Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Chapter 10: When a pie in the face is no laughing matter

(Photo:  Mabel Norman, in A Noise from the Deep 1913)

Custard pies in the movies. Iconic slapstick. Think Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy.  More recently any gross-out comedy in the American Pie vein, with a debt to Benny Hill, normally featuring scantily clad, voluptuous girls. Freud would have a field day.  But did you know that it was actually a woman who threw the first custard pie? Apparently female comedienne and silent movie star Mabel Norman was trying out a gag on Ben Turpin and chucked a lemon-meringue pie in his face.  The studio bosses were so taken with the footage they incorporated the idea into the 1909 movie Mr Flip.  In the following clip, Turpin as Mr Flip goes round from girl to girl, essentially molesting them, and receives his comeuppance each time, climaxing with a pie in the face.  Turn-of-the century girl power.  

I found this out in a quick google of the history of custard pies this evening, prompted by a newspaper headline that caught my eye this morning:

A male sixth-form student slapped a paper plate of whipped cream in the face of the female head of year teacher,  allegedly damaging her eye, and has been expelled for assault, with police action pending.  It was an article that touched a raw nerve for me, as I've taught sixth-formers and first year undergrads in the past, and recently, as we move out of the nappy stage and I'm no longer a walking zombie,  the desire to return to teaching in a classroom again has hit me like a sledgehammer.  

Teenage boys, and girls, can be a delight, engaging, thinking outside-of-the box, inspiring, enthusiastic free-spirits. They can be challenging - both in a positive and negative sense.  And there will always be a power struggle at some level at some point.   The student was foolish - did the school over-react?  Momentum and humiliation are both key factors here.  It was the end of the teaching term, pranks are played.  In the secondary school where I was a pupil, although before my time, a group of girls were disciplined for some light graffiti on the school premises.  They had timed it just before Parents' Day, and the young head felt humiliated.  Reassuring the year that no action would be taking if only they owned up, the head then expelled those who came forward.   Schools can over-react.   They can, on occasion, discipline harshly and unfairly, privileging the reputation of the school over the individuals in their care. And they are very sensitive in what is an increasingly litigious environment. 

Yet schools also have to justify every decision to their board of governors and local authorities.  This matter in the press at the moment will have been dragged over with a fine tooth-comb, discovering information that they won't be at liberty to disclose to the press. The student pleads being carried away in the moment(um), a boy suffering a rush of blood to the head, but in response there is an accusation of premeditation by the school.  I wonder. I imagine. Did he have a grudge to bear? Was there a history?  Was there form? Was it on some level an assertion of alpha-male dominance in a classroom situation?  Would he have thrown the plate at an older male teacher? A plate thrown in high spirits, but with enough force to damage the teacher's eye? And I'm assuming here it's not simply a case of dairy intolerance to the cream that caused the reaction.   The incident was filmed and posted on Facebook.  Hardly spontaneous that. Basically, I find the whole story disturbing, and a far cry from the empowering origins of the custard pie. 

Ironically, one of the girls expelled from my old school is a friend of mine I met subsequently, and now a teacher herself, in the "Oh Captain, my Captain" vein.  If you haven't watched Dead Poets' Society, you won't get that reference, and what can I say?! Inspirational doesn't quite cut it.  Anyway, a couple of years ago I took the children to see the school's production of Bugsy Malone that she was staging with her fifth-formers, none of whom have English as their first language.  It was superb.  The cast were clearly having fun.  My kids loved every minute.  They knew the music well, as we'd had the film on repeat play around that time, having hosted a Prohibition Party, complete with pianist playing sing-a-long Bugsy all evening.  The custard pies that would have gone done like a lead balloon with the parents at the school production were discreetly replaced with water pistols.

On the other hand, the immersive cinema-experience entrepreneurs Future Cinema did a superb screening of Bugsy Malone, with bona fide custard guns, that is still the talk of the town.  It was messy, family fun.  

I guess the bottom line is that you need buy-in from the audience, and to know their limits, or their willingness to test them.  Comedy is always a tightrope, it takes guts, but catching your target unawares and humiliating them is no laughing matter.  And we all get our comeuppance in the end:

"You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You'll get pie in the sky when you die."
Joe Hill, 1911
(Labour activist and songwriter)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Chapter 9: NoFit State to Entertain

This morning I was up at 6.30am, thanks to The Escape Artist (aged 2) surveying the carnage left over from entertaining friends the night before. I'm in no fit state to tackle this, I thought. NoFit State,  ha!, that's a good one. And then I think of a pair of black hot-pants sitting in my drawer upstairs, with that legend emblazoned on the back in neon pink and white, and smile. I bought the shorts at the Roundhouse last year when seeing the NoFit State circus company perform there, and wore them regularly thereafter in pole class. Little things amuse me. 

NoFit State's show Bianco is inspired by Jose Saramago's novel The Elephant's Journey, the story of the extraordinary wedding present of an elephant from the King of Portugal to the Archduke of Austria in the Sixteenth Century. A show of breathtaking skill, more gritty and monochrome than a polished Cirque de Soleil performance in glorious technicolour. You follow the performers round, similar to Fuerzabruta, rather than being seated. So close you can see the bruises and the scars that bear witness to how much blood and sweat goes into these routines. Raw, physical theatre.

For me one of the most enchanting moments was watching the juggler who gave the most dazzling performance while reciting what sounded like poetry, and was most probably an excerpt from Saramago's novel in its original Portuguese. And I just loved the tightrope walker in her red high heels, carrying a parasol, who was so hot she seemed to drawl across the wire, as though she had just stepped out of a Tennessee Williams play.

The band accompanying the show was superb - I would love to know who they are.  The band's lead singer had a touch of Paolo Nutini about him, which is funny as I'm back at the Roundhouse next week to see the real deal in action.

The daydreaming prompts me to follow the company on Twitter. I notice that the company, based in Cardiff, has tweeted a link to a two minute news video. ITVWales feature on NoFit State. I click on it expecting it to be a behind-the-scenes tour of the Bianco show, about to go on tour this summer. That was touched on, but the focus is on how Mel, who really is in NoFit State with a broken back, astonishes. It is uplifting, inspiring and ties in to the theme of a bird with a broken wing inspired by the show She Would Walk The Sky, seen recently at the Roundhouse, which I am exploring in a future post.  (update - cf. Chapter 16: Bird with a Broken Wing)

Meanwhile it's gone midnight and I'm crashing now. Packing for a trip to Paris with my daughter in the morning, going to see a man about a harp. But that's another story. And maybe another page for the blog.

Postscript:  My daughter The Acrobat (turning 6) and I arrived in Paris to find France celebrating Mother's Day.  Maybe that's why when we arrived at the hotel to find a problem with our room (the cheapest), they upgraded us to their Penthouse Suite for the night. We may have been in NoFit State for such grandeur, but Saramago's Archduke certainly would have felt at home. All the more so since we shared the room with the little fellow pictured below. Sommersaults on the bed, handstands against the walls, and suite dreams. 

Friday, 23 May 2014

Chapter 8: Learning the ropes

"So, has anyone done rope, or had any sort of climbing experience before?" asked the instructor.  I keep very quiet.  I can, on occasion.   Manage expectations - lesson learned from accountancy days.

Whether you are doing the first level of aerial skills, acrobalance or equilibrium at the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton, the 12 week course is split into three four-week rotations. This means for aerial that you work your way round rope, static trapeze and flying trapeze, while Anne's acrobalance group rotate around handstands, tumbling and acrobalance. For equilibrists it's the unicycle, tightrope and walking on a ball.

Rope was the least appealing of the aerial trio to me.  Rope burns.  That's the lesson that lingers.  On pole you wear as little as possible to maximise grip, on rope you cover up to minimise the friction, but it still digs into you.  It's painful. Now, I am aware of existence of the noble art of rope bondage, but I never thought I'd be one to get kicks out of tying myself in knots.   Rope, the circus art, is a slippery skill, however much sticky resin you rub into your hands to grip.  If you don't get the balance right you can just end up swinging around wildly.   Less Tarzan, more trussed-up turkey.  You think, what the hell am I doing here?  This is ridiculous.  I just can't get the hang of it.  Never will.  And then you do.  There is a swing from utter desolation to pure elation.  Challenging boundaries, pushing frontiers, whatever your level, that's the beauty of it.   And, like pole, the joy of the community - encouraging each other, celebrating each little victory.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Chapter 7 - Kiss of the Spider Woman

We were scrabbling around for loose change when the collection came round in the school service, in church, this morning.  "There goes my last quid" said the friend next to me.  "That'll be the widow's mite" I quipped.  Widow.  Black widow.  Kiss of the Spider Woman.  Sideshow in a travelling circus?  Next blog theme...?

I am fascinated by the figure of the black widow or Spider Woman, daughters of Tolkien's Shelob, or Aragog in Harry Potter.   Descendents of the Medusa archetype, spin-offs you could say.   The serpent-headed lady whose gaze will turn you to stone, or the spider-lady who immobilises you in her web.  Same difference.  It strikes me that the process of blogging and tweeting is rather like throwing out a web, to see what catches.

Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman is stunning.  Banned in the 70s, released again in the 80s, I came across it in the 90s, and it doesn't age. Set against the back-drop of the Argentine military dictatorship it concerns the intimate relationship between Valentín, the self-declared macho Marxist and his gay cell-mate, Molina stuck in a prison in Buenos Aires.  They escape the relentless threat of torture hanging over them through talking.  Valentín discusses his past and his hopes for a better future, all power to the people, while Molina spins another tale. He recounts scenes from old films in such detail and so vividly  that slowly but surely, Valentín is drawn into his web of fantasy, reliving the glory days of bye-gone glamour.   Like journeying from Sing Sing to Shangri- La. It's a raw, tender and ultimately heart-breaking read.  

The novel opens with Molina's description of a scene from the 1940s film "Cat People".  We are invited to gaze at a beautiful girl, an artist, sketching a black panther at the zoo. There is obviously a connection between this beauty and the beast. The girl is, she believes, descended from a Serbian race of Cat People who transform into large cats when sexually aroused ...  Femme fatale. Film noir.  Classic.

As well as being made into a film, winning William Hurt an Oscar, Kiss of the Spider Woman was also a Broadway musical sensation, by the writers of Cabaret and Chicago, which conveniently dovetails with the singing bearded ladies from the previous chapter. Haven't listened to the soundtrack for years, but listening now to it on YouTube as I write, am reminded it has some killer tunes and lethal lyrics.  Blue bloods, Morphine Tango, Over the Wall ...

If all this talk of spiders freaks you out, I recommend Friendly Spider Programme at London Zoo.  Caitlin Moran was writing about it in The Times the other day, and a friend that has been on it as well says it works wonders.  I'm going to take the kids in the summer holidays.  And a sketchbook, of course.

(photo:  at Secret Cinema's screening of Casablanca)

Monday, 19 May 2014

Chapter 6 - The Bearded Lady

The Eurovision Circus.  All countries, costumes and cabaret.  Love it.  Somehow it completely passed me by this year. I was hopeless at a very topical Quiz Night last week.  Do you know the double-barrelled surname of the English Entry?!  But the triumph of Bearded Lady Conchita Wurst was always going to register.   Having just played on YouTube the winning "Rise Like a Phoenix" I hear Shirley Bassey reincarnated or Tina Turner belting out a Bond anthem - though the song would have to lose the line "the neighbours say we're trouble" - a bit too suburban for 007.

While Conchita Wurst's drag persona of a Bearded Lady is a self-styled construction, interestingly a beautiful singing voice is actually a trait of hypertrichotic women. The veritable bearded ladies.  

One such lady was Annie Jones, who P.T. Barnum "bought" at the age of 9 months, when her parents, in biblical fashion, nicknamed her the Infant Esau, on account of her hairy body.  She was famed for her voice, and an  an accomplished mandolinist to boot.  I discovered her first in a stunning coffee-table book on "The Circus. 1870s-1950s." by TASCHEN Books, sitting in the window of the The Book and Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove.

Annie Jones was billed a freak.  She hated that word and campaigned to have it banned.  Smart lady. We live in more enlightened times now.   Though you wouldn't know it, reading some of the responses under Conchita Wurst's videos on YouTube. 

From Wurst to Frank Furter@Dr FN Furter who, on Twitter recently,  took his time to pull off what Stephen Fry has called "the greatest twitter joke of all time" in a sequence of four tweets  (see below -  but sorry, technology defeats me, you'll have to work your way from the bottom up...).  The tweets, lyrics from the Rocky Horror Show's "Sweet Transvestite", sung by Dr Frank N' Furter, left you hanging for 5 years, from 2009-2014, in antici...

I'm calling it a knock-knockwurst joke.  Or not the wurst actually, simply the best.


  • Sunday, 18 May 2014

    Chapter 5 - The Magician

    Birds by Bruce Mark

    At the end of the magician's steel wand is a molten ball of glowing glass.  We gaze on, enchanted, as the glass warms, expands, cools, changes colour, adds layers, elongates and gradually takes shape.  The magician's name is Bruce Marks, and the dove magicked up in this instance is a vase that has a birdlike quality, deceptive in its simplicity.

    It's Friday morning on Bermondsey Street.  Anne and I are at the Peter Leyton London Glassblowing Studio for a demonstration, though you'd half expect to be by a Venetian canal in a Murano glass factory, or in a villa-cum-workshop in the hills of Tuscany.  That's what I love about London, surprises in the most unlikely places.  The spell-binding performance lasts for an hour and a half from start to finish.  There is no interval.  As fellow glass-blower and narrator Louis Thompson explains, the process requires you to work constantly and consistently.  There can be no rest, no pause for a cup of tea or a sip of water.  Break the momentum, break the spell, break the glass.

    Symbiosis (Grey) by Laura McKinley.

    Louis will be giving the next demonstration, though sadly we can't stay, nursery pick-up is calling.  In the meantime he answers any questions.

    "Where are the women glass-blowers?" asks a male member of the audience.  It turns out the girl fronting the gallery is Laura McKinley, is another member of this magic circle.  And yes, it turns out women do blow as well as men.

    So there you have it.  Much to learn.  Momentum and Commitment.
    Good-will to all men.  And women.

    Bottles by Louis Thompson

    We float back down Bermondsey Street, rising high on the balls of our feet ...

    Saturday, 17 May 2014

    Chapter 4 - Age and the Acrobat.

    "You are old, Father William," the young man said,

    "And your hair has become very white;

    And yet you incessantly stand on your head—

    Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

    "In my youth," Father William replied to his son,

    "I feared it might injure the brain;

    But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,

    Why, I do it again and again."

    You are old, Father William by Lewis Carroll

    You can't teach an old dog new tricks ... can you?  I wonder.

    Enter Rochelle Ford, who became a professional welder at 58, and whose life story is as inspirational as her art. 

    Friday, 16 May 2014

    Chapter 3 - Good Friends Don't Let You Do Stupid Things Alone

    "When the pill the doctor gave you turns your cold to the grippe.
    When a stitch to save nine others comes apart with a rip.
    When the rats invade your attic and start leaving you ship.
    Follow my tip, come away on a trip."
    Join the Circus, Barnum the Musical

    You couldn’t make this up, you know.  A few weeks after our afternoon at circus school, I was having one of those days. Knee-deep in children, brownies burning, saucepans protesting, arguments escalating, I just reached boiling point.  I sat my two year old down at the kitchen table with some colouring pencils and a wadge of paper, sent my daughter and her friend up to the loft to play, my son off to his room to do his homework, made myself a cup of tea, picked up the phone and slumped onto the sofa.  I could have called a sister, or phoned a friend, but found myself dialling the National Centre for Circus Arts instead.  

    I made small talk about courses with the girl on the other end of the line.  I was looking for a little breath of fresh air, and instead got a whirlwind:  "Oh, you’re in luck! Tomorrow enrollment opens for next term, booking lines opens at 10am.  Don’t bother phoning, though, you’ll never get through.  Book on-line, places for aerial skills go especially quickly, in a matter of hours, so you’ll need to be quick off the mark."  

    No, no, I nearly protested.  I'm not really serious. "That's great, thanks." I said, and hung up.

    Then that small voice piped up, well why not? You can't ignore an opportunity that falls in your lap like this.  It's now or never.  So this time I did phone a friend.  Fancy going back to circus school? I was asking someone who has zero time, four children and countless projects on the go. Sure, she said.  And that was that. I signed up for beginners aerial skills and Anne for acrobalance.

    That's the course description, you understand, we had no idea really what to expect ...

    Thursday, 15 May 2014

    Chapter 2: On Putting Yourself Out There Somewhere ...

    Back in February I went to see Fuerzabruta at The Roundhouse.  Again.  It is a show where acrobatics and aerial fun meet carnival spirit and general clowning around.  It is Fuerzabruta, and its previous incarnation De La Guarda over a decade ago, that inspired me to dream of one day learning aerial skills myself. In the show, performers may rifle through your bag, crack a polystyrene board on your head, or if you're lucky they may take you up on top of an inflated dome.  For the rest of the time you simply look on in wonder as they skim round silk curtains, or gaze up at the mermaids sliding across suspended water tanks and you think, that looks fun, I'd love to have a go.

    This time round I had gone with half a dozen friends. At the end, drums beating, audience toe-tapping, they moved us into a huge circle.  One of the performers caught my eye, as I knew she would, and I was dragged into the centre to get the party dancing. I tried to grab a couple of friends to come with me, en passant, but they refused ...  So, I simply had to shut my eyes, pretend there weren't several hundred people gathered round.  A few more people joined in, on came the sprinklers and there was a spurt of spinning joy like a whirling dervish, then it just petered out.  Talk about an anti-climax.  

    I told this story a few days later as a cautionary tale to friends who were talking about the need to open up.  Cringe. Why open yourself up and risk exposure? It's embarrassing. Why make a fool of yourself?  It's humiliating.  

    Someone said that what I was suffering from is what Brené Brown would call "a vulnerability hangover":

    Brené (and trust me, after you watch her in action you will feel you are on first name terms) makes the case that actually vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage there is, and that it is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.  Well, that's reassuring!

    The points she makes on the fear of failure, the straightjacket of secrecy, silence and judgement that feeds our restrictive sense of shame, challenge my decision to keep this blog as an open secret for a few kindred spirits, while shielding it from those who might otherwise judge.  

    Brené quotes Theodore Roosevelt:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    I still shudder at the thought of sending out a tweet or posting a FB status update, but, hey, small steps, maybe it's time to circulate an email, bcc of course  ...

    Tuesday, 13 May 2014

    Chapter 1 - A Circus Experience

    Staying home, living day by day
    May be safe, but it can't be duller.
    Seeing things only black and gray
    When the world is alive with color.
    Doing just as your neighbors do
    May be wise, but it ain't so clever.
    Every man has a dream or two
    Let 'em go and they're gone forever.

    "Out There" Barnum, the Musical

    At the end of Coronet Road in East London there is a square where an old electrical light station generates a new sort of energy.   A ring, a circlet, a circus space. The building is home to Circus Space, which was in the process of rebranding as the National Centre for Circus Arts - a more functional title, ah well.

    On Saturday 8th March, 2014, a dozen of us, all girls, gathered outside ready (or not) for a  "Circus Experience" afternoon, where we would try our hand at flying trapeze, tight-rope, acrobalance and juggling. Nominally in honour of my birthday, but any excuse quite frankly. Actually it happened to be International Women's Day, and we were an assortment of nationalities.  There were friends from home, school, university, friends made locally through the kids, none from my accountancy days bar one male friend who had expressed an interest, then rapidly back-tracked when he discovered the ratio.  Not like him to turn down a hareem, but probably a wise move. 

    We signed in only to discover there was an additional form to fill in that day.  A disclosure agreement.  The BBC were in filming for the afternoon as part of BBC Two's The Travel Show.  The fact that no-one at this point turned round and ran for the hills I think demonstrates the courage of these ladies.  We swallowed hard and carried on to the locker room.   

    We arrived with everyone else in the main hall where ropes and silks hung from the celing, a flying trapeze set up at one end. After a couple of fun, and competitive!, warm-up games we split into four groups and rotated around the activities on offer.  

    Juggling with Stefano was probably the weakest link for us all in terms of co-ordination.  Tightrope with Amy was a surprise -  the wire was so thick and easy to grip for starters. The star in our group was actually a giant of a guy who was as nimble and fleet of foot on the wire as a ten year old.  In no time at all he was doing the whole wire backwards.  Turns out it really was child's play for him. He credited his prowess to a "mis-spent" youth climbing trees and balancing on branches.  With a slight pang, I had visions of Swallows and Amazons, of treehouses and dam-building, and wondered if it wasn't time to move the kids out to the country-side. 

    Acrobalance was an exercise in trust and working together.  Our instructor Kaveh was a ball of energy and fun, with the most indecently well-developed arm muscles its ever been my pleasure to grip.  In no time at all we were putting feet on thighs, bellies on feet, hands on shoulders and building human pyramids. 

    When it came to trapeze, Leila our instructor explained the procedure simply and reassuringly. Standing at the top of the platform holding the bar, you don't jump off, you simply stretch out one foot, while the supporting leg bends,  "then, as though you are dipping your toe into a swimming pool, just let the momentum carry you forward". Glide don't jerk. Gallows sprang to mind.   When it is your turn, your brain will probably refuse to compute there is a safety line, held by the instructor, attached to the back of your harness.   No idea knows how the friends with vertigo managed.  But they did.  

    To get moving, in my case, I focussed on the platform assistant Max. Max, Max, I have a nephew called Max. Where do you come from Max?  Barcelona.  Anda, muy bien, mol bé!  I used to live in Valencia.  Mind if I sing you the Valencian football anthem, Max?  I'm "brava" in Spanish. No, please go ahead.   Surprised he didn't shove me off the platform. Maybe he did. Moments later, anyway, I was flying, trying to listen to orders: Pike, legs back, up, up, UP, back pike, PIKE!  Sheer joy.  

    Afterwards, we partied like Gatsby, slipping into our glad-rags with a 20s twist, heading to the Prohibition-styled Nightjar.  There the Yorkshire Punch and dry ice flowed out of the mouths of bronze owls onto chai teabags, steeping in vintage teacups, garnished with sprigs of lemon thyme.   The night was young, we felt. 

    It occurs to me now that writing a blog is a bit like your first go on a trapeze.   You feel as though you are about to fall flat on your face. Having friends at your side is a huge support, though sometimes it helps to pretend no-one is watching, while at others, imagining an audience makes you braver, but at the end of the day you simply have to dip your toe in and let the momentum carry you forward.

    (Tightrope starts around 8 minutes in)

    Sunday, 11 May 2014

    The Polelogue: On Fringed Benefits

    "So, tell me Lucy, when you go to Circus School, do you dress up in one of those sparkly leotards?"
    "What, with fringes and tassles, and all that? Good grief no, I would never wear those to class, they are kept purely for home entertainment." My neighbour had the good grace to blush. He doesn't know about the pole dancing ...

    A couple of years ago, a grounded stay-at-home Mum, I felt a sudden urge to take flight. Inspired by a friend who used to take trapeze classes at Circus Space,  I looked on the internet but the timing and location of the classes were simply too difficult to juggle with the kids. How about a local pole class?  suggested a friend, my pilates teacher.  Gets your feet off the ground for starters, gives you upper body strength, core benefits, what's not to like? I also knew that my husband would happily push me out of the door to a class, instead of side-tracking me with a glass of red and a box set on Netflix.

    So out went the email to all her yoga and pilates contacts that Lucy wanted to start pole-dancing and we struck gold.  One of the yoga teachers had been to Balesque classes in Stockwell YMCA run by Anna, happy days! I loved the play on words, the allure of grace and ballet alongside the playful reference to burlesque. Burlesque, from the Italian "burla" meaning a joke, mockery, making fun of, as if to celebrate the grotesque - makes me think of puppets, old-school Punch and Judy shows, masks and jesters, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and of course cabaret. There's a violent hilarity, a barbarity, rooted in an awareness of Death lurking round the corner, smirking, smug. Burlesque responds, well then, let's take our fears and weaknesses, and display them, laugh at them, laugh at us, go on, let's knock ourselves out.

    And indeed, my first class, hooking my leg round a pole and trying to swing was a ridiculously laughable, feeble attempt. And that doesn't matter. In class, I found a community of women of all shapes and strengths, coming together to learn new moves. Moves that would challenge, terrify, hurt, frustrate.  Even in the beginners group there was a range of abilities, but there would always be warm support and a round of applause for anyone going for it, to meet their own challenge.  And I loved Anna's soundtrack. Fun. Some Nights, anyway. 

    One of the highlights was when Anna took us to a workshop with Felix Cane, who brought pole to Cirque de Soleil. Felix had nearly died in a routine on tour and was still suffering from a damaged shoulder, and yet, despite the pain, gave us an impromptu performance set to Lana del Rey's "Born to Die" that was so breathtakingly beautiful it is seared into my memory.

    The class has since been rebranded as Polefit, which I understand. It does what it says on the box. But the romantic punner in me pines after the balesque classes of old. Thanks to Anna's encouragement, I began to trust in my own upper body strength, learning to suspend my disbelief, and so my body, and from there found the confidence to finally to sign up for an evening class in aerial skills at the National Centre for Circus Arts.  But in enrolling for that class I've had to put pole to one side for now.  Pole was my way into circus, it began as a means to an end, but in the process, it has become it's own destination and fascination, and in time, deserves its own blog, rather than being on the fringes, a footnote in her-story of circus.  But hopefully this will do for now, this, the pole-logue.