hand balancer, a wire walker, a strength artist and an iron jaw performer (A popular acrobatic strength act of the time) which saw her suspended high up in the air whilst holding a great weight using only her teeth.

Her first appearance in the circus was at the age of nine but it was at 21, in France where she found fame. She toured around numerous circuses and music halls throughout Europe including the UK where she performed at London’s Royal Aquarium’s central hall and at Manchester’s Gaiety Theatre.

Lala was part of the troupe called Folies Bergère and the Keziah Sisters. She partnered with another strength acrobat called Theophila Szterker/Kaira la Blanche. Together they were known as Les Deux Papillons (The two butterflies).

Miss Lala Sml

Miss Lala Olga Kaira at The Cirque Fernando (c.1880) 

Collection Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University – Museum Purchase 

Lala’s African and European ancestry was regularly exploited to create mystery around her background and reinforce her ‘exoticism’ thereby increasing ticket sales. In Paris she was hailed as ‘La Venus Noire’ and in London stories were circulated saying that she was an African Princess who lost her throne when her chiefs decided to pledge their allegiance to Queen Victoria. As a result they said, that Lala was sold into slavery and ended up in a circus in the South of France.
In writings of the time, Lala is described as a ‘dusky’ Amazon and greatly admired for her agility and strength and one who was ‘strong above the average of womankind in the jaw’. In Paris, Lala’s iron jaw act was described as so much better than those which had come before including those of male iron jaw performers.

To perform her act, Lala had to use equipment which was made up of a thick double sided two inch wide leather and metal strap or tongue about 12 inches long with a leather mouth piece at one end which was gripped by the artist’s teeth. At the other end there could be an extension or a metal hook.

A solo performer could hang the hook end from a trapeze bar or a rope and then clamp their teeth down on the mouthpiece end with their head and body facing upwards. A swivel underneath the hook allowed the iron jaw piece to turn and spin with the performer. In a duo one performer could hang upside down with their legs around the trapeze gripping the iron jaw mouthpiece with an extension attached at the waist or neck of a second performer suspended below.

In an 1879 newspaper report Lala’s act is described in detail. The article mentioned how Lala hung from her hocks (knees) on her trapeze whilst holding a second trapeze between her teeth. A child, a woman and a man took it in turns to perform poses on this second trapeze and then a duo act took their turn all the while with Lala bearing their weight between her teeth.

picture.aspx

Folies Bergère performance poster by Jules Cheret (1880)

Then a woman performed a toehang off this second trapeze whilst holding the weight of another woman in her arms. The ante was then upped as Lala was lifted up to the roof rafters where she hung upside down on her trapeze in a one legged hocks (Hanging on just one knee) whilst holding the weight of a man on each arm and the weight of one between her teeth.

The grand finale of her act did not disappoint as Lala lifted a civil war era canon with wheels up into the air with her teeth. The canon was then fired with the aftershock of the blast causing Lala’s body to involuntarily rebound.

One reviewer/critic said “She does all that her muscular rivals have done and a great deal more. Lala as we have hinted is a representative of a dark skinned race but in the matter of strength she is prepared to assert her superiority of the boastful people who will have it that all virtues are associated with a light complexion.”

Lala was immortalised at the age of 21, when she was painted by Edgar Degas at the Cirque Fernando which was close to his studio in Montmartre. The painting depicts Lala suspended from the roof of the circus by a rope connected to a bit between her teeth.

degas-500

In 1879 Degas made this preparatory drawing of the strength acrobat Miss LaLa

Degas who himself was of mixed race on his Creole mother’s side, watched Lala’s popular act for four nights but was challenged by the perspective that he was faced with, painting from underneath the subject as well as having to adhere to 1870’s theory on colour choices. He was also challenged by trying to paint a ‘pose that would convey her soaring movement and the strain on her jaws.’ Of the finished painting, critic Roy McMullen wrote that it was considered to be, ‘Among the artist’s most striking and complex achievements.”

Lala continued to  perform from the 1860s up to the late 1880s. In 1888 she married an American contortionist by the name of Emanuel (Manuel) Woodson. This was the same year of her stage partner Theophila Szterker’s tragic death from a fall. Theophila had according to Le Figaro (October 26, 1879) previously suffered a bad fall whilst substituting for Lala in a rope act.

Emanuel and Lala went on to have a daughter Rose Eddie Woodson who was born in London in 1894. According to the newspaper The New York Age (October 21, 1915) the couple went on to have two more daughters who formed an act called the Three Keziahs.

In the last years of his life Lala’s husband Emanuel was the stage manager of the Palais d’Ete circus in Brussels. The last known date of Lala’s life, when she was known as Anna Woodson and Olga Woodson, is 1919, from a US passport application.

Feel free to GET IN TOUCH if you have any further information about Miss Lala that you would like to freely share. ‘Freely share’ being the operative words…..

 

‘Pain Is Weakness Leaving The Body’ – An Aerialist

27 Jan

Painful-Face

Circo-Masochism

How Much Pain Is Too Much?

Written by Laura Witwer (http://www.laurawitwer.com)

A really great question: how much pain is too much? For those of us who fold ourselves in half backwards or hang by one toe for a living, this is definitely a gray area (one of 50 shades of gray, perhaps?). So, how do you tell the difference between “pinchy pain” and “oh-my-gosh-my-ankle-is-being-separated-from-my-body” pain? How much of a masochist do you have to be to succeed in circus?

Pinchy Pain – Circus Hurts

Pinchy Pain is the sensation that accompanies most of the cool stuff in circus – single ankle hangs, toe hangs on trapeze, wrapping your leg around your head four times, etc. It can be intense, but beyond a little bruise or “apparatus hickey”, you shouldn’t be doing significant damage to your body. How do you get past it so you can smile at the audience instead of grimace?

  • as you’re transitioning into the pinchy part, BREATHE. It doesn’t get better if you hold your breath, because now you’re suffocating AND getting a bruise. Let’s not compound our pain.
  • understand that there’s a point at which the pain doesn’t get any worse, when it becomes tolerable. When you hit that level, lean into it.  (**a note for the ladies: your experience of pain intensity will vary week by week during your cycle, so something that feels Too Painful one week may be much more manageable the next)
  • RESPECT YOUR LIMITS AND INSIST THAT YOUR COACH RESPECT THEM AS WELL. I cannot overstate this. It’s your body, and if it breaks, you’re the one who has to live in it. So if your coach is pushing too much, you can say something along the lines of, “Wow – that’s intense! I’m going to work up to that!” Then back off to a level you’re comfortable (well, slightly uncomfortable) with.

Eventually, that toe hang that felt like it was severing an artery doesn’t hurt anymore, and you can move on to the next thing. Your coach will likely warn you if something’s gonna hurt, so check with him or her if something is super ouchie and you’re not sure it should be. Circus hurts, but it doesn’t hurt forever.

Damaging Pain – You Didn’t Need That Kidney, Did You?

Damaging Pain is exactly what it sounds like – pain that is warning you of significant damage to your body (sprains, strains, tears, serious bruising, breaks, bad burns, tendonitis, etc).  Pain is your body’s way of setting boundaries; it’s kind of like your body’s “safe word” – there’s a warning, then there’s the no-go zone.  It goes without saying that you want to avoid Damaging Pain whenever possible – you don’t get a gold star for injuring yourself. A little bruise or callous rip is one thing, chronic tendonitis or bruised kidneys is something very different. It can take some time to discover exactly what those boundaries are for you, so until you’ve got a good sense of it, play it safer.

  • You can feel sore in the days after a class (especially early on), but you don’t want to feel broken
  • Beware of burning, grinding, sharp, or tearing pain
  • When in doubt, BACK OFF. If you take one thing from this post, let it be that.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to find that sweet spot between pushing your boundaries so you can grow, and taking care of the only body you have. You have to KNOW your body, and circus is an amazing place to learn that. Be safe, and I’ll see you in the air!

Love and pull-ups, Laura.

 

The Trapeze Diaries – Book Review

9 Jan

416m1xPPYrL._SL500_AA300_

Circus people make this look so damn easy,” the Aerialist says , pointing at the trapeze. “But it takes so much patience and it hurts like hell. You’re probably going to cry; you’ll get angry and frustrated. You’ll definitely bruise and most likely you’ll get scared.” The Trapeze Diaries – Marie Carter

Since I found circus (Or since circus found me) I’ve read as many books as I can on the subject and the autobiography, The Trapeze Diaries was one of my first. It’s been a few years since I’d picked it up though so I’ve read it again to refresh my memory.

Marie Carter is a twenty-something year old Scots writer whose move to New York coincides with the sudden death of her father. In the flurried activity of her emigration Marie doesn’t have a chance or the ability to grieve properly for her father but once in New York she finds that she can no longer contain the heavy feelings of her loss and her grief begins to seep from her every pore.

marieCarter

Author Marie Carter

At this time she goes to see an aerial performance and becomes spellbound so she decides to take training on the fixed trapeze. We follow Marie as she goes through an excruciating but enlivening process of study. Her training begins to sculpt and strengthen her body and it has a similar effect on her mind and resolve as she gradually begins to let go of her fears, trust herself and as a result progress in her ability as an aerialist.

Intertwined with the tales of her aerial classes, the book gives touching accounts of Marie’s relationships with her mother, her brother, her late father, her friends, her lovers and herself and you can’t help but feel a kinship for the author willing her on to succeed as she goes through her mourning and her study.

The Trapeze diaries is a beautiful book, written with a real honesty and pure heartedness and for aerial diehards Marie really brings to life the fear, the frustration, the soreness,  the calluses and the pain of the beginner trapeze student. A highly recommended book.

OMG!!! She’s Balancing On A Trapeze ON HER HEAD!!!! But There’s More!!!

1 Jan

Trapeze Artist Practicing her Act

Yep awesome… I first saw a trapeze artist head balancing on a trapeze in the pages of a vintage circus book but then in September of this year at Piccadilly Circus Circus, I saw this rarest of acts in the flesh. An artist from Circolombia was head balancing – whilst juggling hoops in his hands and spinning hoops on his feet!?!

Washington

I learned that a special trapeze is used for this particular balance and it’s called a Washington Trapeze.

The Washington Trapeze (also known as a heavy trapeze or a head trapeze) is usually weightier than a regular trapeze with a small circular headstand platform of about four inches round situated in the middle of the trapeze bar. The trapeze artist can then  perform their head balancing skills on this platform.

This trapeze tends to be supported by wire cables rather than ropes, and it will often be lifted and lowered during a performance.

The benefit to all this upside down balancing – as well as drawing a crowd – is that it apparently gives your skin a radiant, youthful glow nourishing the cells in the face, muscles and skin and helping to keep you looking ageless for longer. I may have to give this a go myself (Skipping the juggling and foot spinning bit) after I master my ‘Planche’ of course. So it could take a while at least all of 2013 and 2014… Happy New Year to you all!

Rope me in!

30 Nov

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been training on the trapeze and lyra for a few years now but keen for a change and a challenge I decided to dip a very cautious toe into the world of rope/corde lisse.

I’ve always been in awe of people who train on the rope because let’s face it, it looks terrifyingly hard. Not only does it require brute strength it also requires a high tolerance for pain as the texture of the rope gifts you with all manners of burns, tears and bruises. This is before we even add in all the scary hands free drops. It’s definitely the preserve of the tough skinned kamikaze daredevil…

When I was at school, I can remember the evil sports teacher/crone Miss Miller asking us (A bunch of 11 year olds) to climb a rope without actually teaching us how to do it – an interesting teaching methodology. As you can imagine her method wasn’t a great success.

So it wasn’t until I started taking trapeze classes that I was reintroduced to the dreaded rope where it was used as part of our strength and flexibility building conditioning exercises. I was taught for the very first time how to climb a rope and boy was it hard work trying to haul my tired body upwards whilst holding on with weak kitten arms and a death grip in a desperate attempt to avoid falling off and dying. How I hated my climbing…

But then a strange thing happened. I got stronger and started to look forward to the rope!! Don’t get me wrong, it never got easier, mainly because of the amount of times we had to climb the rope in one class, but I started to actually enjoy it!

So this formed part of my decision making process to push myself by taking rope classes. I also thought that it would mean that I could feel more confident doing work on the trapeze ropes – use all parts of the equipment.

So far the classes have been tough and I have an assortment of rope ‘artwork’ across my body to prove it – particularly the bruise over my right hip which will not go…. I came to rope with pretty limited skills like catchers, hip lock, foot locks, knee drops, girl rests in rope and that’s pretty much it. I’m now being introduced to straddle climbs, hip lock climbs, scissor climbs, salto drops, the propellor and many more…

It’s early days yet and I am frustrated feeling limited in what I currently can/can’t do and I’m trying to overcome my fear – due to two falls in my first class – but I’m getting there and I’m getting stronger so watch this space. I’m won’t say that I love my classes just yet but I’m hanging on in there…. Literally!

Queen of the Circus

24 Jul

Image

Hello my name is Xylia and I’m a circus addict. Well more of an aerial performing addict…

I came to circus by chance. I was part of a dance troupe and was also an avid vertical dance student but I was looking for other skills to add to my repertoire. I heard about circus introduction days that were taking place at a London circus school and I signed up. I tried a variety of different circus skills including the flying trapeze, juggling, stilt walking, acrobalance and tightrope walking but fell in love with the static trapeze – straight away. I put my name on a waiting list and it took a year for me to be be given a place but I have to say that it was really worth the wait. I fell in love instantly.

Some 3 years later and I’m still hung up on circus, fitting in classes around my full-time work. Although my main practice is in static trapeze I have also taken classes in cerceau, corde lisse, silk sling and the swinging trapeze at schools across London which include, The Circus Space, Aircraft Circus (The Hangar), My Aerial Home and Gorilla Circus. I’m not a professional aerialist, I’ve never performed – although I plan to in a low key way very soon – and I feel as if I still have more to learn so that I become better but I’m up for the challenge.

Through my blog I hope to share various tips, history and my expansive love for all things aerial, for all things circus. Maybe I can even tempt a few of you over to the other side with me – the circus side…. See you there!

Photo credit: “Circus Alphabet”, Whitman Tell-A-Tale Book, 1954. Illustrations by Patric Hudson