Tag Archives: aerialist

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)

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!

Bendy

21 Dec

SallyBW400

Circus artists delight and amaze us with their bodies. We admire their strength and we admire their flexibility.

Strength for many of us is relatively easy to obtain, you just have to make sure that you train regularly several times a week and you have to focus on your conditioning (Strength training). However even going to class once a week will see you developing your strength even if it is at a much slower rate. Flexibility on the other hand? This you have to fight for….

Many people who train in aerial arts for ‘fun’ will have a certain amount of strength from impressive to not impressive but it’s rare to come across a recreational aerialist who has the flexibility of your average professional unless they happen to be dancers. Yet having this flexibility and being able to perform exquisite front splits or a divine backbend can help to bring a routine to life especially on the lyra/aerial hoop where flexibility is expected.

So how do you achieve super bendinesss? Effective flexibility training is rarely offered for evening students at circus schools. I say effective because it’s never usually enough or ‘hands on’ to help you achieve your splits. I was actually advised to seek out a contortionist for flexibility classes. It took me a while and much research on contortion forums but eventually I did find a teacher and have been taking classes since 2011 which have enabled me to achieve my left and right front splits. My teacher is a world record holding contortionist who is originally from Mongolia and she is truly amazing. It’s a group class but she works with all the students individually helping them to achieve the flexibility at the rate that their body will allow and she gets amazing results. Her students come in as stiff as a board and after some time they emerge as limber as ballerinas.

4738497479_efe3fa668f

These classes aren’t a quick fix though. You have to put in the commitment. There are a rare few who after a few of these classes or even immediately achieve their splits but for the majority, flexibility will be much harder to attain so depending on the work that you put in and your body it can take from six months to a year to achieve the splits. So contortion/flexibility classes are the way to go but some words of advice:

  • Make sure that your teacher is qualified. A qualified teacher will understand how far they can ‘push’ your own unique and individual body and they won’t work beyond your range of flexibility.
  • Make sure that your teacher performs a thorough warm up. You do not want to start stretching cold muscles. This will lead to injury/torn muscles and will see you out of all training for months.
  • Generally, it’s better to work with a teacher who has worked through training to achieve their flexibility as opposed to a teacher who is naturally flexible. A teacher who hasn’t had to train to achieve their bendiness won’t have the same understanding of the body that a teacher who has had to train hard will.

Lastly even when you do achieve your splits it can still take time to be able to perform on demand and insert them into your aerial routine so be patient with yourself. You will get there. I did.

Falling

26 Jul

Image

I fell from my trapeze a few days ago.

I was performing a relatively simple move so I was really shocked to find myself slipping out of my hold. I still don’t really know exactly what happened but I was upside down and all of a sudden I lost the grip of my left hand and my right leg slipped from the rope. It was pretty much a rapid downward descent from there. In my shock I tried to wildly grasp at the trapeze which meant that I over rotated on the left side of my torso and yanked my head up and around (‘cruunch’) to see what was going on but there was no recovering from the laws of gravity and I landed heavily and awkwardly on my left side – thankfully on a crash mat.

I sprang back up again really quickly wanting to avoid a stop the traffic moment and although I felt a teeny bit sore I got right back on the trapeze. I was fortunately absolutely fine and was thanking God for the crash mats that we use. However, two days later at midday I left home to go to a trapeze class and the minute that I sat on the tube, I felt a dull and aching pain in my left side and difficulty turning my torso. The left side of my neck was also affected and the pain increased throughout the day. I was really shocked because I felt fine for two days and then all of a sudden I felt excruciating pain in my neck and back as a result of this fall.

It’s now three days later and I’ve had a break from the trapeze during which I’ve been trying to move less – turning in my sleep has not been working out for me.

The pain has subsided a little and I feel better which is great but I’ve had more that one moment of panic wondering if the pain would ever go away.

The thing that surprised me the most was how much pain you could be in even when you do land on a crash mat. I’ve fallen on a crash mat before but that time it was flat on my face during an in-class performance and the only injury was to my pride – embarrassed. This time the resulting pain was unexpected and has made me think about crash mats in an entirely different way.

I once asked one of my teachers about the best way to fall and she gave an insightful response which was that there isn’t a correct way to fall. I think she’s right (although there’s probably a physicist somewhere who may argue with this). You don’t want people to think of falling as an alternative option and something that they can do safely. It’s best just to try to ensure that you never fall.

Falling from the trapeze believe it or not is not actually inevitable but for many people who have never practised aerial arts, falling and aerial arts are inextricably linked. That’s where their fear and excitement comes from and that’s why they watch behind their fingers. They believe that there is a high probability that the performer may fall. I’ve even seen numerous students in classes across London freeze and refuse to perform a move or a trick because they are terrified by the ‘thought’ of falling. They have a teacher close to them ready to spot, they may be on a safety line or have the biggest crash mat underneath them but the thought of falling prevents them from going any further.

I’ve not seen many people in any of my classes fall from their equipment. It’s not that common to be honest but when people do we usually take a sharp intake of breath, stop for a moment and ask if they’re ok – it’s all very real and it could so easily be any one of us.

What have I learned form this experience? To fully concentrate especially when I’m doing a move in a new way even if it is a move that I have done hundreds of times over and that falling on a crash mat can be a softer landing but boy it can’t save you from the agony of awkward landings…